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24-02-2023 | Frank Jansen

Les 3 Cols clockwise or counter-clockwise?

The Les 3 Cols route in the Southern French Alps is probably one of the most famous cycling loops through the European mountains. In over 120 km you climb three mountains: the Col de Cayolle, the Col des Champs and the Col d'Allos. Good for over 3400 meters of elevation. The start is usually in Barcelonette, but there is much discussion about the ideal direction of the route. We are happy to participate in that discussion.

Photo: the start of the Col d'Allos.


If you with the Cayolle, you're riding clockwise, just like 'official' sportive Les Trois Cols in the odd-numbered years. This route has the following advantages:

  • The Col de Cayolle is more beautiful from this side, and easier. You're riding through a beautiful gorge.
  • You're riding up the Col des Champs on perfect road surface. Moreover, this side is more beautiful, because you can see much more.
  • The descent of Cayolle is fast and clear except for the first few bumpy kilometers.

but of course there are drawbacks...

  • The Col d'Allos, while slightly easier from this side, is pretty uninspiring. First you ride on a big road for kilometers through a valley (where there is often a head wind). Then you end up in an atmospheric ski village. From there, the tough final kilometers begin. Those will hurt because it is the final climb.
  • You will ride up The Col des Champs in full sunshine and moreover, this side contains some very steep sections. Another disadvantage is that you descend this col on a narrow, dark road with very many hairpins, right through a dark forest.
  • The descent of the Col d'Allos is rather technical and at certain points quite narrow (but doable).

Photo: the beautiful Col de Cayolle, seen from the summit.

Starting with the Col d'Allos

Of course, you can also do the round trip the other way around, i.e. counterclockwise. In general, most cyclists prefer this option. And for the following reasons:

  • You climb the Col d'Allos from the most beautiful side. This side has slightly more elevation than the other side, but since you are still fresh this is not a huge issue. It's not a steep climb, it's nice and even.
  • The descent of the Allos is fine, especially from the ski village. The boring part through the valley and the ski village you ride down, usually with a tailwind.
  • You save yourself the dangerous descent of the Col des Champs. You're riding down on perfect road surface, with not too many hairpins.
  • When the weather is warm, you ride up the Col des Champs largely in the shade, and moreover, this side is easier.
  • In July and August, the Allos is car-free between 8-11am. So that's another reason to ride it counterclockwise.

This direction also has drawbacks, of course:

  • The Col de Cayolle is less beautiful and more difficult than from the other side. However, on the way there are plenty of streams where you can cool down.


The Les 3 Cols round trip is definitely worthwhile from both sides, but riding counter-clockwise has, as far as we are concerned, just a little more advantages than disadvantages and thus we prefer it. What do you think is the best way to ride the this loop?

Poll: Wat is jouw favoriete rijrichting van het 3 Cols rondje?

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