ICA Master Class Profile: The Grimpeur

Who is Mara Abbott?

Grimpeur (gram-peurr), or the feminine grimpeuse (gram-peuhz), is a French term, literally translated as “climber.” To be a true grimpeur, one must be strong-willed and physically tough, able to suffer more than the next rider to get to the top first. True heart. This kind of rider can excel in the mountains, like Eddy Merckx, but also be a powerhouse like George Hincapie and the ever colorful Jens Voigt. In the women’s peloton, American Mara Abbott is the epitome of a grimpeuse. This climbing profile was created in honor of this amazing female athlete.

In Rio de Janeiro, Abbott was by far the most experienced climber in the women’s peloton for the Olympics. With stretches that reached 20% in grade, Abbott and Dutch race leader Annemiek van Vleuten dropped most of the field as they scampered up the hard climb of Vista Chinesa. But when van Vleuten crashed out in the downhill (very scarily, I might add), only 10 kilometers separated Mara Abbott and the finish line. After the perilous descent, Mara put forth a veritable time trial effort, pushing herself to her limits, even after 125 km (78 mi) of hard racing. The whole world was breathlessly hanging on the edge of their seats watching her incredible drive. It was a heartbreaking loss for the US, as Anna van der Breggan of the Netherlands (Rabo-Liv), Emma Johansson of Sweden (WiggleHigh5), and Italian Elisa Longo Borghini (WiggleHigh5) worked together to overtake Abbott in the final 200 meters of the race.

We will never, ever forget the efforts of this brave, amazing cyclist!

The Profile

The Giro Rosa, or Giro d’Italia Femminile, is the premier stage race on the Women’s World Tour, which held its first edition in 1988 as the “Giro Donne.” This year, 2016, was the 27th year for the Giro Rosa. Another American, Megan Guarnier (Boels Dolmans) took the overall win for the nine-stage, 855.7-kilometer tour. Mara Abbott first appeared on the podium in the Giro in 2009, taking second place overall. The following year, she took home the maglia rosa, the famed pink jersey.

Like many stage races, the Giro Rosa 2016 included a 2-km prologue to set the General Classification. Stage 1 began in Gaiarine in the northeastern part of Italy, about 31 miles from Venice, and capped off stage 9 with the finish at Verbania, in the northwestern part of Italy on the shores of Lake Maggiore.

This profile details stage 5 of the Giro Rosa, which began in the town of Grosio and traveled 77.5 km to the finish line in Tirano, on the Switzerland–Italy border.

The Climb

Situated in the province of Lombardy, the Mortirolo is part of the Italian Alps and many professional riders consider it the most difficult climb in any of the major tours. Often referred to as the “Queen climb of Europe,” one pro—He Who Must Not Be Named but whose initials are L. A.—referred to it as the hardest climb he’s ever done.

The climb is just over 7.5 miles long, peaking at 1,300 meters, and the road is often only wide enough for one car. With an average grade of 10.5%, the incline maxes out at 14.2%. If that doesn’t mean that much to you, just know it is a very steep, very challenging climb!

In stage 5 of the Giro Rosa, there was an early crack in the peloton and Abbott took a chance to break away. English climber Emma Pooley was ahead of the peloton until halfway up the climb when Mara caught her. Pooley gave an incredible effort to keep Abbott’s wheel, but there was no stopping the American. This profile describes the excitement of the race between these two women as they made their way up the slopes of the Mortirolo.

Teaching This Profile

This is the first time we’ve offered a profile at ICA that is one long climb (outside of warm-up and cool-down). Some instructors might balk at that thought, but I promise you, it is very realistic and doable for 40 to 50 minutes. Outdoors, riders who tackle mountains might find themselves climbing continuously for anywhere from 30 minutes to over three long, grueling hours. I wouldn’t do this with a roomful of beginners, but if your riders have been with you for some time, this profile is not at all out of the question. Sara has provided cueing to modify the challenging ride for your less-fit riders and rest assured, there are plenty of attacks and challenges to keep your class engaged if you are wondering if they’ll get bored.

If you have concerns about your riders’ ability to hold one climb, plan this profile 4- to 6-weeks out and gradually lengthen the time you spend on a climb every week.

Then make a big event out of it to celebrate women’s cycling!

I can’t tell you how excited we are at ICA to offer a stage race profile centered around several amazing women racers, but especially highlighting the amazing Mara Abbott.

It’s about time!

ICA members can download the profile below.

EDIT: In June of 2017, Jennifer Sage had a chance to ride the Mortirolo while on a bike tour in the Italian Alpes. In her words: The Mortirolo is the hardest climb I’ve ever done! We also did the Stelvio (23 km with 48 switchbacks), the Bernina (40 km 25 mi!), and the Gavia. But it was the Mortirolo that will inhabit my brain with memories of unrelenting suffering—the “easy parts” were 10%! It was also very hot on that day, making it even harder. But a challenge like this also means there’s a tremendous feeling of satisfaction and pride having accomplished it. Note to anyone considering it: train harder than you think you’ll need to! I didn’t train enough…


  1. Terrific profile. I love Sara’s choice of music. She and I have very much the same approach, right down to respecting the titles in inserting pieces into specific places of the profile. I bookmarked a lot of other songs which I will go back and use on another day.

    1. Author

      Thank you Christine! I would love to know what your profiles are like.

  2. Wow, thanks! I presented this ride to my class last night and my regulars really liked the workout. I put the gradients in the context of local roads and that added a better realization of what the effort ought to be. Tomorrow they get a reprieve with an endurance ride 😉

    1. Author

      So glad your class liked it, Dale!

  3. Author

    All of the songs, except the three by Methodic Doubt Music are available on Spotify. I’ve created the playlist, just search for me: Sara Butler Zalesky.

    1. I found the 3 by Methodic Doubt Music on iTunes for $0.99 each 🙂

  4. Is this playlist available on spotify also?

  5. This is great! I do reach an all climbing profile. I call mine “Vail Pass”. My students love it and I think this profile will be a big hit!

    1. Author

      Thanks Bill! I’d love to hear how your class took to the climb.

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