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Roads to Ride: Col de la Loze

The Col de la Loze is the newest climb in the Alps and the high point of the 2020 Tour de France. What is it like to ride up?

Col de la Loze profile

 

The Route: first take the old road, the D90 starts from Brides-les-Bains in the Savoie départment of France and goes to Méribel. Along the way, at the only roundabout, ignore the signs for Méribel-village and go right for the ski station. Once in the resort of Méribel follow the signs for the Rond-point des Pistes and the Altiport. The final 7km are on the new Montée de la Loze cycle path. In total it is a 21.5km climb with an average gradient of 7.8%.

 

The Feel: climbs all over the Alps now have markers every kilometre telling cyclists the average gradient ahead. Here the first ones warn of 8% again and again and the start is no picnic. Still the road is wide and there’s new tarmac to help you climb fast. Tarentaise cattle, bells jangling, graze beside the road. It’s pleasant but not picture-postcard scenery, it vibes ski station access road thanks to the amount of buildings and street furniture. More scenic is the ridge of mountains high above topped by serrated peak of the Dent de Burgin, a world away.

The road to Méribel

 

As a ski resort, Méribel’s not big but it’s still a town to pedal through when you came for the great outdoors. The Col de la Loze is so new there are no signs for it in town so aim for the Rond-Point des Pistes and look for the Loze cycle path.

The first impression of this new road is an urgent need to change down as many gears as possible as there’s a steep ramp to clear. Once you’ve crested this brief obstacle you realise you’re not on a road but cycle path reserved for cyclists and hikers.

 

Having glanced at photos online things looked normal, fresh tarmac and a dotted white line down the middle: just like any other road. Only it’s a question of scale and there’s a Lilliputian feel as the road you thought you thought you saw turns out to be cycle path little more than three metres wide. You ride past snow cannons, a clue this is actually a ski run during winter. After a kilometre there’s a tight hairpin and suddenly you’re confronted with road rearing up in the woodland. The first thought was along the lines of “this is crazy, never mind racing up, it’ll be hard work in a team car” and the climb turns into something unlike anything else in the Alps. It’s confounding as there’s fresh, high quality tarmac but the slope keeps changing like you’re riding a mountain bike course. There’s a section at 22% before it flattens out for a few metres and then rears up again and from here on the changes of pace keep on coming. There are plenty of 15% ramps, plus hairpins and sharp corners. I’d have taken more photos but it was too steep to pull out a phone and didn’t want to put a foot down.

Col de la Loze hairpins

 

The Col de la Loze is tarmac bucking bronco. It’s hard to get into a rhythm, the temptation is to power up the steep parts and recover in between only you’re at 2,000m altitude where oxygen debt comes with a stiff interest rate. The secret is to use your gears a lot to level the effort out as much as possible but this assumes you’ve got with the right ratios and whatever you’d spin up the nearby Iseran or Cormet de Roselend you’ll be leg-pressing at times here. It’s not the Mur de Huy all the way up, the defining characteristic is the frequent, abrupt changes of slope, no profile graphic can capture this. As you ride past ski lifts the Dent de Burgin is now so close it looks like the path is going to reach it.

 

Then with about two kilometres to go you round a bend to point the other way. Here you can see the path as a long line ahead heading up towards the ridge. It’s less irregular and as you press on there’s even a descent to catch your breath. You can spot the final wall section from afar, a 20 percenter just before the top. If this doesn’t take your breath away, the views at the top will. The ski resorts of Méribel and Courchevel are so far below you can’t see them, instead there are long views of the high mountains in 270°.

The Verdict: the road to Méribel starts with long 8% sections and good views but you’ll find the same kind of roads all over the region. Out of Méribel and everything changes thanks to the confounding cycle path, narrower than a normal road. From here it’s 7.5km to the top and the path has more changes in pitch than an orchestra tune-up and with the altitude you need to measure your effort. It’s tough but you’re free to concentrate on the climb because it’s car free and the steep bits are short. It’s totally different to the usual Alpine experience.

