Cycling Adventure in the French Alps - La Marmotte

La Marmotte. What better way to wrap up an Alpine cycling trip than with a one-day event, equivalent to a Tour de France mountain stage and similar to Etape de Tour. Not for the faint of heart or novice road rider, this race is 174km long with 5,180m (16,990 ft) of climbing. It is one thing to ride the same roads as the pros, but it is another thing altogether to actually race them. Not that we had any hope of placing amongst the 7,000 participants, but the idea of riding in a peloton and trying to hold on to the wheels of competitors on the climbs had a certain appeal. La Marmotte Granfondo race profile (Glandon, Telegraphe, Galibier, L'alpe d'Huez)

Unlike Etape, the roads are not closed for. However, once the races begins this is of little consequence as there were enough riders to effectively close the road. Many nationalities are represented, but this race seems to be particularly popular amongst the Dutch cyclists.

La Marmotte cycling route map

If you are so inclined and into performance cycling, La Marmotte publishes gold and silver times, segmented by age and gender, which you can try to achieve. Given my training leading up to the race, and state of fitness, I thought that a silver medal might be a possibility. Difficult, but under the right conditions and working with a group, doable.


18-34 Female

35-49 Female

50+ Female

18-29 Male

30-39 Male

40-49 Male

50-59 Male

60-66 Male



















(Times are from the website and are subject to change.)

Race Day - La Marmotte

In Bourg d'Oisans where the race began, the atmosphere was very friendly. While trying to get in line for the start, we didn't really know where we were going and found ourselves stuck on the wrong side of the fencing. In the mass start looking toward the starting line La Marmotte in Bourg d'OisansWe struck up a conversation with someone on the inside and after finding out that he had a connection to Winnipeg, as did my friend, our bikes were hoisted over the barrier, room was made, and we were ready to go. As time chips were provided to all competitors, there was no pressure to work our way up to the starting line. The only possible advantage of starting closer to the front would have been to get hooked up with a faster group from the get go.

Let the race begin...

The race starts quickly, so even though it was cold at 7am, I made the conscious choice not to take any extra clothing. I figured I would warm up soon once I was on the slopes of Col du Glandon. On this climb, I found that no major moves could be made due to the sheer number of riders. At this point my strategy was to find a reasonable pace and stick with riders of similar speed. This was much less risky than trying to weave in and out to gain a couple of places. The descent of Col du Glandon is quite narrow and has some sheer drop offs. Consequently, this descent is neutralized by the race organizers. Sadly, the year that I rode this descent there was a serious crash amongst the elite riders that forced the closure of the road. The race was stopped for an hour and 20 minutes at the top of Glandon as riders were metered, 4 at a time, down the descent.

Col du Glandon La Marmotte

At this point, I knew I was not going to meet the silver medal time, and being at an altitude of 1900+m first thing in the morning with just cycling shorts and jersey on ended up being a matter of survival! The summit of Col du Glandon is cold even in July. Fortunately, there were so many riders at the top that we mostly protected each other from the wind. My descent was uneventful, and given the circumstances I was in no mood to take any risks. I just enjoyed the descent on the beautiful winding roads.

Riding in the Peleton

Riding La Marmotte Les Haute Alpes France on the way to Galibier At the bottom I hooked up with a pretty large group and we made good time along the flats. Teamwork - this is what it is all about! The second climb was Col du Telegraph, an ascent of 13km, reaching an altitude of 1556m
The best part of La Marmotte is that no matter where you are in the race there are riders all around. Some faster, some slower, but all doing their best to get to the finish line. Following slight descent you see Galibier looming in the distance and it seems that the valley floor, littered with cyclists, has an incline for as far as the eye can see. At the base of Galibier the ride is starting to take a toll on some. The highest peak of the day at 2646m and the hardest climb, I saw many riders walking their bikes and unfortunately also saw an air ambulance land a short distance away. Galibier was a struggle, but I made it.

Carefully Planned Care Package

One of the advantages of staying in was that the race passed right by our hotel while descending off Galibier and Lautaret. My very wise cycling buddy recommended that we make ourselves a care package and stow it at the side of the road 'just in case'. This is why it’s always a good idea to ride with people who are smarter than you! The care package turned out to be a godsend. I was pretty much spent after Galibier and was wondering how in the world I was going to tackle Alpe d'Huez. I ate the gels quickly and sipped the Coke found in my care package; all the way down into Bourg d'Oisans. By the time I got there I was feeling human again.

The finish on Alpe d’Huez

Finishing a race at the top of Alpe d'Huez is an experience of a lifetime, no matter where you place. All along the road there were people cheering me on. There was writing on the road, names of pros and teams and people were giving me water, shouting 'Allez, Allez!' and clapping as I passed. The climb was a blur. For some, this last climb proved to be too much. There were bodies littered all over the slopes. People laying down, people bent over guard rails emptying their stomachs, people sitting beside their bikes unsure as to whether they were going to continue. Bottom line, I knew that since I made it this far I had to find a way to make it to the top! I put my head down and plugged along as best I could, fuelled by caffeine and sugar.

La Marmotte Alpe d'Huez finish line

Crossing the finish line however, was very memorable. The sense of relief as I knew I had finished the last climb. The joy as I made the last turn up to the finish line to see family and friends cheering me on. The sense of accomplishment as I stepped off the bike and handed in my timing chip. The stories I had to share! And of course, the descent down Alpe d'Huez back to the parking lot where we left the car.

Specialized bike French AlpsNo silver medal for me, but no matter. The ride was epic. I pushed myself to the limit and got a real sense of what the pros must feel like after leaving it all out on the road. Choosing to enter La Marmotte was a great decision and I highly recommend it or something similar for your own cycling adventure. Although I certainly wasn't racing, and had no chance to place, there is nothing that pushes you quite as hard as trying to keep up with, or pass that person in front of you when you have a number on your back!

Do you have your own epic European cycling experience? I would love to hear about it.

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