At the invitation of the local tourism board, Yda Smets and Herman Nekkers spent several days in Brides-les-Bains to discover the cycling opportunities of Les 3 Vallées. With the Col de la Loze, this region is rapidly developing into the latest French cycling hotspot. And the next project is already looming: the Col de Tougnète.
In its four years of existence, the Col de la Loze has gained iconic status. From Brides-les-Bains, both sides are perfectly accessible. Located in the valley, the village is the perfect base for road cyclists. From here you can also very easily reach the Col de Tougnète, Val Thorens, Col de la Madeleine, La Plagne, Cormet de Roselend and the tranquil valley of Pralognan-la-Vanoise. Brides-les-Bains is very cosy with many bars, restaurants and hotels. The park regularly hosts performances. Read more info here.
From Brides-les-Bains, we climb 23 kilometres to Les Menuires. There we meet Rémi Cachera. He is responsible for promoting cycling tourism in Vallée des Belleville. We ask about the development of the Col de Tougnète and the whole cycling area.
Rémi: "The Tougnète is currently only paved from Les Menuires. The side from Méribel is expected to follow in autumn this year, or else spring 2024. Once that is ready, the three valleys of Les 3 Vallées will be connected by the Col de Tougnète and the Col de la Loze. These can also be ridden one after the other in a Tour stage or a gran fondo. Both cols can only be reached by bike. In addition, a new climb has already been realised from Les Menuires to Val Thorens following the same concept."
However, the cycling tourism promotion programme goes much further, he enthuses about other developments.
Rémi: "Several programmes are being developed in Vallée des Belleville:
Les Menuires or the lower-lying Saint-Martin-de-Belleville are perfect resorts for mountain bikers. The tracks and trails are easily and quickly accessible from here. We have our own website cycling-trophy.com with all info."
An oasis of calm towards the Col de Tougnète.
After the talk, it is time to explore the Col de Tougnète ourselves. From Les Menuires, it is about seven kilometres to the summit. The road looks like a billiard sheet, but is very uneven. Sometimes steep, sometimes flat and even a short descent. It's a great adventure, as the lack of car traffic means you can only hear the sound of marmots. The climb is like a mountainbike trip on a road bike. We save our legs as the last six hundred metres are iconically steep.
Hold on a bit longer to reach the restaurant.
We can see the Maya Altitude restaurant from afar, a sign saying '22%' warns that getting there is not easy. For a few hundred metres, everything has to go out. Near the restaurant, the road from Méribel will be connected: here comes the Col de Tougnète. But you can continue for another 300 metres to the summit at 2400 metres. Of course we do that. No fewer than eight enduro and downhill courses (blue, red and black) start there. Via the ski lift, they are perfectly accessible. We drive back to the restaurant where we enjoy the excellent blueberry pie and the beautiful view.
No fewer than eight enduro and downhill courses start from Tougnète.
Breathtaking views on the car-free route from Les Menuires to Val Thorens.
After lunch, we descend to Les Menuires. Here, the beautiful route to Val Thorens departs on the piste cyclable. The first kilometres still go through the "outskirts" of the ski resort, but the road soon turns into a car-free cycle path. Like the Tougnète, this is beautifully laid out and very irregular. Fortunately, the extremely difficult stretches are missing, as we are now feeling the legs. It is breathtakingly beautiful cycling here. This route is definitely one of the most beautiful roads in the Alps.
From Val Thorens, we quickly descend the main road to our apartment. At Saint-Martin-de Belleville, we turn left to explore the village. It is much more atmospheric than the average ski villages. We like this so much that we spontaneously decide to stop here for a pizza.
The day after the granfondo, we felt like doing something completely different: hiking. Yda had already discovered during the time trial that the valley of Pralognan-la-Vanoise is an oasis of calm. There are no winter sports here and you won't find any ski lifts. We drive through the whole valley until we can go no further and park the car. We decide to walk up towards the Refuge de la Valette. It is a brisk 2.5-hour hike on a well-traveled path. We cover over 800 metres of elevation. How beautiful it is here. And quiet. The views get prettier and prettier the higher we get.
A well-travelled path.
Although the refuge (mountain hut) is at 2600 metres, we can enjoy the warm sunshine. We enjoy the crepe and have one more before the journey back. After a 1:45-hour descent, we get back to the car where we stupidly bump into world champion Stefan Kirchmair. He cycled here because it is such a beautiful valley and not too difficult. The three of us have a beer as a farewell to a wonderful day.
On 19 July, the 17th stage of the Tour is over four mountain passes. The hors categorie Col de la Loze acts as the last major climb. In the morning, we ride up among the waiting crowd. It is convivial, people are in fine spirits. Because the piste cyclable that starts in Méribel is not accessible to cars, the campers that have been waiting for days in advance are missing. The crowd comes by bike, e-bike, walking or by cable car. Apart from a few spots, the crowds are not too bad. We go to the summit. Here it is perfectly arranged: there is a large TV screen and a big tent where drinks are available.
Col de la Loze, just below the top.
We have perfect visibility and the riders' passage is a big celebration. Tour boss Christian Prudhomme is a fan of the new climbs in Les 3 Vallées. He once called the Col de la Loze ‘the col of the 21st century’. He follows developments closely and no doubt that the Tour de France will frequent this area in the coming years.
One thing is certain: Les 3 Vallées has everything it needs to become a cycling hotspot.