What goes up: it’s a summit finish for the Tour de France but you can descend down the other side to Courchevel. The cycle path down the other side is wider and once it joins the main road follow the signs to Moûtiers to do a loop back to where the climb started. It’s not a great descent as you have to ride through Courchevel meaning traffic and but it’s the safer option compared to going back to Méribel. The steep climb you’ve just tackled with tight bends and 20% sections is going to be awkward to descend. Now you could make it but imagine if you’re barrelling down a 16% section, round a bend and spot a rock in the road just as a cyclist is coming up the other way? On a normal road you’d have room to adjust but this path is narrower and there’s less space to adjust. Hopefully the climb is swept regularly and cyclists climbing up think to remove any debris along the way.

Col de la Loze

 

2274m or 2304m? The Col de la Loze may be freshly tarmacked but the pass is as old as can be and long before the new road appeared the col was listed at 2,274m. Now the new sign at the top of the climb says it’s 2,304m. Is this a touch of inflation, a push beyond the 2,300m barrier? It’s happens, the nearby Col de la Madeleine has a boastful sign declaring 2,000m when it’s 1,993m in reality. Here the difference is that the geographic Col de la Loze is actually at 2,274m but you climb past this to reach the top of the road at 2,304m before descending. So the pass is 2,274m but the climb is 2,304m. Either way it’s now the eighth highest tarmacked mountain pass in France.

Why? Ski resorts want to be resorts and enjoy a summer season as well. Attracting cyclists is one way to do this, Alpe d’Huez is already a Mecca for road cycling tourism and several ski resorts compete to be the Downhill MTB paradise. This Loze only “Stage 1” of the Via 3 Vallées with plans for a new path to cross from Méribel over to Val Thorens and then a link to the Maurienne valley which opens up a route for extreme Alpine cycle tourism.

On top of this is the e-bike boom. Many resorts have fleets of electric bikes and now a family of four will be able to tackle a “legendary Tour de France climb” before lunch and all on a car free road. Still, you do wonder about inexperienced people being assisted all the way up and then having to descend again on a 15kg bike… perhaps the Loze chairlift works to take people back down safely?

History: the Tour de France last visited Méribel in 1973 for a finish inside the town at around 1,700m and Bernard Thévenet won the stage. The race hasn’t been back since. In August 2019 the Tour de l’Avenir rode up the freshly-surfaced Col de la Loze and footage on youtube lets you see some details:

  •  at 0m10s: the width relative to a car
  • at 0m43s: the steep ramp to 150m to go, the flat section and then another ramp up to show the changing gradients
  • the yellow jersey Mauri Vansevenant zig-zagging over the road at 1m04s
  • Alexander Evans (Australia) wins the stage

Ride more: Méribel and Courchevel are now linked but are towards the end of their respective valleys. Nearby Moutiers and Salins les Bains sit at the foot of the valley and offer riding in several directions with the Madeleine, Iseran and Cormet de Roselend within range, it has the making of a base for hardcore cyclists looking to rack up plenty of 2000m+ plus clubs, but at the expense of more charming climbs and villages. Helpfully there’s a new cycle path on parts of the valley too.

More roads to ride at inrng.com/roads

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Uli Saturday, 19 October 2019, 9:45 am

    Thank you! Looks like you just now went and rode it?

    “Now you could make it but imagine if you’re barrelling down a 16% section, round a bend and spot a rock in the road just as a cyclist is coming up the other way?”

    Just jump! Over the rider obviously.

    France does an amazing job at adding these climbs. I was told that Col du Sabot is scheduled to get paved on the north side as well, hopefully by 2021. (E-)Bikes only allowed.
    https://www.google.com/maps/place/45%C2%B011'27.3%22N+6%C2%B006'36.2%22E/@45.19092,6.1078773,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m6!3m5!1s0x0:0x0!7e2!8m2!3d45.1909196!4d6.1100661

    We’ll use it for our GFNY Alpes Vaujany.

    • The Inner Ring Saturday, 19 October 2019, 11:10 am

      The Sabot would be good, give visitors to Alpe d’Huez another big climb nearby.

  • KevinK Saturday, 19 October 2019, 10:05 am

    My first thought is about spectators along the narrow bike path during the TdF. Even if the crowds aren’t three-deep, having a line of people along the path, in places where there is no shoulder, means people will be standing on the path itself, leaning into the path to see the oncoming riders. Now add a couple of riders up front who have just popped, a rider behind making a move by using them as a rolling roadblock, and a couple of riders behind trying to cover that move without a gap developing, all as the crowd is cheering and leaning in with their cell phones. I don’t think it ends well.

