La Marmotte

Overall Distance 175 kilometres Time Taken n/a
Height Climbed 5,000 metres Overall Position n/a
Distance Climbed 82 Kilometres Category Position n/a
Date July 2003 Country France
Entrants   Region Alpe D'Huez

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.  Perfect.

Alpe d'Huez Virgin
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 to be!

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.

One Down...
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.

The Biggie
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.

Zebra Crossing?
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 warmth.

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?


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