Cycling Crazy Stage 2 - "Something Got Me Started"

Cycling Crazy Stage 2 - "Something Got Me Started"

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Following on from our Prologue and Stage 1 pieces, here's "Stage 2" of our regular column, Cycling Crazy, in which our correspondent, Phil Julian, explores why the wonderful sport of Road cycling grabs us and becomes such an essential part of our lives. This time, he's about to head off to the start that toughest of sportives, La Marmotte.

Cycling Crazy Stage 2 - "Something Got Me Started"

It's 4.15 a.m. I haven't slept much. We got the bikes ready last night and left them covered up as best we could in the back of the car. Hey, it's a risk, but we're in The Campanile on the southern edge of Grenoble, in the University Quarter of the city and they've got an electric, coded, high sliding security gate - it's hardly sin city.

Time to eat a piece of the Gatosport Cake prepared late Wednesday night, back in southern England. Removing it from the cool bag and foil wrapping, it tastes pretty good. Then most food does; that's how I got to be 84 kgs!

Something got me started as a thirteen year old and, let's face it, fat schoolboy. That something was friendship. My friend, a year older than me, had the same colour hair then as the Something......... singing Mick Hucknall. And he remained a cycling crazy friend until he died, much too young, more than fifteen years ago. He'll help me later today but I don't know that yet, as I make the steady, slightly blurry-eyed fifty minute drive to Bourg d'Oisans in the half-light.

Outside, the air is cold and crisp. It's the kind of early morning alpine air which promises to break into a bright, bright sunshiny day. Actually, the France Meteo TV forecast agrees, predicting it'll be just like yesterday when it reached the low thirties in the Oisans valley.

When we get to Bourg d'Oisans, the air is still cold and crisp. Parking is surprisingly easy. We slot into a spot virtually in the centre of town, and close to a splendid modern self -cleaning public convenience, a Rolls Royce job of a bog. Remember this facility (this is a cyclingcrazy helpful tip), it could prove useful at about 6.30 am on Saturday 3rd July 2010.

Next to us, seven or eight French riders in identical kit tip out of their minibus. I recognise their leader who looks just that little bit leaner than his companions; he looks like a pro; and that's because he is, or rather was. It's Christophe Agnolutto, a winner of the Tour of Switzerland and of a stage of the Tour de France, who retired in 2006. His riding companions are attempting La Marmotte as part of his led ‘Agnolutto Bien être Sport' tour.

I have to admit that sometimes, I'm a bit of a pfaffer: What with putting my bike together, sorting out bottles, overstims tubes into pockets, another bit of cake and a visit to the Rolls Royce of plumbing, there's only twenty minutes to go. My companion, the young fit one, has been gone for 10 minutes already as I head off for the town centre start.

Along with others, pedalling hurriedly along, I'm directed through the town and out the other side in the opposite direction to the route. Another couple of minutes riding down quiet lanes with half a dozen fellow Brit first timers, seemingly no nearer to the town, and we all start wondering if we're going the right way. At last a marshal is spotted and after a right turn it's wall to wall riders. We're separated by barriers into groups, according to numbers: we'll start in waves of about 1500, twenty minutes or so apart.

I finally catch up with the young fit one in our starting pen. We shake hands and wish each other well. As we set off to the sound of the town band I know I won't see him again for many hours.

It's a quick run out on the flat, straight, D1091 for about 8 kilometres, in the big ring, hiding in the wheels at 40-45 kph. I try to keep myself in check but can't resist jumping across small gaps onto quicker wheels. Half a dozen Germans pass my line, in disciplined tight formation. They're very organised and very quick, stereotypically so!

A right turn at Rochetaillée leads to the village of Allemond. Chattering amongst the riders around me fades as we start the 22 kilometre climb up the Glandon. For now it's just the soothing sound of tyres skimming over smooth tarmac. We all either know or think we know (that's the first timers like me) what's coming. This morning in the Oisans valley, la petite reine rules, and I'm feeling good.

Join me next time when I'll tell you about the climbs of the Glandon, Télégraphe and Galibier. Are you cycling crazy enough to meet up on the 3rd July next year?

Drop me a line to just like Matt Eastwood did.

Matt said "I think the Marmotte is one of the most memorable rides I've ever done, and one of the things I'm most proud of in my cycling career. I still get goose bumps when I think about cresting the Galibier. Like you say, nothing compares. I'll be back".

We'd like to hear from you if you've ridden the Marmotte or any other of the classic European Sprtives - why not let me know how the experience left you!

Keeeeeep Riding!