My guide to cycling La Marmotte and Maratona Dles Dolomites

Alwyn JonesMy passion for cycling the most challenging and hilliest sportives I suspect comes from my roots living in the Conwy Valley in North Wales. Cycling up the steepest climbs we could find with our old Raleigh 5 speeds zigzagging our way up to the lakes above. Then suddenly the MTB was here and years of majestic riding and racing followed in the great forestry’s of North Wales.

Then suddenly I found myself in Lincolnshire, and my passion for MTB and cycling began to wane. Simply put; not enough mountains or even the modest hill! My friend however persuaded me to buy a road bike and suddenly my passion for cycling was reborn.

My first challenge was to cycle a 100 miles locally in the Lincolnshire Wolds which I enjoyed but was already hungry for the next challenge.

Then the challenge moved swiftly to cycle the hardest British Sportive over 100 miles, widely recognised as the infamous Fred Whitton Challenge.

Then after completing the Fred Whitton you naturally look for something even harder and I soon learned of 'La Marmotte' widely recognised as the most challenging of European sportives!

La Marmotte Bourg D'Osians, France

Mar Motte GranfondoLa Marmotte is an annual, one-day cyclosportive event in France for amateur cyclists. It is thought to be the first ever cyclosportive and also remains one of the most popular today in Europe, with interest exceeding the 7000 places available.

Covering a distance of 174 km (108 miles) and with 5,180 m (16,990 ft) of climbing, the route is considered to be one of the hardest of any cyclosportive and comparable to any of the most challenging high mountain stages of the Tour de France.

Profile Mar Motte Gran FondoThe route features a who’s who of the classic Tour de France alpine climbs and the scenery between climbs is not so bad either in the Savoie and Hautes-Alpes regions of France. The event begins in the village of Bourg d'Oisans which lies at the foot of the legendary climb up Alp d'Huez.

The start is a 10km stretch to the foot of the climb up to Col du Glandon which is a 27.5km climb at an average gradient of 4.5% with a maximum gradient of 11.1%. This is then followed by a long descent to St Jean. It's advisable to take arm warmers and a gillet with you from the start, as the descents are long and can be very cold.

Col du GlandonCol du Glandon

There then follows a stretch to the beginning of the second major climb at 35km in length the Col du Galibier (2642m) with an average gradient of 5.48% and maximum gradient of 15%. It is climbed via the Col du Telegraphe (1570m). The climb seems to go on forever and involves riding at an altitude most of us have never experienced before. There then follows a 47km descent to Bourg d'Oisans.

The descents on La Marmotte are very long and tiring, and it is very important to be alert and aware of your surroundings at all times. I've seen many accidents on the descents. To the extent that the descent of Col du Glandon is not included in your total time. This has been done to encourage safe descending by all.

Col du GalibierCol du Galibier via Col du Telegraphe

As you approach Bourg d'Oisans you know what lies ahead the 14km climb up the hairpin bends of the legendary Alp d'Huez (1803m) at an average gradient of 8.19% and maximum gradient of 12%. This is after 164km of riding.

I have witnessed cyclists in all kinds of conditions on the way up, on every bend many cyclists are suffering with cramping and dehydration. But still they try to carry on up, bend by bend to the finish.

Alpe-dHuezAlpe d’Huez

The La Marmotte is a must do event and if I could fit it in every year I would !!

Entries usually open on the 1st of December on the website, and it is first come first served. Entries sell out within a few hours.

After completing the La Marmotte three times in the French Alps my focus turned to the Maratona Dles Dolomites in Italy and still my passion for sportives continues.

Maratona Dles Dolomites LaVilla, Dolomites.  Italy

Maratona Dles Dolomites

The Maratona Dles Dolomites is one of Italy's greatest Gran Fondo style rides. It is televised live and ridden by some big name retired ex professionals. Miguel Indurain was in the 2012 event.

The Maratona is a mass participation event, and in 2012 attracted 31,600 applications for 8,800 places. Anyone can enter online at their website, but unlike the La Marmotte, it is a lottery.

I was drawn to this event looking for a new challenge for 2012, after in previous years participating in La Marmotte.

The event itself is not considered as hard as La Marmotte, due to the fact there is less vertical climbing (4190m) and it's shorter in distance (138km). But the experience of riding in the picturesque and majestic Italian Dolomites and to ride up the same passes made famous by the Giro d'Italia makes this Gran Fondo a must do event.

There seems little rest bite from the off as you climb 7 Dolomite Passes. Namely Passo Campolongo, Passo Pordoi, Passo Sella, Passo Gardena, Passo Camplongo (2nd time), Passo Giau and Passo Falzarego/ Passo Valporola.

8703 cyclists started the 2012 event from LaVilla. Within minutes you are climbing the first pass the  Passo Campolongo wheel to wheel, shoulder to shoulder with thousands of cyclists. Cyclists jump for gaps ahead, cross your path, cyclists shout out aloud for fear of losing their partners, and worse of all for me, braking and coming to gridlock as your going up hill!

Passo-Campolongo1. Passo Campolongo

Going up the next two passes Passo Pordoi and Passo Sella the crowds of cyclists slowly start to thin out. Passo Gardena follows with then a second ascent of Passo Campolongo which is much more enjoyable without the crowds.

2. Passo Pordoi

3. Passo Sella

Passo Gardena4. Passo Gardena

5. Passo Campolongo (a second time)

5.5 minor bumps on the way to

Once Passo Campolongo is completed the second time around a timely interlude from climbing with a faster section of rolling hills before the harder part of the ride begins with the relentless ascent up Passo Giau. Save yourselves for this one it's the hardest part of the ride. After Giau the last long climb begins up to Passo Falzarego followed by the short extension up to Passo Valporola.

passo-giau6. Passo Giau

7. Passo Falzarego/Passo Valparola

After Valporola there is only 20km left. Downhill to LaVilla and then a steady incline to Corvara to finish in a blaze of glory.

The Maratona in my opinion is a must do event. It is the best organised and value for money event I have ever done, at home or abroad. I've come away with great memories and I am already entered in Maratona 2013.

If you are interested in entering the Maratona in 2014 you can find all the information you need at their website

Yours in Sport
Alwyn Jones


3 thoughts on “My guide to cycling La Marmotte and Maratona Dles Dolomites

  1. I rode the Marmot in 2013, this post bought it all back! It was an epic experience, I’ve ridden in the French Alps a fair bit but never with 7000+ riders, and it was so hot. I’ve always thought the Telegraphe was fairly easy, but it wasn’t on that day!

    The last kilometre of Alpe d’Huez I swore I would never do the Marmot again. As soon as I crossed the line I knew I WOULD do it again, brilliant day.

    Now, if only I could get over the short steep stuff in the UK…

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