The Marmotte was one of the first cyclosportives and still
remains one of the toughest. First run off in 1982, it gets bigger
and bigger, in 2004 over 5,000 took part. Some faring better than
others. We didn't actually do the event, we just rode the course and
followed the arrows on the road. This was just going to be a bit of
a fun ride. What fools!
This was the first time I'd ridden the mountains and it was
combined with a trip to see the Tour de France with three mates; Dave
Whitt, Steve Goaziou and Rob Miere. We had a fantastic time and you
couldn't pick better company in which to travel.
We arrived early evening and drove to the top of Alpe
D'Huez to our hotel. Somehow there's been a mix-up with the rooms
and we're taken to an apartment that sits right under the flamme rouge.
Next morning we have a breakfast and a stroll, check the
bikes and descend the Alpe. Twelve minutes top to bottom.
Never hit 50 mph and never got a real clear run due to the thousands
coming up the hill and the hundreds coming down. We regroup at the
power station at the bottom and prepare ourselves. We agree to ride
to the TdF finish line; then it's off.
Steve hits the first hairpin looking purposeful.
Dave's behind him and me and Robbie tag on. Dave and Steve have done
it before so me and Robbie decide to watch and learn. It's the
second hairpin and Dave's taking a drink. He knows something I
don't. It's over 30 degrees and 12k to go. At the next hairpin
I decide to do the same.
An hour and eleven minutes later. I arrive with an empty
bottle and heavy legs. They're so bad I can't even get up off the
ground when we've all recovered. My hamstrings have stretched at
least an inch in the last hour. My back's broken, my eyes are
stinging and my skin is beginning to fry. I feel like I'll never
walk properly again. Other than these little inconveniences,
I'm okay. Steve is hot and bothered, as he should be the speed he
went up, Dave is hot, I'm knackered and Robbie is overjoyed. All in
all a good first day. Tomorrow the Marmotte.
The Longest Day
We wake up early and already it's 25 degrees. Tyres
are checked, bottles filled, energy bars unwrapped. Dave and Robbie
slap in the sun cream, me and Steve look for the baby oil. oo-er.
After another descent of the Alpe, just over 11 minutes, I
know I can get it down to ten on a good day, but it means I'll have to
climb it first. Dave drives down, what a fantastic idea that proves
It's half an hour in to the ride and we're heading for the
Col de la Croix de Fer. We agree to climb at our own pace and wait
for each other at the cafe at the top of the climb. Good idea, so
off we go. After 10k, and forty-five minutes climbing, we get to Le
Rivier and the road flattens out. We pass a cafe. Steve is
about 50 metres ahead. Thinking he's forgot what we said about
waiting I put it in the big ring and chase after him. I eventually
catch him and comment on his enthusiasm. "This isn't the top.
We're not even half way yet." Time to re-assess my day.
We begin to drop down, through a few super fast hairpins
then we reach a sign saying road flooded. We pass some of the
biggest rocks you've ever seen then bang. Up hill in a big 11%-type
way. And it just keeps going up. We carry on together for a
while then the elastic breaks. Eventually, 27 kilometres after the
first rise you hit the top and a cafe. Steve's waiting there, having
already downed his first drink. Already we're drenched in sweat and
our water bottles are empty. We wait.
In a short while Dave and Robbie appear. Pacing
themselves for the long day ahead. Which starts now. We leave
the cafe, finish the climb and descend. What a descent.
The roads aren't the greatest, but there's loads of cars and motorbikes to
draft and overtake. This is what cycling is all about. But not
for long. The Telegraph is next.
At this point in my cycling career I've not ridden many
mountains ~ I'm a sprinter ~ but this has to be the worst mountain ever.
In time I come to realise it isn't. My problem with the Telegraph is
that there isn't any view. It's tree lined and 10% for most of the
way. It's very difficult to get a reference and you can't see
"targets" to aim for. We'd previously stopped at a garage to fill
our water bottles where we picked up an Australian. He looked handy
and asked if he could ride with us. No problem.
