Les 3 Vallées in France is known as the largest skiing area in the world. In recent years, efforts have been made to make the region attractive for cycling tourism in summer as well. By asphalting existing mountain bike paths, new cols are created that are also car-free. CycloWorld has been following this project for a long time, because we are convinced that this is the future of cycling in the mountains. 100% certain that the Tour will pass by here sooner or later.
When the Col de la Loze opened in 2020, we immediately recognised its unique character. Kilometres of new cycle paths, completely car-free cycle paths above 2000 metres. Piste cyclable, as the French call it. How cool is that? No car traffic and completely alone in the high mountains.
We owe a big thank you to Robert Karreman and Renée Stegeman (skifan), who kept us informed in detail over the past months with the most up-to-date information and beautiful photos. This way we knew exactly how the work was progressing. Last week, I visited both men and saw the progress of the project with my own eyes. I report in two parts. Today part 1: La Tougnète.
From Les Menuires, a new piste cyclable starts that should become the connection with Meribel. The summit is located at La Tougnète or Col de la Tougnète (2400 m). In the autumn of 2021, the cycle path was already realised up to the summit and we wrote about. This spring, the final work was completed, such as the lineation and installation of fences to stop car traffic. So now it is still a dead end. When the Meribel side will be ready is unclear. There is some resistance from the population and when asked when it will be ready everyone replies: "Maybe next year".
I am going to explore from Brides-les-Bains which is the best place to stay for cyclists in this region. There are two routes: the most logical one is via the main road of the Vallée de Belleville, but the one via Saint Laurent de la Côte is much more attractive. I choose the latter option: 24 kilometres of climbing with 1200 metres of elevation. I am glad that our local people have mapped out the route to La Tougnète well. In Les Menuires there is no reference to the new climb. The signs still need to be put up, otherwise the climb is hard to find.
The first kilometre goes past the iconic Brelin building and already has some tough sections. The climb is extremely irregular. Then almost flat, then steep again. Outside the village it is really enjoyable. The tree line is far below me, I ride through the desolate landscape of the high mountains. Here, there is no noise from speeding cars or roaring motorbikes. The only sound comes from animals and an aeroplane in the distance. It gives the idea of mountain biking on a road bike. I enjoy the whole environment and the peace and quiet. The whole climb remains uneven and even includes two short descents. What a fabulous experience this is!
The last 560 metres are insane. A huge wall looms up and I can see the Maya Altitude Restaurant. This looks like the end of the climb and I think: just keep going. But once I arrive at the restaurant, it appears I am only halfway through the steep section. The road makes a sharp right turn and a second stretch follows. It is really a struggle. If you use too heavy a gear here, you will definitely have to stop 100%.
The Strava segment Mur de la Tougnète is 16.8% in average! If we may believe Strava, there are several sections above 25% with even a maximum of 36.4%! This is also where the pros in the Tour de France get squeezed.
Mur de la Tougnète
Once up the top, three things shoot through my head. First of all, I think it is a great pity that the other side has not been realised yet. From here on, cycling to Meribel and the Col de la Loze will be a fantastic experience. In addition, I think I have rarely done a steeper climb than the Mur de la Tougnète. What a brutal experience. And thirdly, I think this project is really next-level cycling. It is just fantastic to be completely away from the world with my racing bike. This is really unique in the world.
Once the Meribel side is finished, a cycling area unique in the world has been created. Then you can ride La Tougnète and the Col de la Loze one after the other. The climb will sooner or later be included in the Tour de France for sure. It is an open secret that Christian Prudhomme closely follows the developments. Furthermore, the cyclable track from Les Menuires to Val Thorens has recently been realised. More about this soon in a follow-up article.
Start of the climb
Mur de la Tougnète, the last 300 meters
Mur de la Tougnète, the steepest part