Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Le Col de la Madone de Gorbio

It is August 2019 and I am climbing le Col de la Madone de Gorbio in Southern France. I started in Menton where we stayed overnight on our way to the Stelvio Pass in Italy. 

They named a Col after a a bicycle?

The Madone is a mountain that has never hosted the Tour de France and in all likelihood never will as it has some narrow sections and some rough road surface. But it is a climb that all cyclists should know of as it is the Col de la Madone de Gorbio that gave its name to the Trek Madone series of bicycles.

In the 90s it was one of Lance Armstrong's playgrounds. He trained frequently on the Madone when he lived in Nice and it became his benchmark for fitness. Before the 1999 Tour de France, Cycling Weekly has quoted him as saying "If I went to the Madone two weeks before the Tour and went as hard as I could, I knew if I was going to win the Tour or not." That year he beat his personal goal of 31 minutes and went on to claim the yellow jersey. The rest is history - all of it!

Under and over the viaduct then onto the narrow roads  .  .  .

Starting from Menton the Madone ascent is about 3000 feet of climbing and about 8.5 miles long. The average gradient is 6.7% maxing at 10%. "About" you say? Well the problem is there is no official start for the climb. Some say it starts at the roundabout, others the town sign or the supermarket and the pros seem to use one of the bus stops in the village of le Castagnins. Of course there's a Strava segment but in 1999 Strava was still 10 years in the future and no one is quite sure where Armstrong's start was!

  .  .  .  and through the tunnel  .  .  .

Well, it doesn't bother me one bit as I'm starting in Menton and going past all of them. Through le Castagnins then under the viaduct then over the viaduct on through Ste Agnés to the narrow roads, through the tunnel and before I know it I'm at the summit in no time flat. Well, truth be told, from the time I left the hotel and found my way to the top it was about two hours but I did carry a camera and stop to take pictures along the way which Lance didn't bother with. 

.  .  .  to the summit. The original Madone marker was stolen. This one vandalised.

Then the descent, a rough road with a wall of rock on the left and a precipice to the right and a fabulous view over Monaco. A rider going the other way  impresses me. He is climbing at about 15mph, no hands, putting on his jacket - someone famous? Down, down, down I go to the hotel where I have time to shower and change as they have understandingly extended the check out time for the cinglé who wants to ride up the Madone. 


Then it's time to relax. A glass of wine and a nice lunch with Jocelyne on the Menton water-front where we are living large with the azure Mediterranean in the background. 


For route information click here.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

The Ocala Caverns

The entrance gate with the remains of the original sign to the left
I guess my fascination for old tourist attractions is what drew me to ride up 301 to see the site of the Ocala Caverns. Riding on 301 is a near death experience so I managed to avoid most of it by dodging around Lake Lillian and the older part of Belleview. Nevertheless, the last half mile has to be on 301. So, while this column may be called the Past We Ride Past, in all probability you'll never ride past it!

The Cave Man entrance built by "Man Mountain" Dean
The site is on the corner of 301 and SE 98th Lane and all you can see is a fenced off corner lot overgrown with trees and signs that read "No Trespassing Police K9 Training Site". All that remains of the old tourist attraction is a sign by the chain link gate on which you can just make out the word "cave".

The Tourist Boat
Legend has it that Osceola hid in the caves in the early 1800s as did runaway slaves during the Civil War. Skip forward 100 years to the 1950s and the caves are open as a tourist attraction at one time owned by a pro wrestler known as “Man Mountain" Dean. The site included two large caves, one of which was spring fed and included a boat ride where Dean would push out a boatload of tourists and pull them back in with a rope. With the building of interstate roads in the 1960's traffic bypassed the area, tourism slowed and with Dean's death in 1972 the business closed.

Do not underestimate the natural beauty of these caves.
Photo by the Florida Speleological Society
In 2009 due to concern over dangers to the curious the City of Ocala secured and cleaned up the site with the help of the Florida Speleological Society.

In the 1930's the site was used in making a Tarzan movie.
In the 1960's it was set up for use as a nuclear fallout shelter.
"Man Mountain" Dean is said to have weighed over 600lbs.
A gate is installed at the cave entrance which enables the return of bats to the caves.
Just 2 miles north on 301 is Paradise Springs a small hole where you can dive 140 feet down into the aquifer.