Marmotte

July 5, 2015. An assessment of one of my Haute Route teammates has stuck in my head for the last year or so, since I decided to do La Mamotte: ‘It’s a man’s race, Gerry’. Mark was right, except of course for the couple of women who beat me up the Alpe after 8 hours and 46 minutes in the saddle (that’s right, I was ‘chicked’).

This year’s Marmotte was different; it turns out in more than one way. First, the route changed, keeping the basic math (170 km and 5200 m of climbing, more or less), but with other mountains to go up and down. It was a slower parcours because it lacked the long downhill from the top of Galibier to the foot of Alpe d’Huez, where you can make up some serious time on your average speed. But it was the heat that changed the game and made it hell for most of us this year. France has been in the middle of a canicule for a week now and it was 42 degrees when I hit the beginning of the last climb of the day. These are my two excuses for a 17 kph average speed.

But it all started, as these things often do, with a fresh morning of smiles and hopeful faces.

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Okay, not very hopeful. That’s 44|5 trying, and failing, to look tough.

After a surprisingly gentle roll-out at 7:50 we passed right by our very cycling-friendly guesthouse in Oz (Le Chateau d’Oz), so our designated photographer and full-time triathlete Sarah was waiting.

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This was just before the first climb of the day – the Col du Glandon. It was cool and we all felt good on this one, with John slowly drifting ahead, as is his way. By the top of the climb I was sure that that would be the last I saw of him.

On the descent of the Glandon (neutralized because of its dodginess) both John and I punctured, making me sweat even more than I normally would the rest of the race because I only had one spare tube. The next little climb was that crazy one they’ll be doing in the Tour later this month, the Lacets de Montvernier. Looking up from the bottom of these ‘laces’, you just have to ask yourself ‘why’ (or perhaps ‘how’).

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It was crowded up there but it was fun. The route climbed to Montvernier then descended another road back to the same valley (at the left of the photo above) before it did some ‘make-up miles’ on the flat, most likely to reach that magic 170 km everyone was expecting.

Then the merde hit the ventilateur.

By now it was midday and it was hot, and we had to climb back up the massif we’d just descended down, in two acts: Col du Mollard and Col de la Croix de Fer. At the top of the first climb there was a water station where most of us witnessed at the least ‘desperation’, and at the worst ‘full-on aggression’. People were very thirsty and very hot by now and the trough was pretty small. It was not the best poster for humanity, that’s for sure.

This climb wasn’t too bad for me, but it Karsten said he saw two riders throwing up over their handlebars and it is where John began to meet his match as well. the Croix de Fer, for me, put the hurt on. I just really didn’t realize how big it was going to be and was a little depressed when its full girth was presented to me at the last village before the end of the climb. Still, I hadn’t put a foot down to this point (unless I was eating a salami sandwich or an orange slice) and although I had little power in the legs, they still turned around for me.

Style, Cramped

But before I ever reached this badness, John was suffering through a world of something much worse – bad cramps. I was a little surprised to see him before we reached the top of the Mollard, trying to stretch out his legs on the side of the road. He said he was cooked and wasn’t even sure if he could make it to the top of the next col, let alone Alpe d’Huez. I gave him 3 Salt Sticks and hoped for the best, knowing all too well what a bad case of cramps can do to your day.

From the top of Croix de Fer, the route pretty much descended all the way back to the Oisans Valley, where we were greeted by a furnace to ride through till the beginning of Alpe d’Huez, where an inferno was waiting. I have been as hot on a bike before (in Australia), but I don’t think I’ve suffered as much from it. After 4 or so kilometers up the climb my breathing began to be very labored, deep and just generally ‘weird’. It wasn’t really from effort and I got a little concerned. I found one of the many little waterfalls that crash down the Alpe road and stuck my head under the glacial torrent for a few minutes, instantly feeling better. It helped also that there were many very excellent humans all the way up those 21 turns spraying you with water, squirting you with water, offering you water, and throwing water in your face and down your jersey. Faith in my race, restored.

I made it to the top, as usual thinking there was hardly anyone behind me (I tend to focus on those passing me and not the ones I pass), but in the end I feel pretty okay about the results: Out of a potential 7500 riders (no idea how many started)

  • Gerry: 1173, in a time of 8:46
  • Karsten: 2541, in a time of 10:07
  • John: DNF (after Croix de Fer)
  • Pierre: DNF (after Croix de Fer)

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I had no real idea what to expect in terms of results, but just finishing seems to be a pretty good for this Marmotte. I’m almost cautiously nearly optimistic for Haute Route now.

June 24, 2015. Here’s Paul, climbing Alpe d’Huez.

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Paul is 57 years old and till last weekend had ridden is bike outside exactly 6 times. Because of a bet made in a pub (I’ve had a few of these go horribly wrong) he and his son, along with a bunch of interconnected friends, did the following over 4 days last week:

  • A climb of Ventoux (some even did the Triple)
  • Col de la Sarenne and Alpe d’Huez
  • Col du Glandon and most of Alpe d’Huez again

A quick add-up brings the total climbing over 3 days to at least 5500 meters, and Paul did every last one of them. He was usually out the back (but not always) and must have suffered badly on these mountains, but he was one determined dude and finished it all with smile.

I’ll remember him (and the one-armed, one-legged guy who does 3 Haute Routes each year) next week when I’m struggling up the same mountains he just rode in La Marmotte.
May 22, 2015. I just found out (thanks, Pierre) that La Marmotte, one of my main objectives for the season, is going to be sliced and diced into a different event. According to the FB page of Grand Trophée, work that is being done on the Bourg d’Oisans-Lautaret road isn’t going to be done in time for the July 4th race.

