La Marmotte is without a doubt “the Queen mother” off all cyclosportives (or granfondos). Usually held on the first Saturday of July, this tour of hell starts in the French alpine village of Bourg d’Oisans. Since 1982, between 5000 and 7000 participants have eagerly dragged themselves over more than 175 km and 5000 vertical meters the finish line in the famous ski resort of Alpe d’Huez.
La Marmotte course.
After 10 kilometers from the start in Bourg d’Oisans, the course hits the road to the Col de Glandon. In some editions the Croix de Fer is added, but that is basically the same climb except for the last 2 to 3 kilometers. The Col de Glandon is no less than 21.3 kilometers long at an average gradient of 6.9%. About halfway through the climb there is a flat stretch and even a short decline after a small mountain village. but this relief is only short lived before the road goes up steeply again. The climb can therefore be divided into two parts, whereby you are actually constantly facing a gradient of 7%-8%.
After reaching the top of the Glandon, the descent down the other side is neutralized. This was imposed some years back after too many accidents started to happen on the narrow, high-risk descent. Down in the valley, the time keeping is started again and the course continues through a wide valley for about 20 flat kilometers before the start of the climb to the Col du Télégraphe. This col is only 12.1 km long at a gradient of 7.1% but the descent after the summit is only about 4 kilometers before the climb to the legendary Col du Galibier starts. That is why you can also see the Télégraphe and Galibier as one long climb, which in all fairness it actually is.
The Galibier is a real killer with 17.5 km and a 6.9% average. It starts from Valloire in a pleasant way, but the last 7 kilometers are constantly above 8% and also way above an altitude of 2000 meters. After reaching the top at no less than 2642m you will almost certainly have suffered from the altitude. And weather conditions can also become a big factor here. From the Galibier it is a short, steep descent to the Col de Lautaret. From there, the road is much broader and brings you in a long a relatively straight descent back to Bourg d’Oisan at the foot of the Alpe d’Huez.
Then finally, after more than 160 kilometers, you hit the bottom of the mythical Alpe d’Huez climb. Just like the Galibier, this climb provides little shelter, but it at least it sits at a much lower altitude. Although that can also make is a very hot climb. This climb to the Alpe provides the last 1000 vertical meters with an average percentage of 8% over 14 kilometers. Especially the first 4 kilometers are very hard with percentages of 10/11%. After 177 kilometers and 5368 vertical meters you will be awarded eternal fame as the finisher of La Marmotte at the top of the Alpe d’Huez.
How hard is La Marmotte?
Every year, a lot of starters do not finish La Marmotte, on average about 10% or so. So it is not an easy ride. Perhaps not even the length, but especially the altimeters in combination with the possible, sometimes extreme weather conditions (high heat, or rain and cold, anything can happen in summer in the high Alpine regions) can make it hard. Scorching heat makes La Marmotte very hard indeed. The red lantern usually takes more than 13 hours to finish. In the JOIN app, we recommend La Marmotte to cyclists with a level from 28 to 38.
How much should you train for this Granfondo?
To be able to finish La Marmotte Granfondo Alpes you mainly need a very well developed endurance and that means you should train a lot of hours. Unlike, for example, the hills of Limburg, you do not need an extreme amount of power or a lot of power above the functional threshold point (FTP). You mainly want a good aerobic condition and therefore also a high FTP. You do this with targeted endurance training with sufficient tempo work, but of course also regular high-intensity training. In general, you do need some years of cycling experience, in which you train at least 6-8 hours a week for La Marmotte in the last six months and even 10 hours or more in the last 2 months. There will undoubtedly be plenty of examples of cyclists (with some talent) who have completed it with less training hours, but if you really want to be prepared and complete La Marmotte in a healthy and also relatively enjoyable way, these are our general guidelines.
Race day tactics.
In La Marmotte there are 3 distinguishable pieces of tarmac; uphill, downhill and flat. Uphill it is important to try to stay just below the aerobic threshold. This is usually around 85% of the FTP. You can find out your level by doing a performance test. If the endurance is well trained you should be able to complete La Marmotte uphill with a power of 80 to 85% of FTP. The trick is to do the minimum on the flat. Every year too many cyclists try to make up for lost time on the Glandon by riding hard to the start of the Col du Telegraph, but this is not wise at all. Save your energy for the climbs and on the flats keep the power below 70% of our FTP. Finally, keep your legs still on the downhills and use these descents to eat, drink and recover.
What should you eat and drink?
As much as you can! Given the intensity of the effort, you want to use the maximum absorption capacity in terms of drinking and eating. And begin with that directly from the start. You can only manage that maximum uptake of between 60-90 grams of carbohydrates per hour by using good isotonic sports drinks, energy bars and energy gels from the well known brands. You should aim for 600 to 750 ml of fluids per hour with up to 20 to 30 grams of carbohydrates added. In total, including these carbohydrates, you want to consume 90 grams per hour in a 2:1 ratio of maltodextrin-fructose. Most high-quality sports nutrition products contain this ratio of carbohydrates, but be sure to check the label. To be able to absorb 90 grams of carbohydrates per hour, you will have to practice this in your training sessions. The so-called ‘train the gut’ is definitively something you should pay attention to.
Finally, don’t forget to enjoy the beautiful landscape in the Alps and JOIN is of course ready for you with the right training plan and Tips & Tricks to prepare you as best as possible for La Marmotte or any other cycling adventure.