How do you train for the Marmotte Granfondo Alps or the Etape du Tour? - Why is it Europe's Toughest Granfondo?
How hard is cycling in the French Alps? How hard is the Marmotte or Etape du Tour?
A detailed look at my Marmotte Granfondo training plan
Firstly, full disclosure, I'm not a cycling coach and this is not a formal training plan for the Marmotte Granfondo Alps or the Etape du Tour. Secondly, I'm very lucky to call the French Alps my home hence I'm training in the mountains all year round. I never take it for granted.
I've been asked many times what was my Marmotte training plan and this is a close look at the volume of riding I did in the run up to the 2017 Marmotte which got me to the start line in peak fitness. That year I went on to finish the Marmotte Granfondo Alps in my quickest time of 7 hours 25 mins. I was 49 at the time and I even felt strong on Alpe D'Huez. This is what worked for me.
January and February
My rides were mainly limited to Zwift due to the roads being snow laden however I had entered the Strade Bianche Granfondo in March. I was following a rough training plan on Zwift however mixing with some Zwift racing. It wasn't until mid February that I started riding outside. I combined riding with some swimming, training a total 20 hours in January and 21 hours in February with a longest ride of 90kms.
Prior to Strade Bianchi I replicated the fondo height gain on some short rides. Strade Bianchi Granfondo is usually the first weekend in March and I rode the long course in pretty much mid Winter conditions, rain, around 5 or 6 degrees and finished the 130kms in what I considered a respectable sub 4hrs 30 Mins with 2200M of climbing on the gravel roads of Tuscany. Work commitments limited maintaining the early season form however I was on the bike for a total 33 hours in March.
I competed in 2 local road events - one circuit race 62kms 500M climbing and an FFC registered granfondo (effectively a road race here in France) 75kms finished in the main bunch sprinting for 9th place. At the end of the month I had a weekend in Mallorca and rode strongly in the 167km event of the Mallorca 312. I finished in 5hrs 26 mins with 2200M climbing, and 67th place (3000 entrants). April totals - 38 hours on the bike and 1000kms. I felt really good in Mallorca and its always a stunning place to ride.
After a long Winter I was back in the UK visiting family. I rode with the Warrington RC chain gang and also some longish steady rides commuting from parents to in-laws. 30 hours total lbeit with not too much climbing.
Back at home in the Alps and time to restore my climbing legs. Each weekend in June there are similar events to the Marmotte Granfondo but a much smaller field of riders and usually a shorter distance. These events are excellent introductions to riding in the Alps and if time and budget allow then I strongly recomend them as a precursor to ridingf the Marmotte or the Etape. I did the Time Megeve 138kms in 6hrs 8 mins 3770M of climbing. The following weekend the Faucigny Glieres event 81kms in just over 3 hours with 2000M of climbing and then the following weekend the Morzine Haute Chablais event. This last event was 150kms 3800M climbing in 6hrs 12 mins and I was feeling very strong and made progress compared to the Time Megeve earlier in the month. The following weekend I was riding in the Grand Bo at Les Grand Bornand. I opted to do the short event as I started to taper for the Marmotte. 90kms, 2000M of climbing, I came in 19th in 3hrs 6 mins. The following week I did a couple of short rides as I tapered for the Marmotte. I'd done 50 hours on the bike during the month and 4 events.
The day of the Marmotte Granfondo alps arrived - The weather was favourable however low digits at the top of the Galibier, then 30 degrees plus climbing Alpe D'Huez. I had a strong ride and maintained my target watts on all the climbs of 240 watts. I finished in 7 hours 25 mins on the classification (doesn’t include the neutralised descent of the Glandon so actual time would have been around 7 hours 50 minutes). I was sub 1 hour 15 mins on Alpe D'Huez which I was very pleased with at the end of the 180KMS and nearly 5000M of climbing.
Summary and lessons learned
Some say the Marmotte is Europe's toughest Granfondo and I tend to agree. In my lead up to the Marmotte I had cycled around 5000kms and climbed 72000M - this is including turbo. A total of 190 hours on the bike since January combined with a bit of swimming. June was the key month with the events each weekend. On reflection I don't think this is an excessive amount of riding to prepare for the Marmotte. In comparison I went slower in the 2022 Marmotte even though I thought I was fitter and had more training under the belt as the event was in September that year due to Covid. You can see what happened to me in the 2022 Marmotte Granfondo below. It wasn't pretty at the finish.
I hope this helps in your quest to finish the Marmotte Granfondo Alps and please drop me an email or whatsapp with any questions.