Who would be crazy enough to do that?!?

Since we had rented accommodations for our hiking-and-biking Alpine vacation at a cycling-oriented bed and breakfast, our little apartment was well-stocked with literature about cycling opportunities in the area. Given my ecstatic reaction to my two days of riding, my husband Theo was already perusing various booklets looking for rides I might want to consider at on our next (!) visit. He would occasionally read out some description of a ride or hand me a pamphlet to look at, but at one point he rolled his eyes and handed me an option with a particularly outrageous-looking mountain profile. Called “La Marmotte” after the (adorable!) little mountain marmots that inhabit the area, it was an annual Gran Fondo circuit that took in four of the biggest, most iconic climbs in the area all in one day.

profile la marmotte

That right, Col du Glandon at 6300 feet, Col du Telegraph at 5151 feet, Col du Galibier at 8670 feet, and finally the “little” Alpe d’Huez to finish the day at 6170 feet. 108 miles with about 16,000 total feet of climbing. The fastest riders each year – semipros at a minimum – finish in 5-ish hours (!), and those who just make time cut can drag themselves in after thirteen hours of suffering.

I shook my head, smirked, and almost shouted “Who on earth would be crazy enough to do that?!?”

Well, apparently I am. By the time we returned home to the States, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I was already looking for an “excuse” to return and ride the Alps again, and I was excited about idea of a real training challenge beyond my usual winter-into-spring criterium-focused training. I started searching the web, looking for details about the ride and looking for race reports by people who have done it.

I learned that my initial reaction was both correct and off the mark: it is billed as ridiculously hard, in fact one of the hardest Gran Fondos in Europe, and apparently A LOT of people are crazy enough to try it. There are only 7,500 bibs available, and rather than having trouble filling those slots, they sometimes sell out in less than 24 hours!

Remember my friend Jean-Luc from my previous post, who provided the spark that got me to ride up Alpe d’Huez in the first place? Well I excitedly emailed him about this new challenge I was mulling, a gran fondo in the Alps up four of the hardest, most iconic climbs in Europe, a ride that only the craziest of the crazy would take on!

He replied: “I have done it three times.”

Impressed, I picked his brain for any advice he might have. It sounds both exciting and terrifying: “La Marmotte is a gigantic ride…it is tremendously difficult. You really have to pace yourself because the Galibier from the bottom is 2100+ meters of climbing and from Lautaret to Bourg d’Oisans the afternoon winds blow up the mountain against you. And try to book your apartment in Bourg d’Oisans, as riding down Alpe d’Huez after the finish as what you just accomplished sinks in is just bliss.”

I’m in! Get me one of those bibs!


In the next post I’ll start to make preparations!

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