    The whole reason Superman Lopez went down in that memorable scene this season wasn’t because a spectator ran along side him and ran into him. It was because there wasn’t room for two layers of spectators, so when one ran along with Lopez, another slightly further up the road was in the way, and responded by shoving the runner to keep from being knocked backwards.

    This summit will certainly be exciting, but perhaps for reasons having more to do with the narrowness and less to do with the grades.

    • The Inner Ring Saturday, 19 October 2019, 11:13 am

      There’s room beside the path, it’s flanked by gravel as you can see but spectators will really need to stay on this and leave the road clear. In a way though they’ll have to as the lead car and other vehicles will plough a way though.

      • KevinK Saturday, 19 October 2019, 1:03 pm

        I’m thinking of the way that, even when there is a clear area off the road to stand, the spectators put one foot, and then two, on the road. They step back as the lead car and the cycles pass, and then step forward and lean in, almost as if the aerodynamic vacuum left by the vehicles pulls them into the road. The margin here is clearly much less. And if the crowd doesn’t step back quickly enough, we know that the car/motos will stop before hitting them, with the cyclists vulnerable to having a Froome-like crash into the rear of the vehicle that is supposed to be clearing the way.

    • Larry T Saturday, 19 October 2019, 5:35 pm

      I went back and watched the clip. I don’t think that road was “too narrow” – the fan was just an idiot – and got what he deserved. Imagine being the guy who got owned by tiny Lopez after his stupid antics…he got on TV, but not exactly in the way he’d planned. Perhaps the next idiot will think about it before getting in the way? We can only hope.

  • Simon Saturday, 19 October 2019, 1:38 pm

    Rode the other side, up from Courchevel, in the haute route this year and it was the toughest climb of the week. Overriding thought was, “who makes a bike-only road, this road?!”. Its just tarmac laid on the natural gradients of the mountain, like a roller-coaster in sections. It was properly enjoyable though and a real challenge. Has the potential for some great racing.

  • GrahamG Saturday, 19 October 2019, 4:18 pm

    Looks like a great new test for the mountain goats. Allez le Tour

  • Richard S Saturday, 19 October 2019, 9:14 pm

    I think when you do these reviews of climbs you should start putting your time on!

    • HodH Sunday, 20 October 2019, 2:21 am

      That might just encourage him to race up. I think we want him going slow enough to be able to take in the surroundings.

      • Larry T Sunday, 20 October 2019, 8:41 am

        Agreed. There’s already far too much phoney-baloney “competition” out there. Perhaps since I was never any good as a bicycle racer I’ve come to determine it’s not how fast you go, it’s how much fun you have.

        • Richard S Sunday, 20 October 2019, 10:21 am

          I never said his time had to be fast..

          • Larry T Sunday, 20 October 2019, 5:15 pm

            So what would be the point of including this piece of meaningless data then? Don’t think Mr. Inrng is any sort of pro or ex-pro so whatever time he posted would just serve to be something others could boost their fragile egos by “beating”.

          • Eskerrik Asko Sunday, 20 October 2019, 8:10 pm

            There is no virtue in being long-winded, but you can go too far if you are too keen to keep your one-liners shorter than they need be. If you had bothered to add why exactly you thought our host should put his times on or what you thought the benefit for his readership would be, I wouldn’t be posting this off-topic, stupid and inane comment (and Larry T wouldn’t have taken yet another opportunity to embarrass himself by opening his mouth).

            PS I assumed your general idea was that the Inner Ring’s time would give us some sort of idea what an average Sunday rider’s time would be, but there are other and better ways, I would imagine.

            PPS I quite like the Inner Ring’s ano- and pseudonymity, the fact that we don’t know his nationality, his age or where he lives, or indeed whether he is a he and not a she. I appreciate it whether it is simply because he wishes to keep his privacy or due to a loftier cause, a pursuit of wider, less nation-, team- or rider-centred views and opinions.

          • Richard S Monday, 21 October 2019, 10:22 am

            well it was intended as a bit of a joke but that obviously hasn’t gone well. I suppose if a time was put up it would give us an idea of how long it takes.

