Marmot Tours Road Cycling Holidays & Challenges in Europe

Epic Raid cycling challenges: two new cycling holidays…but what is all the fuss about?

New Road Cycling Holiday Itineraries 

At Marmot Tours we try to add a couple of new itineraries to our portfolio of road cycling holidays each season.  It’s not so much about ‘growth’ of the company but more about

a) keeping those of you who have done quite a few of our trips happy with fabulous new holiday options

b) a way for us to explore some of the most beautiful areas in Southern Europe

c) keeping our guides happy with new views out of their van (office!) windows!

This last summer, 400 of you chose to do one of our Raid itineraries, which equates to 55% of the trip places we sold. Having added the Classic Cols of the Dolomites and the Ventoux Assault for the 2015 season, it was also apt that 2016 should have a good focus on Raids.

The best places to cycle in Europe: what to do and where to go 

Within France, fortunately for us, there are a number of well established Raid routes, planned by local cycling clubs in France and recognised by the French federation of Cyclo Tourism (FFCT).   Their local knowledge and passion for road cycling has resulted in the development of some fabulous traverses across regions of France.  The Raid Pyrenean for example, which traverses the French Pyrenees from coast to coast in 100 hours, was devised by the Cylcing Club in Pau during the 1950s, is still our most popular itinerary.

For many, it is the start of their foray into the physically challenging, emotionally testing and incredibly rewarding world of Raiding.

Help from expert Marmot Tours cycling guides 

We were well aware of how stunning the Massif Central in Southern France is – we have run walking holidays in the Auvergne and the Cevennes and made a mental note that we MUST get a road cycling holiday off the ground here.  Marmot guides Tim Myers,  Graham Hey and Merv Capewell all know different parts of the region well (where it extends from their various back doorsteps!) so we had plenty of expert help in planning the trip.

Raid du Massif Central

The official Raid du Massif Central is the brain child of the Mazametain cycling club and is a fabulous route in its own right, but once we were aware of some of the very special places to cycle in the area, it seemed rude not to embellish their route slightly with a couple of Marmot Tours additions, so as to make it an outstanding trip (and really rather challenging!).

Raid Sardinia

The Raid Sardinia has been a different kettle of fish altogether as, of course, being outside of France, there was no established route.   It’s been exciting to create our first Marmot Tours Raid route, and we couldn’t have done it without, Pedro Mireles, Marmot Guide, who has been a real asset to James in developing the trip.   The result is a beautiful route that weaves its way through the mountainous interior, of this gorgeous island, as well as the compulsory coastal riding for views of those azure depths.

Top tips for riding a Raid cycling challenge 

Devising our own itinerary from scratch meant analysing what makes a good Raid and the sometimes intangible aspects that make a Raid such an incredible thing to do.  Here are the things we’ve noted about Raids over the last few years:

A physical and mental challenge

1. Any Raid is a challenge… ok, we admit that it’s debatable as to whether it can be considered a holiday!  It’s a physical and mental challenge, and like all good challenges its bloomin’ amazing when you achieve it. Of course, the sense of achievement comes from completing a Raid within the timeframe set, but also breaks down further into getting to the top of a particular col, getting round the next bend, sitting on the saddle first thing in the morning on day 5 when your butt hurts!

Every cyclist who does a Raid, whether an experienced Raider and whippet-like col climber, or ex-Rugby playing, debutante to cycling, will be facing their own demons and overcoming their own doubts.  It’s incredibly rewarding and frankly sometimes it is a bit life changing.

Stay focused

2. You can’t do a Raid and think about work.  It is pure escapism (there we go – we knew that there was an aspect of holiday to all of this!).  You have utter permission to focus just on what you are doing, what your body needs and wants, AND to live and breath cycling!

Bonding with other cyclists

3. Half, or actually we’d say much more than half, of the buzz of a Marmot Tours Raid is the people you cycle with.  It’s the basic premise of team bonding events… if a group of you are all aiming for the same target then you share something.   You experience the same highs and lows, the same scenery, the same snacks, the same tub of chamois cream (?!).   Like we say, it’s a bonding thing!  Lots of Raiders stay in touch and cycle / train together in the UK after a holiday.  They re-book together on the next Raid experience.   They have both offered support and been supported in turn and it means something.

Absorb your surroundings

4. The Raids we have in our portfolio are not just about cycling a long way and over lots of big hills.  They are through some of the most beautiful areas that are on offer in Southern Europe.  All of them offer, with varying frequency, incredible vistas, quiet roads, rural villages, and a glimpse into the culture and way of life of an area.

Until you have been to several of the mountain ranges of Europe you don’t notice quite how different they are: particularly if you are comparing the Picos (sorry, no Raid there as yet!) with the Alps for example, but even the Pyrenees and the Alps are worlds apart in terms of character and ambiance.  Being on a bike means you have time to absorb what is around you and appreciate it for what it is.

Hurrah, another holiday bit!   Add into this mix the fact that in most cases (!) the weather will be warm and pleasant or hot and sunny and its all beginning to sound quite tempting… no?   Obviously you may get the odd day of rain and rubbish weather, but doing a multi day event means that it will only be for a small percentage of your time on the bike.

Raids are long-term

5. As a multi day challenging cycling event, Raids are a long term goal: most of our clients who are regular Raiders are fit cyclists but they like a goal for their training/fitness regime, particularly to get them through a UK winter(!) and a multi day cycling event gives them that.

Be prepared for significant climbs

6. A Raid route works perfectly in mountainous regions.  Some of our Raids are about big and significant climbs: the Cime de la Bonette in the Raid Alpine, the Tourmalet in the Raid Pyrenean and some are about accumulating surprising metres of ascent through regular ‘undulations’ (as James likes to call them!).  Hills, and sometimes quite chunky ones is how the rest of us know them! The Raid Corsica is a favourite amongst regular Raiders… and although the itinerary shows far less ‘significant’ climbs, it is voted one of the harder Raids.  The new Raid du Massif Central will probably be a similar beast…

Training at altitude

7. Multi day cycling is fabulous training for other events.  The world of cyclosportives is an ever expanding one and the competition aspect (competing against yourself, or others) is addictive and lets face it, good fun!  Cycling at altitude for several days in a row is something that you can rarely get organised on your own doorstep (certainly not in the UK)!  You need to be on ‘holiday’ to be able to focus on it and knowing that you might be able to improve on your performance in the Etape or La Marmotte is a great motivation.

Value for money – make the most of it!

8. A Raid is actually pretty good value for money.  I know, we would say that, but if you compare how much it costs you to enter a European one day sportive where you get one day of cycling, compared to doing a Raid where (depending on the itinerary) you get 5 or 6 days cycling, it’s a no brainer!

The feeling at the end is unbeatable! 

The fact is, that at the end of a Raid you feel fitter, stronger, proud of yourself and part of a pretty exclusive gang.   Actually that is a bit of a fib.  At the end of a Raid you feel relieved, knackered, sore and like you might throw your bike in the bin.

You want to laugh and cry at the same time and drink some beer.  BUT about 4 days later, you feel fitter, stronger, proud of yourself and part of a pretty exclusive gang.  You also have permission to brag about your achievement for an unspecified (but very long) period of time to friends and family.   Obviously if you buy your Marmot Tours Raid souvenir jersey/gilet then you get to brag to strangers too 😉

As always, the proof is in the pudding and, once bitten, quite a lot of people are infected with the Raid bug.  They do one and they want to come back for more – need I say more…. its also obviously addictive!   Why haven’t you tried it yet?