L’Alsacienne – wild Marathon Experience

A short Story about L’Alsacienne – a relatively young cycling marathon in the French Vosques

Many of you may know the Grand Ballon and the petit Ballon here.
The classic granfondo “Trois Ballons” was too early in the year for a good weather rider like me.
So I thought, I might sign up for L’Alsacienne. It is now in it’s third year, and the long route with 167km seemed quite reasonable to me. Somehow I must have overlooked the 4500m of altitude. In the end it should be even over 4650 due to a vigorous ascent at the very end.

Alsacienne Map

we took off directly into the climb to Vieil Armand heading towads Grand Ballon. Not at all a bad idea with temperatures around 10°C. So at that point we are still pretty happy with 1998 other people to get warmed up. More or less easily we did the first two “summits”. At the top of the Vieil Armand, it’s off to the left in a rather moderate descent and then up again a few meters to Markstein. The descent from Markstein is like many in the area very nice to drive, but in comparison still unspectacular. Except for a few cobblestone passages that pop up surprisingly (they start just before a turn)

As soon as we arrive the valley, it’s back up to the right to Markstein via Bramont and Route des Cretes. So far, the angulations are in the range of 8%, and the world is still good. But tso far we only did 65 of 167kilometers. Between Routes des cretes and Markstein, a small group of people from Freiburg and Karlsruhe catch up and join us. From now on we have very entertaining conversations and a slightly faster average speed. Before we were already quite lonely among the almost 500 riders on the big lap. And up here, the views over the Vosges are sensational.

The descent to Schweighouse is quite an experience: right-left combinations alternate with tight bends and long high-speed corners. I rarely had so much fun in a downhill. And that’s called a low mountain range?
The fairly short climb up Bannstein can run smoothly, and also the Firstplan is pleasant to ride. Unfortunately we let ourselves be driven by the nice company and the flowing mountains to overpower a bit. The descent from Firstplan is a reward for the speedy uphill and an absolute pleasure. Hammer!

Before the ascent to the Petit balloon, we let go the group and have a break at a parking lot. Drinking in peace, eating energy-bars, and I put my feet in the water. Here we meet Jan, who joins us at the break and for the remaining very very hard kilometers. What comes next is incredible.

The Petit Ballon on it’s west side clime is stated 8.4% on average and just under 12% maximum. But even the first hills out of Wasserbourg feel much steeper. We also just now recognise that the asphalt here rolls incredibly slow all the time. For sure, the Petit Ballon will bring the decision to us. We stop and get out of th saddle several times to be able to at least drink something. Over these 120km it was hard to hydrate and eat properly, as it’s always either uphill or fast downhill. Cycling in the plains doesn’t take place at the Alsacienne.

We can no enjoy the descent. The asphalt is wavy, rough and pitted, and we are weak and exhausted. After the hard climb, the Petit Ballon also beats us on the descent.

Right at the end of the descent, a catering is waiting for us – and a sharp turn to the left into the next ascent to Platzerwasel and then back to Markstein. We were already there twice that day. But now we need to refuel with some Coke and some more energy-food. Unfortunately, there is hardly anything left because we were properly passed. The sweeper bus collects the riders of the 125km tour and volunteers from the 167s. We make our way to the Platzerwasel. Now it’s just about not giving up. This ascent also has some ramps over 10%, but is less disgusting to drive than the previous one. The weather is changeable and cool all day long, now a few drops are falling. Fortunately, it will not rain. The Breitfirst (we were there already before, too) and Markstein are only small horns. Then another catering comes in sight at the bottom before the rise to the Grand Ballon. We ignore the honking of the sweeper bus and bite us in the last? next-to-last? next-to-next-to-last? ascent. It’s tough, we’re slow, but it’s only 200hm over the Grand Ballon.

Then finally again a real decent. The view from above is spectacular. We all know these from the helicopter pictures of the Tour de France. Thanks to the nice trio that we are, we can even enjoy such moments. Now we’re going back the way we came. So up again over the cobblestones to the Vieil Armand. Short but tough 100hm, then back downhill. It’s fun now.

As a reward, the organizers have come up with a final climb over a paved forest road. On 1.4km, it’s up again with an average of 11.2%. But now it doesn’t matter anymore. 1400m – 1200m – 99.999cm – 800m – 600m – 400m – 200m and finish.
I was barely aver as much exhausted after cycling like after this crazy bike marathon.

It sounds like a total torture, but it was also a lot of fun. The area is beautiful, the roads are awesome. And they are virtually empty. With only 2000 participants, it is a very familiar event, organized in a very symathic way. At each corner we were cheered by volunteers, even though it’s somewhere in the nowhere.

At the finish, someone said: “They want to break us down here. They don’t want to show us the scenery, because then we could just easily pass every hill and mountain once.” If that’s the case: It worked.

Right next to the race office there is a campsite with warm showers and almost tame storks. The cost was 30€ – for 2 guys and two nights. Somehow I still cannot believe it.
(For comparison: The Ötzi has (slightly less than) 5500hm on 238km, L’Ansacienne is 70km less)

Supplement: Driving time was 9:23.
Much longer than my Ötzi times, but I’m also fat and less fit.


L’Alsacienne – wild Marathon Experience