cyclists in fog
Col d’Glandon

My first¬†trip to the Alps¬†had ignited my passion to return, and since I only got in two rides on that trip, I was over the moon thinking about how much great riding there would be on my return to the area. When we booked our trip, we decided to arrive in Bourg d’Oisans an entire week before the event, and my initial thought was that I would ride all over the wonderful mountains, every single day, as preparation for the “big ride”.

Fortunately, however, I have a friend who is a seasoned gran fondo racer, and he pointed out the realities: if I was satisfied to grind my way through La Marmotte and just survive to the finish line, then climbing all over the Alps the week before was fine, but if I wanted to do well in the race and put in a good time, then I needed a different strategy.

This was food for thought, and sound advice. My initial excitement about a return vacation had blurred my vision of what I wanted to accomplish. I’m a racer, and I had put in months of hard work toward my goal of riding the Marmotte. I wanted to do well, not just suffer my way through it on dead legs to collapse at the finish line.


marmotte gold medal
I just squeaked in with a “gold medal” time

If I wanted to perform, not just survive, my friend suggested that my last long, hard cycling day should be ten days before the event. That meant before I even left the States! Once I got to France, I should do relatively short, moderate rides every day, then enjoy the scenery, be a tourist, whatever. Enjoy a vacation in France, not put in hours and hours in the saddle.

This is the strategy I chose, and the final result was great for me: I had moderate rides on moderate mountains and plenty of flats, and the rest of the time I drove and hiked and strolled and just generally enjoyed myself with my husband and our friends. And then I rode the 108 miles and the four big mountains of La Marmotte without any sense of exhaustion or grind, and ultimately even eked out a “gold medal” time.

So as you near the week of the race, ask yourself what you want to accomplish at the actual race, and plan your lead-up week accordingly. Many of the local guide companies offer Marmotte packages that include a week of “training” that encompasses all the big mountains of the Marmotte. This might be a great week’s vacation for you, and if that suits you then go for it, but be aware that your legs might not be nearly as fresh as you would like when the BIG day arrives.


Below are the details of each of my rides the week before the Marmotte, as a guide to my training distances, elevations, and volumes. It is an opportunity for any interested readers to see the routes I actually took. It is also, apparently, an opportunity for me to show off some of my pictures.

My last “long hard ride” was a full ten days before the start of the actual Marmotte. Ninety miles, six hours, nine thousand feet.

ride stats

We arrived in Bourg d’Oisans on a Monday evening and checked into our apartment. We went out for dinner (pizza for everyone but me) and then my husband, bless his heart, broke open the bike box and reassembled my bike despite his standard horrible jet lag.

On Tuesday morning I headed out early at 6:30 am for a relaxed spin up Alpe d’Huez and over the Col de Sarenne. This is the ride I had done on my last trip so I knew the route and I knew I wouldn’t find it difficult if I treated it as an easygoing ride. The first time around I had ridden the Alpe d’Huez in a respectable hour and fifteen minutes while holding a conversation most of the time, and this year I had actually trained for rides like this. Unbelievably, I was already thinking of Alpe d’Huez as an old friend.

ride stats

view near col de sarenne
View near col de Sarenne

While I considered Tuesday’s ride up Alpe d’Huez to be a relaxed spin, it was still the hardest and longest ride of my final-week prep, and I continuously tapered down from there. On Wednesday I headed out early again, this time up the nearby Col d’Ornon. This is a lovely climb with a respectable amount of elevation – and which appeared in the 2017 Tour de France just a few weeks later – but it has a gentle, steady grade that didn’t tax my “resting” legs.

ride details ornon

col ornon sign

On Thursday I rode a pan-flat one hour leg spinner around the outer village, staying completely in the valley. One of the reasons for this was that we had a long drive and day planned to tour Annecy. Otherwise I might have done something a bit longer and more scenic.

bourg leg spin

On Friday morning I visited my now-old-friend the Alpe d’Huez, but only to climb perhaps 1/3 of the way up before turning off the climb and heading basically parallel to the valley on the road to Auris en Oisans. The views were magnificent, with the morning fog still hanging over Bourg d’Oisans in the valley, and this early in the morning I encountered a total of one car and one jogger. At Freney I descended back in to the valley and spun my way back to “the Bourg” and breakfast.

strava high valley details

bourg oisans in fog
Bourg d’Oisans in valley with morning fog. View from road to Auris en Oisans

Finally, on Saturday I rode to Allemont and back, a basically flat course with just a touch of ascent at Allemont.

allemont strava data

War memorial at Allemont
War memorial at Allemont

And that was it until rolling up to the starting line on Sunday morning for the big ride! In the next post we’ll cover a variety of considerations for the day of the race.

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