La Marmotte Cyclosportive
The Challenge of a lifetime by Russell Whitford

The day finally came where we had to get in the car make our way to the Eurotunnel. 7 long, cold and windy months of (what am I doing here?) training had all come to pass and it was too late to do any more to get ready for a one day event. But not just any one day event. This is the big one. Most of the people that take part have one goal. To actually finish it. And you don’t even enter unless you are capable of riding 100 miles at any given day if asked to!

After a long drive without stopping, we made it to our hotel in Les Duex Alps, 14 miles from the start line in Bourg D’Oisans at around 4pm.
After checking in the three of us had only one thing in mind…..
Let’s get a coffee at the top of Alpe D’Huez just so we can see what its like!
What a rude awakening that was. The driver and long time friend and race partner from my Down Hill days Jim Brown, had already completed La Marmotte in 2010 so he knew the drill as to where, what and when.
As we turned left at the bottom of D’Huez to face the first stretch of road to the first hair pin the penny dropped. OH MY GOD! How on earth are we supposed to climb this mountain after already having climbed three other Alps before we even got there!??!
As you can imagine, after our coffee we drove straight back to the hotel and sat in the bar all evening watching (we commandeered the TV) a DVD about the event recorded by a Pro.
After a good few beers and a long chat with my wing man Colin that went into melt down after driving up D’Huez, we came up with a game plan for the next day. What shall we do to warm up and get used to the altitude?

Day one on the road.

The following morning we walked around the corner to a bar/café that served a full English breakfast. With our plan in hand Colin and I suited up and hit the 14 mile decent from Les Duex Alps to Bourg D’Oisans with the team car overtaking when he could to get some shots!
What an amazing bit of road. You had no choice but to overtake cars as they were not capable of tracking the bends as fast as a road bike.
We then decided to ride the first part of the event with the driver to get us ready for what we were in for. The three of us tracked up the first mile of Col D Glandon then turned back knowing we had to go back to the top of Alpe D’Huez to get our race numbers.
It was not an uneventful ride as when we hit the flat roads at the bottom of the decent my front tyre decided to explode and come completely off the rim! Put a new tube in and went on our way back to the car without problem at a formidable pace as the road was to die for!
We then drove to the top of Alpe D’Huez to sign in.
Job done, now time for some fun. Time to descend D’Huez!
Within the first 100 yards my front tyre blew again and nearly had me off. The team car (and my wallet) had gone down ahead of us and………. No Signal! With only 20 Euros on me I had to buy the cheapest tyre on the market stalls just to get back down to the bottom!
If it wasn’t for the cars and the fact that it was one of the worlds biggest sportive events we could have hit Warp factor 9 on the descent but the road was full!
The biggest shock we had when we signed up was the total number of participants…..9,964!
With the Alpe D’Huez descent in the bag, we set off to drive the rest of the route so we could see what we were up against.
30 degrees on the climbs but in the snow on the third summit and freezing cold.
Again, we all had to have a rethink about the event. Team driver, having already completed the event 3 years ago turned to us and said “ Its brought it all back, I can’t do it, I’m not in good enough shape.”
On that note, I took the car keys from him and tailed him down the first 18 miles of the Galibier decent so he didn’t go home empty handed, even drafted him a bit with car!
So then we were two.

No turning back, we are at the start line!

The day of the event had come and now we had to just accept our fate. At the start line (all be it 20 minutes from going through it due to the queue!) we got talking to anyone that spoke English. A nice Dutchman on his third go and two Irish loons that came for the beer! We sat with them for the first few flat miles until one of them snapped his chain.
The first climb was an equal to the biggest climb I had ever taken on before. The summit is at 1924m above sea level but with the thousands of people around you, you just got up it without too much pain!

The descent from the top of that mountain is a different story.
Renowned for being super technical and too dangerous to race you were sent through a timing gate at the summit that stopped the clock, then at the bottom of the mountain you then go through another gate that restarts the clock. At the Finnish line you are then given a flat 20 minutes (Even the Pros) for the descent. It has claimed too many lives to race it.
After probably the best mountain descent you will ever ride in your life has been put behind you, you then face a good ten miles of fast flat riding that your legs can just about cope with after the last climb and descent just to face probably the make or break of the event…..
Col du Telegraphe.
Its not the climb that kills you but the heat. 3500ft with not much shelter at 1pm in the afternoon at 32 degrees. You have no idea how tough that is until you are there!
Because all the way up it you know that once you get to the summit, you only get a few minutes off until you climb Col Du Galibier.
At the bottom of the descent you enter a beautiful town called Valloire. You enter the town flat out and then it just goes strait back up hill to the next Col without a break!
As I hit the town I had another one of those moments that could have put an end to the whole event… my rear tyre decided to blow clean off the rim not 20 seconds after I had been travelling at over 40mph.
Feeling lucky, I rang the team car to say it was over and to watch this space. I walked around the town with bike on shoulder until I saw a down hill bike outside a coffee shop. With a few hand signals the owner of the bike walked me to a bike shop in the town where I was able to buy a new tyre as it had blown to shreds! With half an hour lost I carried on.

Col du Galibier

At 2645m above sea level it is one of the highest passes in the Alps. It’s the most ridiculous road you will ever ride in your life. You look up and see riders ahead of you like ants going to the nest! It got the better of me 5km from the top as I went into a cramp melt down due to the heat and the fact that I’m too fat to climb mountains!
The fact that we were above snow helped as I took off my helmet, filled it with snow and carried on!
The atmosphere at the top was electric! People were so glad to have made it. And the view? You have to do it to understand!
Again, the descent was amazing. All 28 mile miles of it!

It had a few lumps on the way down and the tunnels, my god they were cold and dark!
Before reaching the foot of Alpe D’Huez you found yourself on a long flat road (part of the descent from Les Duex Alps) before you hit your last chance to re-fuel.
By this point I had been the victim of cramp for two hours and it was not going to go away so I had to just get on with it.

The Infamous Alpe D’Huez

Let me put it this way. Alpe D’Huez is 16 Vicarage Hills one after the other without rest between them!
On La Marmotte you get to it having done 100 miles, 12,000ft of climbing, THREE Cols and between 6 to 9 hours on a bike in temperatures of above 30 degrees.
D’Huez is a days work on its own.
Terry Butcher is a club member that has FINISHED La Marmotte too! On his third attempt, and we all know how good Terry is on a bike.
The cramp never left me leaving me having to repeatedly get off the bike to walk it off. Managed the first 7 of the 21 hairpins without getting off or getting cramp but then it was over.
Non stop on and off the bike until hairpin number 1. The finish line is not in sight but you can taste it!
As you climb past the bars the support is second to none from the crowd. You honestly feel like a pro with the cheers and pats (and pushes!) on the back!
Then you cross the line and its over. Nothing on this planet like that feeling, trust me!

The most monumental bike ride you will ever undertake in one day bay a country mile. You live a whole lifetime of riding in that one event. Epic is a massive understatement but the word of the moment!

My time for the Sportive was 10 hours, 22 minutes and 40 seconds.
108 miles, 4 mountains and over 16,000ft of climbing.
Never again, too hard

Until next time!
 
The Route Profile
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The Route Map
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The start line
At the Col du Glandon, the first climb at 1924m
The final stretch leading up to the Col du Galibier - an Alpine Giant at 2,642m. The 10th highest road in Europe
The Col du Galibier, 28 mile descent to follow
Overlooking the Escrin Mountains
The first 8km to the Col du Lauteret is narrow and twisting
In Bourg D'Oisan
Finally the finish line at Alpe D'Huez
All that pedalling for a Marmotte Medal - worth all the effort

 

 


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