Year’s ago, when I first got in the game of bike racing journalism, I asked longtime French professional Yvon Madiot, what was in his opinion France’s hardest climb. I assumed it would be a famed climb from the Tour de France.
“It’s a climb we don’t do very often,” Madiot, who is now a Groupama – FDJ sports director said. “It’s not in the Alps or the Pyrenees. But this climb, le Grand Colombier, that is just so hard.”
Since then, I have covered it for numerous smaller races and the Tour has gone over it occasionally. But they have never finished on le Grand Colombier like they did today. Needless to say, I was excited.
In essence, le Grand Colombier has it all: Steep pitches, narrow roads and spectacular switchbacks with spellbinding views. I know from experience that the best vies come on a series of switchbacks found midway up, and that’s where I stopped. Getting up was easy as not only cars and campers were prohibited, but also cyclists and pedestrians, as the climb in found in one of France’s COVID-19 ‘red zones.’
That said, there were plenty of fans on the roads that led to the climb—including a certain Snow White—and even a few hikers with inside knowledge managed to skirt up obscure pathways to find a spot.
But when the riders charged by under the initiative of the ever-powerful Jumbo Visma team, it was simply a moment of pure bike racing as their persistent tempo proved too much for established climbers like Nairo Quintana and even defending champion Egan Bernal.
But then bicycle racing is like that. And perhaps after today’s stage in the Tour, Yvon Madiot may no longer be the only rider to think that the Grand Colombier in fact, is the hardest climb in France.