          • HodH Wednesday, 23 October 2019, 1:56 am

            I didn’t think your comment was meant to be taken too seriously Richard, my reply wasn’t meant to be either.

          • RQS Wednesday, 23 October 2019, 7:54 am

            On the assumption that Inrng is on Strava (why wouldn’t he be) then he could simply put the KOM and some mean or Mode time. That would probably give you the information you need.

          • The Inner Ring Monday, 21 October 2019, 11:04 am

            If it helps it took the Tour de l’Avenir’s best riders just over an hour when they had a stage that started at the foot of the climb and ended at the top. Many Alpine climbs are 40 minutes, only a handful are an hour or more long.

    • The Inner Ring Sunday, 20 October 2019, 7:17 pm

      Prefer if it’s all about the climb, the aim is to try and describe the road and area for visitors (and give more detail future race previews here) rather than do a write-up of how I got on a particular day.

      • oldDAVE Sunday, 20 October 2019, 8:59 pm

        Just out of interest how many times have you ridden it? Or did you just ride it after it was announced (or before as I assume you knew!) – was is a recent excursion?

        • The Inner Ring Monday, 21 October 2019, 10:58 am

          Just once, last week.

          • tv-vt Tuesday, 22 October 2019, 4:08 am

            Brrr. Must’ve been a little chilly up there last week.

          • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 22 October 2019, 9:43 am

            It’s all south facing, so it was ok in the sunshine, there wasn’t much temperature difference over altitude, the descent on the northern side was colder with some damp and cool places where the sun couldn’t get to.

  • Bruce Hildenbrand Monday, 21 October 2019, 7:36 am

    I am not sure I favor paving the north side of the Col du Sabot. I rode down the north side in 2008 on a road bike with 25mm tires and in some spots it was a real adventure! Not every road in the Alps needs to be paved for the lowest common denominator. Adventure is an experience that needs to be preserved as well!

    • Larry T Monday, 21 October 2019, 9:00 am

      I wondered if anyone else would express this sentiment. How many “epic” races have been held on unpaved roads over the decades? I can see the merits of this project for commercial purposes, but it might have been much more interesting to have ’em race over this before it’s paved.

    • The Inner Ring Monday, 21 October 2019, 10:56 am

      There are still plenty of unpaved climbs to ride if the Sabot is done, see cycling-challenge.com for lots of suggestions or CCway where you can select unpaved climbs (“cyclable” in the filtres) field.

  • Mattgc Monday, 21 October 2019, 5:59 pm

    I wonder if any of the pros have read this, with it being a new climb I guess they’ll be doing all they can to find out more before getting the chance to recce it

  • tv-vt Tuesday, 22 October 2019, 4:07 am

    Boy, that looks like it could be a doozy of a climb. That’s as long as Mt Ventoux (and 400 meters higher).
    Now we need to get you to Switzerland some time, IR, to write up the Furka, Susten, St Gothard, and/or Grimsel Passes. Thinking about a trip to that region…

    • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 22 October 2019, 9:44 am

      And the Worlds course above Martigny too, probably next on the list.

  • Mark Rushton Tuesday, 22 October 2019, 3:36 pm

    i dont think we will see anything new. Poss a breakaway by a couple of riders well down on gc but the usual suspects – Froome/Bernal will be there barring illness or injury poss Quintana(?). A stage for a lone attack or for a GC rider to cement his dominance

    • Ecky Thump Wednesday, 23 October 2019, 11:07 am

      This stage sits in the middle of three tough mountain stages in the last week, and a couple of days prior to the TT, so it is likely to be GC action.
      Pinot could go well on this climb?

      • The Inner Ring Wednesday, 23 October 2019, 5:40 pm

        It’s suits a rider who likes, or just copes better, with the changes in pace. Pinot’s often been a more steady climber but the final 2km level out a bit and suit a long sprint. Bardet and Barguil in their form of 2017 would like it, Froome if he can recover his form can spin up. Overall it’s more a climb where the likes of Dumoulin and Thomas aren’t so suited to the changes in pace but the differences are small, they can still try to manage the tricky sections.

  • Paul Banks Wednesday, 23 October 2019, 3:04 pm

    Link to the Strava segment for anyone who wants a map: https://www.strava.com/segments/22066298

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