Published on Wednesday, 21 March 2012 10:34
Written by Administrator
The Marmotte and I have a chequered past. I have attempted it four times now and have crashed and burned, suffered mediocrity, excelled myself and very nearly capitulated, in that order.
I have been a keen cyclist since I was a child. I’m now 33. For the last 15 or so years I have been on cycle touring holidays pretty much every summer, including trips to the Highlands of Scotland, the Alps, the Pyrenees and the Dolomites. I’ve been over most of the famous high passes featured in the Tour de France at one point or another, albeit at a radically different pace.
Having enjoyed riding several cyclosportives in the UK and the Etape du Tour in 2004 and 2006, I was after a new challenge and entered the Marmotte for the first time in 2007.
2007 – crash and burn
I was in fairly good shape that summer, having spent many hours on the turbo trainer the previous winter. In May 2007 I clocked the fastest time in the inaugural Etape Calendonia. Obviously the field in the Etape Caledonia wasn’t in the same league as the Marmotte, and neither were its parcours, but I still hoped to do well.
And on the first big climb of the day I seemed to be doing exactly that. As the road snaked up the Col du Glandon, the crowds of cyclists thinned out and I past a lot more people than were passing me. I got to the top just after the two hour mark.
The Glandon descent is a treacherous one, especially near the top where the road is very steep, with sharp hairpin bends and sheer drops off the side of the road. In the Marmotte in 2005 a Dutch rider died after a crash on its upper slopes.
So I really should have been concentrating harder than I was. I had probably over-exerted myself in the excitement of the first climb and was a little light-headed from the effort. It was also still fairly early in the morning and in the shaded sections the road was damp. Anyway, I realised too late that I was carrying far too much speed into a hairpin could either skid now and crash into the rocky bank beside the road before the hairpin, or skid in two seconds and crash over the edge of the hairpin. I ‘chose’ the first option.
I was very lucky as the rocky bank treated me fairly well. Some cuts on my shoulder and leg and I had bashed my helmet.
The bike was also relatively unharmed. All that was wrong was the stem had twisted off centre.
Had I had a multitool I would have been on my way within minutes but, to my shame, I hadn’t packed one that morning. This was the last time I’ve been so idiotic. In that respect.
For a few delusional and perhaps crash-dizzy moments, I considered riding the rest of the descent with my handlebars off straight, but I fortunately gathered my remaining senses and trudged back up the road to the pass where I knew there were mechanics.
All fixed, I set off for my second attempt at the decent almost exactly 30 minutes after my first. I was bloodied and bruised but I was concentrating.
Although the crash could have been a lot worse, it had still hurt and taken a lot of energy out of me. That, combined with the over-exertion on the Glandon, meant that on the slopes of the second big climb of the day I was suffering badly. There is very little protection from the sun on the Col du Telegraphe and it was extremely hot that day. When I did finally reach some shade I decided to get off and rest as I was starting to feel worryingly dizzy on the bike.
As I watched all the riders passing me, many of whom I would have passed on the slopes of the Glandon, I noticed that my timing chip had come off my ankle, which I had grazed with my pedal in the crash.
I reasonably wondered what the hell I was doing. There now wouldn’t even be any record of this suffering (apart, of course, from a bloated, self-pitying blog post I would write four and a half years hence).
After a few minutes I felt a lot better and climbed back on the bike and up the rest of the mountain.
I stopped a couple more times along the route and gradually felt better and better.
The Galibier was a lot less traumatic than the Telegraphe and I climbed Alpe d’Huez without much incident either.
I finished the ride in roughly 9h30m, according to my cycle computer.
Three lessons were learnt that day. Don’t overdo the first climb, concentrate when descending slippery life-threatening roads and pack the right tools.
2008 – average
A much less dramatic attempt than the previous year’s, and as a consequence I can’t really remember much of the detail.
I definitely took it easier up the Glandon and reached the top about 15 minutes slower than in 2007. I also took it easier down the Glandon, making it in one piece, and with timing chip attached.
Other than that there isn’t much to recall. I wasn’t as fit as I had been in 2007 and probably could have done better.
I should have at least made sure I did it 184 seconds better…
2009 – success
Everything worked out well in 2009. Although I think I was fitter in 2007, I paced things correctly in 2009.
I got to the top of the Glandon in just over two hours, as in 2007. I got down the Glandon safely and latched on to a good group along the valley road between the Glandon and the Telegraphe.
Having climbed both the Telegraphe and the Galibier as well as I could hope to, I also found myself in a good group descending to the foot of Alpe d’Huez. This is a 40km descent and is fairly flat in many places, so it is important to not be stuck on your own. I did my fair share of work but still got to the foot of the Alpe feeling ok.
I climbed the Alpe in about 1 hour 15 minutes, which isn’t amazing. I was starting to suffer quite badly from about 5km to go. But if it took until then for me to really be in trouble then I must have managed my effort over the day fairly well.
2010 – near capitulation
For the first time in a big cyclosportive I knew I wasn’t ready beforehand. I had some pain in my knee throughout the Spring, all due to not stretching enough. As a consequence I hadn’t done enough, or indeed hardly any training.
The knee still wasn’t right as I waited in the throng of 8000 or so cyclists behind the start line in Bourg d’Oisans.
I’ve always ridden with a traditional double crankset, albeit with a non-standard 38 inner ring, but in 2010 this definitely wasn’t enough, even with a 12-27 cassette on the back.
I really should invest in a compact but if I’m fit then my current setup works fine. The rides I usually do in Surrey have steep hills but they aren’t very long, and the rides I do in the Alps don’t usually rise more than about 12%, and average under 10%.
But on that day in 2010 I certainly wasn’t fit. For the whole day I had choose whether to make my knee suffer by staying in the saddle or make my lungs suffer by getting out of it.
After 160km of this horrible trading I reached the base of Alpe d’Huez in terrible shape. I got off 4 times on the final climb, having never had to get off once in the previous 30 or so times I’ve ridden up it over the years.
On the penultimate rest at hairpin 7 I lay down on my back and smarted at the pain in my rib cage, it had done that much work during the day.
The result was even more pathetic that all that sounds…
(2011 – a friend’s wedding)
2012 – objectives
Be fitter than ever, obviously. But more precisely:
- Stretch more. I have very tight hamstrings and I know that this restricts me. With more flexibility I’ll be able to engage more muscles more effectively and will also stave off injury. Stretching bores me as much as anyone but I need to get a routine. Three half hour sessions a day in the morning, at lunch and in the evening. (Imaginative.)
- Improve my core strength. I think my core strength is fairly good but it could always be improved. I have various exercises to help with this. One is the plank, which I will use to gauge progress. I just tried it now and managed 3 minutes 20 seconds.
- Get down to 70kg. I’m 5’10’’ and usually weigh around 78-80kg. In the summer when I’m fitter from riding, I can go down to about 72kg, but I’d like to get lower. I am currently 78kg
- Beat 7 hours at this year’s Marmotte.
Nothing like a ridiculously far-fetched set of objectives to concentrate the mind.
The wild spread of results I’ve achieved in my four attempts make me think that it’s possible for another shock in the fifth. A good one I hope.