Strada’s workshop manager Ben rode La Marmotte 2013 and here is his ride report:
La Marmotte is reported to be one of the hardest sportives in the French Alps, with 110 miles of riding and 5km of vertical ascent, it’s a big day in the hills and I was determined to set a good time. After a trip riding in the Alps last year with Alpcycles (great people, great food, great riding), I was convinced it would be sensible to have a go at the Marmotte with them this year.
Arriving at Lyon by plane I was taken to a beautiful chalet atop Alpe D’Huez. An afternoon in the sun spent setting up the bike and signing on was finished off with a huge dinner and an early night. Up early on Friday I treated myself to a massive breakfast before rolling down the hill for a 15km spin in the valley and a steady ride up Alpe D’Huez to remind the legs of what would be required the following day. I was back well before lunch and well before the day hotted up, so I could spend the afternoon relaxing/worrying. After another massive dinner and a very entertaining briefing on the race given by Ade from Alpcycles, I went to sleep, ready for breakfast at 4am. I say sleep, what I really mean is, I slept for about 2 hours and spent the rest of the time in a restless and uneasy state of mind!
Getting out of bed at 4am ready for some serious fuelling, it was immediately apparent that the temperature outside was on the high side. Great for riding down to the start line (although it didn’t stop me shivering my ass off!), but not a good sign of things to come. As we descended silently in the semi darkness with hundreds of other riders, my poor night sleep was instantly forgotten. Ditching my arm warmers and gilet in the Alpcycles van in the base of the valley, I made my way to my start pen, where I promptly put on my bin liner, and got on with the business of shivering. A short while later and at the front of my start pen, I rolled over the start line. The pace was immediately high. The 10km valley spin to the foot of the Glandon covered at high speed in a huge peloton of riders eager to start climbing. Things fragmented pretty quickly on the slopes of the Glandon. I tried to settle into my own rhythm, keeping my heartrate at a sustainable level, and trying to resist the urge to launch myself up the climb as hard as I could. At this point in the day the temperature was pretty good and as we reached the top of the Glandon I rode straight through the feed station, knowing I had plenty of food and water to last me till the foot of the Galibier later on. The descent of the Glandon is neutralised, it is steep and technical in places, but regardless of this I saw a couple of really bad crashes and almost came unstuck myself, as I rounded a corner and was faced by a road full of cows at 70kph.
Down in the valley and there is a substantial distance to cover in rolling terrain. Remembering my race briefing I rode myself into a fast group and tried my best to conserve energy. Rob from the Alpcycles team rode up alongside me, a pat on the back and a friendly face was a serious boost to morale! No time to rest as we hit the slopes of the Col du Telegraphe, trying to keep my heart below 155bpm, I found it harder to get a good rhythm on the climb. I knew it was hugely important to stick to my nutrition plan, eating and drinking every 30 mins. I’ve never had a problem eating on the bike, so I just kept shoving food down me, knowing I would need it later.
I rode to the Valloire feed station at the bottom of the Galibier on food I had with me at the start. It was time to refuel seriously before the climb. Bottles topped up with water, I stood, staring blankly at the food table before someone noticed and told me, in no uncertain terms, that cheese was the best fuel and would give me courage for the climb ahead, before stuffing a huge block of Brie into my face. He was French, I couldn’t argue. I stuffed half a baguette into my jersey and set off. The Galibier is probably my favourite alpine climb. I get into a good rhythm, the altitude doesn’t seem to hurt me, the air is cooler at the top and the views are incredible. I could not resist the temptation to get out the saddle and smash up it, it was too much fun! Or maybe it was just the cheese. The crowds by the side of the road really helped as well, I can’t imagine what it’s like as a pro with 5 times as many people shouting at you! The feed station at the top was mayhem and I rode straight through, planning to stop 10km after at the Alpcycles feed station on the Lautaret. By this point the temperature was really hotting up. I swapped to fresh bottles, spilling one of them all over Ade’s feet as I fumbled to stuff more cake into my mouth. After a couple of minutes, another Alpcycles rider, Dan arrived. I was pleased to know I was just ahead of him (not that it’s a race or anything), but knew that he was 20kg lighter than me and would easily out climb me on Alpe D’Huez. It was time to do some damage on the final, long descent of the day and put some time into him. It was my last chance, so I jumped straight onto my bike, found a group of big, powerful riders, and buried myself.
Arriving at the base of Alpe D’Huez, I had always imagined that I would immediately become Marco Pantani or Lance Armstrong, go full gas, and blast my way up the climb so fast I would immediately be sent to doping control. The reality, after 2 of the 21 hairpins, was that the temperature was nudging 40 degrees, my heartrate was at an unsustainable level, and it became a simple survival exercise! One foot followed another, sweat dripped off my face onto the top tube, the jersey was undone. This was thoroughly uncomfortable. My head felt prickly, my body not responding well to the heat. A Frenchman by the side of the road tipped a bottle of ice cold water down my back. I almost got off my bike to kiss him, such is my gratitude, but it occurs to me that if I just stay pedalling, it will be over sooner! 3.5km from the top, Dan passed me. Asking if I have enough water he carries on. I didn’t respond. My heart had levelled a little by that point, but I didn’t want to pass out so close to the top, so I stayed in the saddle and kept grinding it out. As I reached the top the noise was incredible, riding through a tunnel of people into the finish chute I found the legs to muster a sprint, and then it was over. 7 hours and 1 minute (7:37 including the neutralised descent), 310th out of 6280.
I immediately rolled/wobbled towards the chalet for a cold shower and some food. It was an epic day in all. I love riding long alpine climbs where I can settle into the effort. Everything was organised really well by the Marmotte staff, the atmosphere and support was incredible and riding with Alpcycles really takes the hassle out of a trip like this, meaning you can just relax and ride your bike! I will be back next year, going faster if I can!