CONQUER THE “LA MARMOTTE” GRAN FONDO, PART 1: REGISTRATION AND ACCOMMODATIONS

riding up mountain
The road is pointing up, up, up and it’s great!

In late 2016 and early 2017 I wrote several blog posts about my conversion from a cyclist who hated climbing to a cyclist who couldn’t wait to get back to the big mountains, about my change from a cyclist who thought the La Marmotte gran fondo was sheer insanity into a cyclist who couldn’t resist it, and my various investigations into and ultimately the purchase of my first new bike in ten years (here, here, here, and here).

I never followed up with a blog post about just how AWESOME it was, so I’ve decided to do it now in the form of a complete series of posts about my experiences, and to provide advice and opinions for those who are considering doing it for the first time – just like I was. I did a lot of research on the internet as I planned my trip and my training, but the result was basically a hodgepodge of bits and pieces from various sources. I didn’t find any really useful “big picture” articles about it, so hopefully I can fill that void to some degree with this series of posts.

This post will cover the registration process, and some of the ins-and-outs of booking accommodations for your trip.

REGISTRATION

Registration typically opens in November for the following year’s Marmotte, but the actual date of registration is usually a mystery until just a few weeks before registration opens. And in some years, all of the slots have been filled in as little as twenty-four hours, so if you want to do the Marmotte, you’ll need to keep a careful eye out for the announcement.

One option is to sign up for the e-newsletter at Sportive.com. I don’t recall exactly how I discovered this, but during my research on la Marmotte I found that these folks assured me that their newsletter subscribers would be among the first to know when the registration date was announced. So if you’re worried you might miss it, that’s one option for keeping up.

Ultimately, I kept my own eyes on the Marmotte website and saw the registration date announced even before the Sportive.com folks notified me.  The registration date was announced on 10/28/2016, registration for purchases of bundles of more than one race opened on November 7th, and registration for the Marmotte as a single event opened on November 14th.

Conveniently for me – living in the US – that meant that registration opened at midnight on the 14th in France, and that at my house I could get on the computer at about 6 pm and sign up before bedtime! I was nervous that the registration process would be tricky, but it was straightforward and didn’t take much more than a few clicks and a credit card on hand. Everything was translated nicely into English as well, so it was easy to understand (I have since found that this is not the case for all European gran fondos).

Two pieces of advice:

  1. Remember the password you use to register. Most riders are required to upload a racing license or medical waiver at a later date, and when I went to upload my racing license, I had completely forgotten my password. There was a “reset password” option that I tried several times without success, and ultimately it took a week to finally contact someone via email (in French!) and get things squared away. It all worked out, but it was a bit stressful.
  2. Look over your registration details carefully. In my case, my country of origin was listed as “France”, which I didn’t discover until I picked up my timing chip and race number at the check-in on Alpe d’Huez and found a French flag displayed under my name. No big deal, except that a few perplexed riders began speaking to me in French and were surprised when I had to reply in American English!

During the registration process you are asked if you would like extra insurance protection. I didn’t know if it would cover a foreigner, and there were no further details provided, but I took it anyway because it was inexpensive (15 Euros) and I felt it was better to be safe than sorry. You may want to do more research than I did, both on what and who that insurance will cover, as well as what your own “home” insurance will cover while in France.

BOOKING ACCOMMODATIONS

Many riders (and many tour companies) end up booking accommodations on top of Alpe d’Huez. As it is a big ski resort, there is plenty of housing available up there. There are a couple benefits to staying up there. First, check-in and number pickup is on Alpe d’Huez, so you don’t have to trek up the mountain a day or two before the fondo in order to do all that. Second, once you cross the finish line on race day, you are home, ready to shower, eat, and drink.

However, there are definitely downsides to staying up on Alpe d’Huez. First, you have to ride down Alpe d’Huez in the cold mountain air on the morning of the race just to get to the start line. Second, any training rides you do in the days prior to the race have to finish with a climb up Alpe d’Huez! So unless an eight mile, one to one-and-a-half hour climb is just a warmup for you, that can be a bit of a pain. Third, any touristing you want to do – even by car – requires driving down the Alpe, and then back up.

Walking mall in Bourg d’Oisans

Finally – and most importantly for me personally – is that Alpe d’Huez really is generally a bland ski resort full of condominiums and strip-mall-type businesses (many of which aren’t even open in the off-season).

I much prefer to stay in Bourg d’Oisans at the base of the mountain. It has the charm of a true French village with restaurants, cafes, bakeries, grocery stores, souvenir shops, bike shops, and a local market on Saturdays. It is a cycling mecca throughout the warmer seasons, and for La Marmotte weekend it is buzzing with cyclists from all over Europe and beyond. It’s really nice to grab a drink or a coffee while sitting outside a café watching the scene. The food and the bakeries are better too, in my experience, as it’s a living, breathing French town. We’ve grabbed a bite a few times up on Alpe d’Huez and it has always been uninspiring.

Staying in “the Bourg” also allows a wide choice of training rides right out your front door, from flat spins to big mountains.

Of course, staying in Bourg d’Oisans means you have to make the trek up Alpe d’Huez by car or bike for check-in prior to race day, and you have to ride down the mountain after the race to get home to your pizza/beer/baguette/whatever, but on the other hand you can ride right up to the start line the morning of the race rather than endure a freezing clench down the mountain as the sun is coming up.

In this day of Airbnb, it’s not hard to find a decent apartment or other housing for your stay, but you’ll certainly want to book as early as possible because it is a high-demand week and weekend in the area. Personally, my husband and I have stayed in the properties handled by More Than 21 Bends in the center of Bourg d’Oisans both times we have visited. They have been terrific – a native-English-speaking group that cater specifically to cyclists, and they also have their own bike shop, rentals, and guided rides available. Both of the apartments had a garage for bike storage, full kitchen, bike stand for assembling your bike and maintenance, tire pump, tools and the odd CO2 cartridge here and there.

Right. Now that we’ve signed up and got a place to stay, let’s talk about training in the next post!

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *