Thursday, July 19, 2012

La Marmotte 2012

Here we go again. Same old story really.........the time has come and I realize that I have not really worked hard enough to complete this ride properly. 108 miles and 5500 metres in the day at altitude is somewhat different to cycling around the relatively flat areas surrounding Cambridge.

The plus side of all this is that we are a band of guys this year. 5 of us to be exact. Duncan is in fine form and determined quietly to do well after breaking his collar bone a week before the ride last year. John after being a national time trial champ in his younger days is edging his way back to proper fitness . Chris McCann at 61 is the old boy of the group in years but certainly much younger in terms of fitness and Nick has something to prove this year as it is third time lucky (hopefully ) for him this time...after mechanical problems have let him down on his two previous outings.This time he is taking it seriously ...having already been training in the Alps in May and clocking up huge mileages here in the U.K in the few weeks preceding la Marmotte.

On the Alpe D'Huez day before ride

So why are we all spending time and money travelling to the Alps for what is often called the worlds most difficult cycling sportif ? Same old answers is there , why not do the best instead of all the rest,the stunning scenery and the chance to escape for a few days with a good group of guys who are great fun !!

This year we decided to take our own bikes which worked out well.The Bikeboxalan is a great way to carry your bike and you can throw all your kit in the box too.We flew to Lyon and took two hire cars for the trip to Bourg D'Oisans (took about 11/2 hours ). Duncan as usual had found us brilliant accommodation in Alpe D'Huez and once settled in we whizzed down to sign in and pick up our chips for the next day.

waiting for the off !

The race starts early so we were up at 6a.m next morning. Did our best to get as much food in as possible ... much easier for some than others !!One of the worst parts of the day is the 10km descent from the Alpe down to the start in Bourg. It is SOOOO cold and by the time you reach the bottom you are shivering and really, really cold. Problems on the descent this time as like a gunshot Duncan's front tyre exploded and there was nothing for it but to flag down a car and get a lift to a bike shop below for a replacement. We managed this and I didn't realize that whilst I was waiting for him at the start he had already set off.....tyre replaced and out of the back door of the shop ---leapfrogging to the front !!!

The other guys had already started but I set off at 8.15 a.m determined this time to finish the ride ,but also quietly hoping for a gold medal. This for my age group was a time of 9hrs 6mins.It would mean no stopping other than at feed stations to throw food and drink into my body.I know the route now which really is a help...I knew that even if really tired at the top of the Telegraphe or Galibier the secret is to keep going and recover as you hit the descents on the other sides.

On the way up to the Col du Glandon
This year I really enjoyed the 23km climb to the top of the Col du Glandon at 1924 meters. The sun is not up fully and the scenery is spectacular. Bumped into Duncan at the top and after a quick chat we were off again. Later I found out that he had suffered yet another puncture on the descent.. poor thing. The descent of the Glandon is not timed as this is where the really bad and fatal accidents occur so the idea is to slow things down by not timing the descent !! That said it is a tremendous downhill whizz and if you love travelling fast on a bike you still go for it......some things are either in your blood or they are not.  As things level out you find yourself in the town of Ste Marie de Cuines from where there is a long haul in sun and wind to the base of the climb up to the Telegraphe.I knew that the secret here as I mentioned in my blog last year is to selfishly stay within a group and not allow yourself to be persuaded to take the lead. Idiot that I am, I ended up on the front once, to lead a rather attractive French woman up to the peloton ahead of us (it is a problem being a man sometimes even at my age !! ) At least she said merci !!

Still on the way up to the Glandon !
Climbing up the Telegraphe was fine this year too. I was without doubt fitter than last year but I still didn't know how hard to push so was keeping well within my comfort zone . Top of the Telegraphe was at 1566 metres and I kept to my word and did not stop......gliding over the top and descending rapidly towards the lovely resort of Valloire...again !!

The ascent of the Glandon starts pretty much as you leave Valloire... but gradually at first. Still feeling good to be honest until the real hard part of the Galibier ascent starts at Plan lachat.You have been climbing but then things ramp up to 8-10% just as you are starting to feel the days ride !! Worse still ... as it ramps up you can steal glimpses of the hairpins snaking towards the summit and the snowline. You think you will never reach that summit which at 2646 meters is pretty high least coming from the flats of Cambridgeshire !!

Not stopping as I teetered over the Galibier I came to life again as another awesome descent presents itself. The adrenaline kicks in and the race down to the Col du Lauteret at 2058 metres begins .......fantastic. At the Col there is a right turn sending you onwards and downwards along beautiful sweeping bends ,through long tunnels (some lit and some unlit) and as I said last year beautiful views up to the glaciers of Girose,Meije and Tabuchet.

Things level out about 5 miles out of Bourg and time again to hitch a peloton ride !! but soon you are at the feed station before the ascent of the Alpe. Really couldn't stop for long as at this stage I knew my timing was good.  Turning that first corner and being presented with the first of the 10% climbs was physically shocking as it was last year. At that point I realized this final climb would take longer than I would want !! There are 21 hairpins on the Alpe and the first 4 or 5 are brutally steep. I lost time here and eventually came in at 9.22 which at 16 mins off gold time was better than last year ..... but guess what I still need that gold so if luck and good health bless me for another year I will be back for it. The aim is to train with more vengeance this year !!!!!

Back to the others.......the good news is that we all finished which was great. Duncan came in with our best time at 9.13. We were all pleased with our results and had enough energy to go out for meal and beers in the evening !!!

The next day Duncan and I did another ride which took us to the base of the Alpe again . He shot up it and I managed it 30mins quicker than the day before. Showed me that longer rides with some interval training would really help me fitness wise !!

Mileage 108 miles

Total ascent 6662 metres

Total descent 5526 metres

Calories burnt 10331

Maximum speed 58.5 mph

Time for ride 9hrs 22 mins.