The Granfondo in Italy was a nightmare. The race was shortened because of the weather as there was snow and ice on the three highest passes we should have ridden. In the end we did 75 miles over four lower passes in torrential freezing rain.
Believe me over 6 hours in those conditions is no fun. Climbing the mountains was not too bad at least the effort required kept you warm but descending was murder. Not only was it bitterly cold but trying to race a bike down a steep mountain road, running with water, round endless hairpin bends, with freezing wet hands was verging on suicidal. In fact one girl did not make it and hit a crash barrier, went straight over the top and down the mountain. According to the local paper she was airlifted to hospital by helicopter where she was in a critical condition.
Another club member, James Waller, also rode in the event and he suffered very badly from the cold and wet. When I met him at the last feed station he was shivering violently and looked to be on the verge of hypothermia! It was only James' sheer will power and determination not to give up that got him to the end.
For the Marmotte in France the weather was at the other extreme. Clear blue sky and blisteringly hot. On the final climb up Alpe D'Huez the temperature in the sun was over 40 degrees. Not what you want when you have to climb a 3,600ft mountain for just over 8 miles at an average gradient of 8.5% (14% max) particularly after riding 100 miles including 3 other mountain climbs totalling over 12,000ft all at similar average and peak gradients. The 6,000ft descent covering 25 miles from the top of the Galibier to the foot of Alpe D'Huez was, however, breathtaking - just imagine 20 Stanway descents back to back only steeper with a generous helping of hairpin bends thrown in for good measure!!!
Given the conditions I was happy with my result as I had set myself a target of getting under 10 hours for the race but eventually came in 10 hours and 10 minutes. That was after taking two 2 to 3 minute breaks standing under waterfalls on the way up Alpe D'Huez just to get my body temperature back under control!!!!!
As for the rest of the trip I did some excellent rides over some of the classic climbs of both the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France. The scenery is spectacular and the climbs, whilst a serious challenge, are easily doable so long as you have got the right gears on your bike and have put the miles in at home first. At a minimum I would recommend a compact 50/34 chain set with at least a 28 as your largest cassette sprocket. I went with a 50/34 up front and an 11-32 on the back just to give me a bail out gear or the opportunity to spin up on climbs to give my quads a rest. I climbed Alpe D'Huez on relatively fresh legs 5 days before the race on my target race heart rate (15 beats below my 25 TT rate) using my 34 up front and my 24 and 28 at the back in 1 hour 18 minutes. Alas some 20 minutes slower on race day!!!!! The picture was taken just before the finish.