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Ongoing work on the Chambon tunnel between the col du Lauteret and Bourg d'Oisans has meant that the organisers of the Marmotte sportif have had to find a new route. Leaving out the iconic Galibier has not pleased some riders. We take a look at the new route, its challenges and whether 2015 will go down as a vintage.

The Marmotte was first held in 1982 and is one of the oldest sportifs in France. It follows a fixed route of 174.4 km covering 5180 meters of climbing starting at Bourg d'Oisans and passing the Cols du Glandon, Telegraph, Galibier before finishing at the top of Alpe d'Huez. It also crosses the Lauteret descending from the Galibier. It is extremely popular and oversubscribed. The 2645 meter col du Galibier is one of the highest road passes in Europe and seen as a major achievement for participants. Some riders have to walk the final kms of this climb.

Road works on the Galibier -> Bourg d'Oisans section have led to a route change for 2015. The organisers have announced that after the traditional Glandon climb the race will take a small loop over the Lacets de Montvernier before climbing the Mollard and Croix de Fer descending to Bourg d'Oisans via the Glandon climb before tackling l'Alpe d'Huez. There has been a lot of disappointment from riders that the Galibier will not feature in this edition. The high point of the event will be the 2067 meter Croix de Fer.

Riders will start at Bourg d'Oisans and climb the Glandon as usual. The first dozen kilometers are flat on a fast road. The climb proper starts at Allemond (734m) and is irregular. An average 4.5% gradient hides two sections of 1km at around 11%, one just before les Riviers d'Allemont and another after a short descent after les Riviers. Indeed the average grade on the climb to les Riviers is 8% over 6km and the 5km climb to the Grand Maison dam is nearer 9%. ClimbByBike gives it a difficulty score of 98 but the change in grade and two short descents make the climb quite taxing; it is important not to get carried away on this first col as there is a lot of climbing to follow. There is a food stop at the Glandon pass and the technical descent is neutralized.

In previous years it was a imperative to pick up a group for the long drag up the Maurienne valley, frequently into a headwind, and stick with the group on the relatively easy climb of the Col du Telegraph. In 2015 there is just 5km to next climb of the spectacular Lacets de Montvernier. The lacets (hairpins) will feature in this year's Tour de France for the first time on stage 18. The 17 tight hairpins separate the Maurienne valley from the village of Pontamafrey. The climb is short, 275 meters of 4km for an average gradient of 7.6% and the first two 2km at 9%. The well engineered road is a delight to ride but it is narrow. The CBB rating may be just 44 but the climb is a real treat, like a micro Stelvio. At Pontamafrey there is a false summit followed by a little drag before a very fast descent back into the valley. Again just a short valley ride over to the climb to the Col du Mollard.

The climb to the Col du Mollard is in two halves. The first section, to Albiez le Jeune (feed station) features over 40 hairpins in shaded woodland. After riding the gentle first 2 km through Villargondran the road ramps up. Over 7% for the 8km before Albiez with a couple of km around 9%. There then follows 7km at a more moderate 3.5% before a final km before the col at over 9%. The upper section offers views over the Glaciers and snow capped summits of the Oisans. Overall its 1050 meters of climbing with an average grade of 6% and a CBB rating of 99.07, a harder than the Glandon.

A short, technical descent to the Arvan valley leaving little time for recovery brings you to the second act. The iconic Croix de Fer climb. Opened in 1912 the road has been used 16 times by the Tour de France since 1947. A relatively flat and fast road to St Sorlin d'Arves (feed station), 7km at a bit less than 4%, the road ramps up midway through the village with the final 5km around 9% with a km at more than 10%. Above St Sorlin the road zig zags through screen, alpine pastures, lakes and rock walls. It is true alpine climbing. Overall you climb 825 meters. The overall altitude may be less than the Galibier but the final kms are every bit as brutal. The CBB score for the Mollard/Croix de Fer pair is 164, slightly less than the Madeleine (166) and Galibier (168) due to the longer horizontal distance but the 1874 meters are a lot of vertical in almost one go. The climbing and descent are prettier than the Galibier with fewer long drags.

The descent off the Croix de Fer is fast with a couple of stings. A short climb to the Grand Maison dam, a technical descent to the bottom of the valley and a very steep 1km back up to les Riviers. The downhill to Allemond is very fast but straight then it is a short, flat ride along the valley to Bourg d'Oisans (feed station). If you make the 18h30 time cut you can then climb the legendary 21 hairpins to l'Alpe d'Huez. Some things don't change.

Overall there is less flat on this route connecting the climbs but more time is spent climbing. However the climbing is gentler and the overall altitude of the Croix de Fer is 600 meters less than the Galibier, which makes a difference. It will suit strong riders who can tap out the power on 7-8% grades hour after hour. Not pure climbers nor "rouleurs" who can push along on the flats. The Mollard is a shaded climb, which will help on a hot day. The lacets de Montvernier road is narrow and could cause some gridlock but hopefully the field will have thinned out a bit by then. I am assuming both the Montvernier and Mollard climb will have to be closed to any road traffic but they are only very lightly used anyway so this shouldn't pose any major problems for the authorities. the Mollard climb is narrower than the Telegraph but two cars can just about pass each other, it is no "Ditchling Beacon" bottleneck. The Croix de Fer is narrow after St Sorlin and this will be the hardest bit of the route before Alpe d'Huez for most riders and it is sun exposed with cliff faces reflecting baking sun onto riders.

If you really, really want the Galibier consider the Arvan Villards. A staged sportif set over 3 days on the weekend of the 14th July. Here is the revised Marmotte 2015 route in more detail



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