It took me 11:09. I may have finished La Marmotte but in return La Marmotte finished me. I won’t be entering another epic european mountainous sportive in this lifetime.
I stayed at Chalet Namika above the main town of Alpe d’Huez. Hosted by Wayne and Ambra I had a thoroughly fantastic stay. The weather was fantastic and the views were breathtaking. It seemed like only yesterday that I was panting my way up the Alpe on my 40th, but here I was again to take part in Europe’s hardest sportive, La Marmotte.
When it came to the carbo loading these guys rocked, the food was fantastic and I couldn’t have gotten a better base for the event. Sam and I are alerady talking about returning with the kids to ski in the new year.
There were a few guys staying at the Chalet, all of whom were Marmotteers. Some clearly experienced and fit and others less so. I fell into the less so category.
Indeed, a couple of trips down to the village of Huez at switchback 7 had my NP of 260 with a first attempt BPM of 145 and a second attempt at 165, for the same power output. Dunno why. I suspect that I was not adjusting well to the high altitude.
The big day arrived and I was awake at 5am, with about 6 hours of sleep under my belt. One of my fellow competitors bike didn’t arrive until 11pm the previous night due to British Airways issues. Not the best of starts to the day.
Full of nerves and itching to start I descended down to Bourg d’Oisans at 5:50 and made it to the 400-2000 pen by about 6:30. Imagine my surprise when I saw Quentin only 3 yards in front of me! It was the last I did see of him as he raced round in gold medal time.
At just after 7am we got started and finally the day began proper.The ride to the foot of the Glandon was respectful and good natured with plenty of chances to grab a wheel and make good progress. A milion miles away from the hectic dashI had been warned of. Before blinking we were at the foot of the first climb.
Well, I knew all about the Glandon from the cyclefilm reccie DVD, and sure enough half way up you descend and then hit a 10% section before it becomes more restrained and eases up until the summit.
I was shocked to find that I couldn’t generate any power from the off. Ordinarily I would easily kick out 260w at tempo yet already, with 5000m of climbing yet to come and stillrelatively fresh I struggled to get over 200w. I was very, very worried.
Not since I started cycling have so many people overtaken me up a climb. I was even overtaken by fat old blokes. This was going to be a hard and loooong day at the office. I tried to tap out an even tempo and stay out of the red zone.
Glandon to Telegraph
Whilst the Glandon descent is indeed very very technical, and some of the other riders go down at break-neck speed it wasn’t as bad as I’d imagined and managed to hold my own. Got a little blase from time to time but soon got real. Hit a couple of pot-holes at the very bottom of the descent which knocked my chain off but other than that it was largely uneventful.
The drag to the Telegraph was annoyingly lengthy. Fortunately I caught onto the back of a group of 5 riders, one of whom was wearing a Beyond Mountain Bikes jersey (my local bike shop in Cranleigh) small world? Anyway, before long the group had enlarged as more and more mini-pelotons merged until I was rocking along in a group of about 50 riders.
Oddly, my power at this stage was better, I could easily kick out 250w+ and occasionally kicked out 500w as little gaps and accelerations called for it.
What a nice climb. With my power still woefully low, I tapped up the Telegraph at a very steady 200w pace. It was really hot and the cars were beginning to get annoying, they were clearly frustrated with so many cyclists in the way …
I got to the summit and took a breather. Filling my bottles took an age with 2 or 3 very slow taps and 20 or so riders all desperate for water.
I descended to the base of the Galibier and the misery kicked in.
Starting at some 1,400m above sea level it then rises to 2,600m over the next 18 kilometers. It starts out relatively gently but with my power output struggling to hit 180w I was crawling along.
I knew that with 8km to go it doubles back and the climb starts for proper with plenty of 10% sections. Yet with about 9.5km to go I had to stop and take a break by the side of the road. My heart was pounding out my chest and my breathing was very very difficult. I’d been in the saddle for about 5hrs and 45 minutes and I was absolutely exhausted.
For the next hour and a half I struggled to the summit taking the occasional break by the side of the road to recover or catch a quick photo. For the first time in my life I experienced cramp. I didn’t realise what all the fuss was about. I do now. Could this day get any worse?
On a couple of occasions I almost fainted and was most unsteady on my feet. I had no choice but to carry on, walking the remaining 70km would have taken too long and thunderstorms were crackling overhead reminding me to push on and get onto the descent before the heavens opened.
The last 2km of the Galibier were awesome. You can see the 6 fearsome switchbacks as you approach but since its the last push over the top it is quite a feeling to get to the top and start descending again, even if your power is barely above 150w.
I caught my breath filled up with water and started down hill. I was sure to make it to the foot of Alpe d’Huez now.
Wow! What a descent, it just keeps on coming and is a total blast. Even though I was completely exhausted I still enjoyed it. The top level is a bit bumpy and the winds keep you in check, but once you get out of the high mountains its smooth and relatively straight forward.
Before I knew it I was at the roundabout at the bottom of Alpe d’Huez. I stopped for a breather phoned my wife and gulped down two bottles of cold fresh water. Bliss. The water station was an oasis of calm in a stormy day.
Sheer utter agony. It took me 2hrs and 20 minutes to ascent, with 50 minutes of sitting by the side of the road. I could manage 170w maximum and was a spent force. I have never, ever been so miserable on a bicycle!!!
I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice to say if there was a flat piece of road or some shade, I stopped there. I just wanted the misery to end.
I sent at tweet from switchback 7 saying I’d probably finish in an hour … I was actually joking, but it did indeed take me an hour to climb the last 6km or so. Miserable. I took the photo above to post onto twitpic but never got round to it for some reason :-)
As I turned up switchback 1 the heavens duly opened and I got drenched, for once it was pretty pleasant. My core temperature got back to normal and I felt a little stronger. But not much :-)
As I crossed the line there was no moment of euphoria like at Etape in 2007. Just relief that the suffering and misery was over. I would happily of sobbed but the french audience and my English reserve kept that stiff upper lip.
I even forgot to stop my bike computer, but it was 11:09 when I remembered. Like I said at the outset, I may have finished La Marmotte but it sure as hell finished me.