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22-11-2022 | Frank Jansen

The routes of Les 3 Ballons

Les 3 Ballons (L3B) has been one of the most popular gran fondos in France for years. Not surprising since the travel distance is limited for many Europeans while the course is beautiful and very tough. Soms say it's even tougher than La Marmotte. L3B's course has changed several times over the years. We list all the routes for you. And of course, we've also collected the GPX files for you in a collection on our Komoot channel.

1. The traditional route (2012 and earlier)

The start in took place in Champagney, and the finish on the Planche des Belles Filles. The course lived up to the cyclo's name, as three balloons were indeed climbed: the Ballon de Servance, Grand Ballon and Ballon d'Alsace.

The finish on the Planche des Belles Filles, by the way, was in the parking lot until 2011. In 2012, the road was extended several hundred meters because of the Tour finish. This resulted in an extremely steep 20% finish. Incidentally, still without the unpaved gravel section of the Super Planche des Belles Filles. It remains noteworthy that this climb had been notorious among cycloriders for years while the Tour only came there for the first time in 2012.

After the finish, the participants still had to ride a mere eighteen kilometers back to Champagney.

2. Abandon Planche (2013 to 2016)

In 2013, Champagney no longer wanted to host the start, so the organization opted for a radically different route. The original route contained mostly longer climbs, however, the new course consisted of a mix between long gradual climbs interspersed with short, steep climbs. Among these were the dreaded Col de Chevrères and the extremely steep Route de Beulotte.

The biggest change, however, was the disappearance of the finish on the Planche des Belles Filles. The original route was ridden more or less in the opposite direction. As a result, the Col de Hundsruck was climbed from the easy side and the Grand Ballon from the most difficult side. Because the Ballon de Servance was no longer in the route, it was more like Les 2 Ballons than Les 3 Ballons. Finally, the starting point was also moved to Luxeuil-les-Bains, where strangely enough no finish was made.

3. Return of the Planche (2017, 2018 and 2020)

Because of persistent criticism and declining interest, in 2017 the organization decided to put the finish back on top of Planche des Belles Filles. However, combined with Luxeuil-les-Bains as the start location, this led to a logistical challenge. Once finished, participants had to cover over forty kilometers back to the start. The organization provided bus transportation, but that wasn't well received by most of the riders.

4. Ballon de Servance disappears once (2019)

For safety reasons, the Ballon de Servance was replaced once in 2019 by the Col de Chevrères. The descent of the Servance would be too dangerous. In 2020, the Ballon de Servance would return, were it not for the cancellation of this edition by covid.

5. Ronchamps as new start location (2021 and 2022)

The mediocre logistics almost wiped out L3B, interest declined every year. In 2021, the organization therefore decided to switch to a new finish location, much closer to the Planche. That became Ronchamps, which is quite close to Champagney. After the finish, the participants could simply ride their bikes back about twenty kilometers to the starting point. Furthermore, this is a classic L3B course with Grand Ballon and Ballon de Servance. A real Les 3 Ballons. The biggest difference with the original route from 2012 is that now the riders ride directly via Le Markstein to the Grand Ballon instead of via the Col de Bramont and the Route des Crêtes.

Unfortunately the 2021 edition was never held. The original gran fondo in June was moved to August due to covid but there proved to be too little interest in it, followed by cancellation. In 2022 Les 3 Ballons finally did take place, on the new course. A report can be read here.

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