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If this is the ‘tunnel du Chambon’, then it’s pretty heart breaking. Look how close that sucker is to the last climb of the day, Alpe d’Huez.

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The organizers don’t say what the new route will look like, but it’s pretty evident that Galibier won’t be included anymore, since I don’t think there is any other way to get to Le Bourg-d’Oisans from Lautaret than the D1091.

Comments on that FB post are flooding in and range from ‘disgusted’ to ‘philosophical’. It’d be a shame to do my first Marmotte on a non-traditional route, but thankfully I was looking at the event as a warm-up for Haute Route this year. So as long as there’s 5000 meters of climbing everything but my legs will be happy.

In other news, a few of us went down to Girona last week for a little training camp. Can’t recommend this place enough. Beautiful, varied routes in all directions, with lots of climbing possibilities and the potential of seeing a pro or two while you’re there (I’m sure that was Dan Martin…).

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Girona was having a flower festival. Nice, but hard to ride through the crowds.

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We did a lot of hydrating.

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Don’t try this at home, kids.

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A lovely, lonely ride through the back of beyond, on our ‘queen stage’.

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Unlike where we live, there is some seriously nice coastal riding near Girona.

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On top of Rocacorba, the most famous climb I’d never heard of. If you want to explode your heart for any reason, this is your climb.

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Oct 2014. I knew all along when I started this journey that the day would come when I would need to do La Marmotte. Well, if I’m lucky enough to get registered this Saturday (anyone know when it opens?) I already have the all-important accommodation booked nearby, so I’ll (along with some riding buddies…right Erik?!) be set.

La Marmotte is one of the oldest sportives in the world, Wiki tells me, and is surely one of the toughest. The (unchanging) route is 174 km long, with a total elevation gain of 5180 meters. I think I did more climbing in Act Two of the Etape du Tour a couple of years ago, but the distance was less. My knee hurts just typing this.

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La Marmotte is also a pretty prestigious ‘race’, it seems. Here is a short list of previous winners:

  • Laurens Ten Dam (Belkin)
  • Sander Armée (Lotto Belisol)
  • Patrice Halgand (formerly with Festina)

Okay, not that many household names, but still not too shabby for a cyclosportive. The route features a who’s who of Tour de France monuments; namely Col du Glandon, Col du Télégraphe, Col du Galibier and, of course, Alpe d’Huez. If you arrive at the top of the Alpe in one piece you will have checked off some pretty major boxes on your Bucket List.  Anyone else out there considering this madness?

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Nov 13, 2014. Having successfully gotten myself registered for the mighty awful Marmotte GranFondo next July 4th (along with Karsten, John, Anne and Pierre), I suddenly have a good excuse to start training again.

So, after convincing myself that now is as good a time as any (I stepped on the scales, which helped), I have embarked on another year of ‘training’.

This year I rode a fair amount; did the Etape du Tour even. I climbed Ventoux several times and Alpe d’Huez one and a half. Oh, and then there were those five 200 km days I rode in Quebec this summer. It wasn’t nothing, is what I want to say. But it wasn’t ‘training’. Something was lacking.

I now know that – at least for me – ‘training’ means consistency and commitment. You have a program that hopefully is carefully designed to bring you to your goal. This program has a schedule, with regular ‘shifts’ on the bike. It is your job to show up for work. The hard part, of course, is that there is no boss to fire you if you don’t. Showing up really IS half the battle.

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No, not that kind of maintenance.

Anyhoo, although I haven’t figured out the rest of my training season, the beginning has been sitting on my hard disk for a couple of years now – Coach Rob’s ‘Maintenance Phase‘, which I will follow, more or less, till the tough stuff begins after the New Years’ hangover disappears. Still, even if this first phase is not as hard or as specific as what is coming up, it IS a program. I can see it every day and it tells me that I should get my bum on the bike (it rarely tells me the opposite) and do something. Although I’ll probably hate it later, the formality is all important, and this little Word doc – along with my conscience…and my wife…oh and maybe you, since I’m writing this now – will be my ‘boss’.

Let the maintenance begin!

9 thoughts on “Marmotte

  1. Hows that consistent training going?
    This world of competitive sportives is completely new to me. My first one entered is 2015 La Marmotte. I’m dreading it…

    • Hi Verity,

      The training took a hit last week because of a sudden trip back to Canada, but hopefully will be back on track soon. You have certainly picked a doozy to start your career with! If you have never done huge climbs before I’d suggest getting out there and seeing what you are getting yourself into 😉

        • Verity, I checked your site after my comment and saw you climbing…just not on the road 😉 You will love La Marmotte, I’m sure.

  2. We finished pretty close! I was #1140 and remember an english speaking guy in a blue jersey that was sitting on the road on Alpe d’Huez who that had cramps in his calves (I think a motorbike stopped to check if everything was ok). Was that you…?

    • Marc,

      I think I remember that jersey in the photos of you I just checked! No, my cramp was pretty light and I was alone in the shade eating lunch when it hit. Great results, btw. Was that your first Marmotte?

  3. Thanks for reminding me of that day in a cooker – I finished but Alpe D’huez was an experience. Just as I was rethinking my decision to never to doing a Marmotte/Etape du tour again. Please can someone steal my bike !!!

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