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Le Col de la Loze

Written and photographed by Daniel Hughes for Epic Cols.

The stats:

  • Distance 21.5 km 
  • Ascent 1,671 m 
  • Average gradient 7.8%
  • Max gradient 21%

‘No road quite like it’, exclaimed the announcer when the Méribel summit finish for stage 17 of the 2020 Tour de France was revealed. This savage and new climb officially opened in 2019, when combined with the Col de Madeleine just a few kilometres earlier, will surely determine who wins this year’s Tour. 

Set in the Savoie region of the Northern French Alps, Méribel is a picturesque ski resort part of Les Trois Vallées, the world’s largest ski domain.

The climb starts some 21 km before in Brides de Bains, at 633m above sea level. The road  ascends 1671 m in total with an average 8% gradient for the first 9km, then a gruelling maximum gradient 21% in the final kilometres.

At the start, you make your way up through long and wide switchbacks, designed to carry large amounts of ski traffic in the winter. Pass through Les Allues, Nantgerel, and Mussilon, all with spectacular views and get a sense of riding into ski country. 

In Méribel, the road starts to meander through the village and its many luxurious chalets. And from here on in, the gradient is relentless; the part of the climb that the Tour de France official remarked that there was no road quite like it. 

Time to reach for a gel and reset your frame of mind to endure and enjoy pain. The stiff 21% section is coming. Hitting the narrow paved trail that’s normally forbidden for vehicle traffic, it’s a wonder how the whole Tour de France is going to go up and through here. It seems a bit unnatural and surprising when all the other summit finishes are on roads, but that only seems to further the charm.

At the 6 km to go marker it’s out of the saddle territory with the 21% plus gradient.

Resisting the front wheel popping off the tarmac, you’ll need to use your entire body to propel forward. It has been said that the bicycle makes humans the most efficient animal, using all parts of the body, straining every inch of machinery. Roads like these call for a beastly drive.

For the attacker, these narrow and steep turns make it easy to create a visual separation between themselves and others trying to hang on. Positioning will be everything and there will be psychological warfare.

At 5 km to go, the word ‘danger’ frequently appears on the surface of the road. These are primarily indicators for the mountain bikes crossing the trail on any other given day, but it is also a great reminder that this hurts. The vision of just how far to go is hidden by the trees and the gradient markers start to feel like soft lies.

At 4 km to go the landscape starts to open out, and the sight of where this mad trail is taking you starts to be revealed. Tall towers of granite, ski-lifts and cables lines all lie ahead.

With 3 km to go, passing in line with Méribel’s altiport, the trail punches like a boxer, with uppercuts and vicious one-twos. This tests anyone’s ability, let alone someone who has ridden from Grenoble at race pace. Sprinters? Where will they be, let alone how this will affect the climbers and GC contenders? By this point, many will be spat out the back, yet the gradients still continue to increase. 

After a tight turn near the 2 km marker, there is a patch of inconsistent gradients, providing further opportunities for opportunistic attacks. There’s a slight descent to gain speed before making a right-hand turn leading in a straight line to the summit.

That all sounds too simple - a straight line - to ride those 1,600 or so metres and it’s all over, only the team who laid this super-smooth tarmac obviously didn’t have a spirit level. Could they possibly have been enjoying some of the local Genepi alpine digestive? Never have I ridden a punishing section like it.

The ascent of the Col de la Loze will provide photographs which will be shared for years, faces of extreme suffering and anguish. Ramps of over 20% gradient, many false summits and one final kicker; every last ounce of muscle, sinue and determination will be required to cross the line as the victor. I hope their soigneurs will be ready to catch them, for this climb and this day should go straight into the Tour de France history books.

 

This all sounds very dramatic, and for sure it will be. I’d love to be there in person to relive the experience and to see it unfold. Choose to ride in the late afternoon for the most glorious rays of golden sunshine and views to energise your soul. Keeping the cranks turning is your only objective, and you’ll probably have this special ride all to yourself. Take the time to enjoy watching the sun slip beneath the opposing valley and the silence of the mountains. You will have earnt it.

For further climbing metres, you can ride down and back up from Courchevel at 1,850 metres for an extra 600 metres of climbing. You can descend further, but the roads get busier and you lose the traffic-free road. Keep descending to meet your start point at Brides Les Bains to finish off a very special loop.

To read and see more iconic climbs from around the world go to:  www.epicicols.com

@danielhughesuk Equipment:

Shimano Dura-Ace R9170

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Shimano Dura-Ace R9100-P

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The choice of the world's best climbers, sprinters, and time trialists, the DURA-ACE R9100 crank drops weigh while maximizing power transfer. The new design, and its iconic look, is adapted for race specific disc brake systems while still offering a wide range of gearing and crank arm length options. The addition of a reliable, accurate, waterproof power meter makes this crank an even more valuable tool to serious cyclists. With a rechargeable Li-ion battery, left/right balance, and Bluetooth LE and ANT+ connectivity, the SHIMANO DURA-ACE Power Meter sets a new standard in cycling data collection.

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PRO Vibe Aero

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PRO Vibe Carbon

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Shimano Dura-Ace R9100

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@caralimccall Equipment:

Shimano Ultegra R8070

Di2 hydraulic groupset

ULTEGRA R8000 series is "pro-proven" as it is a direct trickle down from DURA-ACE groupset. As road bike component, the stress-free operation is one of the most important feature to lead all day riding comfort with braking and shifting.

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PRO Vibe Carbon

Stem

High-end, full carbon stem

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