When we got to the Telegraph he took off and we thought
fair enough. Steve went after him, I stretched my legs and Dave and
Robbie took the conservative route. Two kilometres later he's blown.
Mmmmm. A kilometre from the top and Steve's back snapped. I
shout encouragement and continue then all of a sudden it's 1k to the
summit and the views open up. Before I know it I'm there and so is
Steve. We sit under the big maps, in the shade and drink.
Steve finds a ring in the shrubbery! The others arrive just as we
begin to drift off with heat exhaustion. Someone suggests food from
the cafe. Good idea.
Have you ever tried to eat a French baguette when it's 40
degrees, with no cloud cover and you're very very tired? Well don't.
It's not nice. It takes us an hour to eat a sandwich. We drink
water like it's going out of fashion. Then we crack on. We descend to Valloire, where we will regroup and get more water.
We leave the village after Robbie, unsuccessfully, tries to
find a way of adjusting his stem for his snapped back. The climb of
the Galibier begins. Next stop the 2,642 metre summit. We
climb for an hour and three quarters. Steve once more is slightly
ahead. Next day the Tour passes through, already the spectators
are gathering. A kid circles me on his BMX. "You English?" "You
race me?" I try to remain focussed. Am I hallucinating?
Can this be happening? I tell him, "I'm too old". "He'll race
you up there." Steve's about 50 metres away. The kid chases
and catches him!
Five hundred metres from the top Steve's back's gone again.
I carry on past him without a glance. If I lose concentration I'll
realise how much I'm hurting, so I carry on. I get to the top and it
must be about 3 degrees. It's freezing. I try to ride and put
my gilet on but it's too windy and I'm too tired. I stop and get it
on quick. Steve arrives and we decide not to wait and get down as
quick as we can. Which we do.
I'm just nudging 48mph when a car coming the other way has
his lights full on and his horn blasting. Thinking I'm on the wrong
side of the road I check myself, mutter something and choose my line for
the next bend so I don't have to brake. In, around and out; all in
one movement. Ooops! A herd of cattle are crossing the road!
Somehow I get through the gaps and then realise I'd better tell Steve.
I slam on my brakes, stop and do a uuey.
Ever tried to go up the Galibier in a 53x12? Don't,
you can't. I do another uuey just as my legs cry enough and get down
the gears. I turn again, start to get through the cows just as Steve
comes haring round the corner. See he didn't need me after all.
We descend and agree to wait at the top of the Lauteret and find some
The sun's beginning to drop but the temperature is still
about 20 degrees. I find a big concrete bollard that's warmed by the
sun and lean against it. Steve arrives a couple of minutes later and
we wait for the others. When they arrive I get up. Or try to.
Where I've sat it's been so hot the sun's melted the tarmac. My new
shorts are ruined. Who cares? We carry on the descent. I
arrive first at Le Frenay and slow for the others. If only I could
climb like I descend. I wouldn't be too bad.
A hill too far
We ride to Bourg D'Oisans together. A great day with
a great crowd of people on a great course. Isn't cycling just great?
We get back and it's been emotional. We're all relieved to get off
the bike. We all wished we'd actually trained for it but we hadn't.
Our biggest ride of the year would be the 45 mile Vets Island Championship
in Jersey, or 56 mile in young Steve's case. We have our photo's
taken with some Dutch, one of which was the Ladies National Champion and
we retire to the car.
I sit on a newspaper to protect the seats and we drive to
the top. Stop off and get a pizza, then it's home for a shower and
bed. Or just bed in my case. Scummy I know, but with four
blokes all fighting for the shower and the Lynx I just haven't the energy.
The next day we watched the Tour. The best bit?
When Robbie McKewen was being booed by the French. He pulled a
wheelie and rode for about twenty yards on the back wheel up Alpe D'Huez!
Everyone started cheering. How fickle is that?