La Marmotte 2010 – Mr Gravel’s review

La Marmotte Race Report – 2010

Author S Allen

I heard someone say that you should never go back and do the same event twice, “it’s never the same, you can never capture the experience again, you won’t enjoy it, you may not beat your time, you’re be disappointed, etc, etc”. Well this is true to a point but you normally end up experiencing different things – some good and some bad. We had it all this year!

This year saw Bob Barclay, Chris Mison, Marianne and Steve Allen make the journey down through France.  Thanks to Chris Mison we stayed in spectacular accommodation in the beautiful village of Vaurjany just a few miles from the start of the race.  My own personal objective was to try and better my time by at least 26 minutes as I missed my age group Gold standard by that time. Training this year had been a bit intermittent due to work but good training miles in Riccione all three days at the Tour of Wessex and the Highclere Sportive I felt I was in good shape – but was I?

View from our accommodation each morning

Race Day

3rd July 05:15 am Chris Mison, Bob Barclay, Marianne and Steve Allen left their spectacular accommodation in Vaurjany just as the sun was rising. The twisty descent into the valley was as usual breath taking, then the short drive to the start at le Bourg-d Oisans which saw three very nervous competitors and one not so nervous Marianne as she was off to cycle up Alpe d’ Huez and sun herself!

With pockets loaded with food we made our way to the start. Like last time this race never fails to amaze me, the size of the event (7000 cyclists), means there is a staggered start and depending on your race number you are herded into pens to await your start time.

Before the off!

07:30 we are called forward to the start line where we are greeted by the Village brass band play some good old WW2 numbers!  Just for the Germanys I guess!  The start horn sounded and we are off cycling through the cool morning air of the valley, aware that the temperature was predicated to rise as high as the climbs!  We headed towards our first challenge of the day. The Col du Glandon a 20km climb. The first 10km being tree lined climb and the last 10km in the sun up through a stunning picturesque valley. The three of us all agreed to ride the route at our own pace so we split early on into the climb hoping to meet up at the finish.

I remember from last time the descent from the Glandon was hairy, crazy overtaking moves on open roads resulted in a number of crashes and near misses, cars and riders. This year due to many accidents the descent is a no race zone so the clock stops until you reach the bottom, but I still saw a number of people bruised and battered on the descent!

The first major decent over and knowing what was to come I worked myself into a group to shelter from the wind in the long open road to the base of the Col du Telegraphe.  On arriving at the base I was greeted by the road sign which gave the distances – Col du Telegraphe 12Km and Col du Galibier 38Km, now for the serious stuff!   The sun and air temperature had risen making it very uncomfortable even in the shade from the trees, the heat was unbearable.  At the top of the Telegraphe I looked back down into the valley I had just climbed from, I couldn’t believe the height I had gained and how small the traffic looked below.  I ignored the feed station at the top as the crowd was vast and the next feed station was a short descent away in Valloire.  This was a very welcomed break to take on food and drink and treat the legs to a bit of walking. I climbed back on the bike and start the climb up to the Col du Galibier; on leaving the aid station Bob appeared looking very chipper, we exchanged greetings and encouragements and I departed.

The Col du Galibier is a monster climb of 14km from the feed station.  It starts gentle, winding up through a valley with the only way out is by climbing a number of switchbacks cut in the side of the mountain.  The sight of hundreds of cyclist crawling up the mountain side like ants was amazing.  The climb steepened and was relentless, snow still three to four foot high at the side of the road indicated just how high I was.  At 2700 mtrs the top was reached and a welcomed feed station.  The first part of the descent was on narrow roads with no barriers, unfortunately you couldn’t afford to take in the views, a bit hairy but great fun!   Arriving at the Col du Lautaret the road widened and the next 30km was down hill all the way back to Bourg d’ Oisans.  The descent felt like you were riding into a giant hot hairdryer, the wind which seemed to dry your throat and mouth no matter how much water you drank. I worked within a group taking turns on the front against the wind until I was hit with very, very bad leg cramps and had to drop out and stretch my cramped legs.  I continued on but at a very much reduced speed until a slower group came past and I jumped on at the back promising my legs that I would not take a turn on the front!  I started to have major concerns, how the hell was I going to do the last climb with legs cramping on a downhill!  How can this be, I was using my tried and trusted format of hydration, High 5 – 4:1 you know the anti-cramp drink and had consumed some six bottles so far –and still cramping.

Now for the last and final climb, the famous Alpe d’ Huez!  21 bends of pure angry.  I reached the bottom of the Alp in 7hrs, I had 2 hrs and 15 minutes to get to the top before my age group Gold cut off time, surely I can cover 13km in that time? Bob informed me later that evening that the recorded temperature at the bottom was 40oC I can believe it, it felt like I was riding inside an oven!

I started the climb, the first 4 bends seem to be the steepest, I got out of the saddle to climb and my hamstrings immediately cramped and I had to stop!  I stretched as best I could and rode on but could only stay in the saddle to climb. Each time the road steepened and I had to dig harder I would cramp, the heat was intense, the time was slipping away and I just couldn’t ride any longer than one bend to the next without stopping and stretching and drinking. Some fellow sufferers were worse than me, just sitting at the side of the road huddled together under any shade they could find with their feet in the streams produced from the numerous mountains waterfalls.  Some were walking but I could not bring myself to do this – I will ride to the top of this thing or not at all!

Mid way up I cramped big time and got off the bike and stood under a waterfall at the side of the road, this cold shower seemed to revive me and I rode on again but at a very reduced pace, two bends later the road kicked up steep again and I was in a whole lot of pain again and just got off the bike without falling off.  A women and young lad were walking up and down this part of the road handing out segments of watermelon and I consumed all they had.  I rode on, the time was getting a bit close now to the cut off and the only thought I had was to finish this thing. The road seemed to flatten just a bit and I was able to spin my legs for a short time which helped. The last 4 bends kicked up again and I was back to suffering and hoping the cramps would not return as I was making good progress. I entered the village and rounded the final bend seeing the finish in sight, I looked at my watch I had done it and made the cut off.

What of the others I hear you say, that should be their story to tell of pain and suffering, but in short.

Marianne rode Alpe d’ Huez in the morning in a time of 1:33 taking in the scenery and thoroughly enjoyed the ride up and down, and commented how easy it all was!!

Marianne’s Ride – “so what’s all the fuss”

Bob completed with a very much improved finish time from last year but suffered on the Col du Galibier and Alpe d’ Huez with cramp.

Chris suffered big time and having climbed the three biggest climbs of the day he pulled out at the bottom of the Alp – wise move considering the temperature.

S Allen Total time 8:59:59 – Gold. 889 in Age Cat.

B Barclay  Total time 9:51:07 – 478 in Age Cat.

Two good adverts for next year!

Post Mortem:

As Triathletes that compete in long distance endurance events we are prepared to suffer, having completed a number of IM events I would put this on par. This year was made harder due to the extreme heat and I’m two years older!

Would I do this again? The drive down and back was not as bad as I thought it might be, the accommodation was great, the scenery outstanding, food was good and we had such a laugh, the event was well organised and marshalled. Great place for a cycle training camp, group holiday etc. They do a Mini Marmotte which starts on the same day in Valloire, climbs up to the Col du Galibier, and finishes on Alpe d’ Huez  – this may be worth considering for the not so fool hardy!

Yes I would do it again just for the views!

Author Steve Allen

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