One simple question is how Cisco got involved in one of the largest fund raisers in the Netherlands, Alpe d’HuZes, a couple of years ago: “May we borrow a router, please?”

Mark sits with his laptop on his lap and a series of large monitors behind him at the network operating center for the Alpe d’HuZes event.

Alpe d’HuZes is a fundraiser for the Dutch Cancer Society. During this one-day event approximately 5,000 participants will run, hike, or cycle up the legendary Alpe d’Huez in the French Alps. This Alpe is also known as the Dutch Alpe, because many famous Dutch pro riders won in this stage of the Tour de France.  

Going up the Alpe symbolizes the battle patients, family, and friends are fighting. The goal during the Alpe d’HuZes event is to reach the summit six times on a single day.  

Six translates to Zes in Dutch, hence the name of the event: Alpe d’HuZes. 

At Cisco, we have this great culture of giving back to the community and are even provided 40 hours each year (separate from our PTO) to volunteer and contribute to a good cause. I probably don’t need to explain how cancer can affect lives and, so, it was an easy decision for me to join the Cisco Team to support this event.  

For the past few years, Cisco has been supporting the event with equipment and staff who have helped to build and operate the network on the mountain. So, our answer was, “Yes!” when asked if they could borrow a router.  

Mark stands at the finish line wearing a "Between Hope and Possible there is a Bridge" shirt.

If you think building a network on a mountain is challenging – well, you would be right. 

The network contains hundreds of meters of cable, dozens of switches, access points, IP uplinks to TV/radio broadcasters and collaboration tools. This is all needed to connect the event’s organization, press, emergency services, participants, supporters to the rest of the world. But Cisco has proven repeatedly it can handle this challenge, and – of course – at Cisco we can’t just sit idly by.  

We’re not just motivated by connecting the world, but in changing the world too. 

So, it was only natural that Cisco employees would wind up entering the challenge itself and actively participating in the Alpe d’HuZes with a cycling team. In 2019 we were also joined by a team of Cisco business partners. Since 2017 the teams have raised over €100,000.  

I have been involved each year and have grown my participation each year as well. For 2019 I extended my challenge by fulfilling the role of team captain with two goals: 

1. Raise at least €2,500  

2. Ride up the Alpe six times 

Mark cycling up Alpe d’HuZes on a beautiful sunny day with the French Alps in the distance behind him.

Raising funds isn’t quite the easiest thing in the world, but for a cause as good as this – I knew it could be done. My team thought a good idea might be ‘selling’ space on our team jerseys for business logos that contributed. For a donation, their logo would get the opportunity to be featured. I knew that between our team’s multiple networks (I, for example, joined Cisco in 2016 through an acquisition) and many amazing friends and family – we could make this happen. In just a few weeks we raised over €1,000! 

You also never know who will be moved to donate. I remember being on a Webex with a customer while at the Alpe. He asked if I was on holiday because of the beautiful scenery he saw in the background. After explaining to him where I was and what I was doing there, he donated to my fundraiser page whilst we were still on the call!  

Now that’s the power of technology. 

The second goal would require some training. The Alpe is no stranger to me as it’s a very challenging ride, starting with a 10%+ incline for the first 2 kilometers (1.25 miles). However, the following 12+ kilometers (7.5 miles) are, with an average slope of 8%, brutal too. So, to be able to cycle up this mountain six times in one day, I had to put in some serious effort.  

Once I drafted my training schedule, I realized I had another challenge: how do I fit this training schedule into all the other things I have to do in life 

For my work I travel very frequently, and the work can take me almost anywhere. How am I going to put in the hours and hours of training when I’m on the road? I often ended up training in hotel gyms. When possible, I would run or cycle outdoors too. This brought me to many interesting places as I prepared – even cycling up the Yas Marina Formula 1 track in Abu Dhabi. All thanks to Cisco’s work/life balance and flexibility, I was able to make time for this cause.

Finally, it was the big day! This first climb, which is called the “silent” climb, is a very magical one as the new day emerges and nature awakens. It gives you a quiet moment to reflect on what brought you to this mountain. I summited for the first time around 6:00am but had very little time to celebrate. I was on a tight schedule of 2 hours per round trip, and that would be my routine for the rest of the day.

Mark holds his biking shirt smiling next to Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins.At last, on the 6th climb, I took a moment to have a break, enjoy the event itself as I watched other participants go by – and found myself reflecting on all those I lost and all those still fighting this horrible disease. Being on the mountain gave me hope, though, because I immediately thought of those who had beat cancer and how research and our efforts on this day were helping to provide more hope to others! 

After crossing the finish line my emotions were everywhere and I needed a few minutes to regain myself. I made it, and I had achieved all my goals – raising over €4,500 for cancer research! 

I cycled 177.65 KM, gained 6,875m in elevation, sat on my saddle for 11 hours, 53minutes and 58 seconds pushed out 201 Watts on average during the climbs and burnt 8.400 kCal.

All in all, on so many levels – technology, fundraising, and effort – it was a great day of giving back. I am proud that Cisco supports causes like this, and that they encourage employees to take the time to give back. 

Ready to work for a company that’s dedicated to giving back? We’re hiring. Apply now. 


Mark Pleunes

Sr. Security Consultant