No doubt battling fatigue, sunstroke and dehydration, our sportive blogger Chris Walker penned the following on 8 July a day after completing the mighty Marmotte, which tackled the Col du Glandon, Telegraphe, Galibier and (gulp) Alpe d'Huez. Well done Chris, whatever you might think...
I am writing this a day late for what will become obvious reasons……..
Had a reasonable night’s sleep, considering the enormity of what I was about to undertake. Lynne had kindly arranged to get up early and had made the three of us who were going to do the ride some porridge, which I managed to force down (no disrespect to the quality of Lynne’s porridge!) I then set off for the start of the ride – an easy 5 km from the B&B.
Above: Start in Bourg d’Oisans
Bit of a scrum at the start, and didn’t get away until well after 8 a.m. (the start was scheduled for 7.50). Once under way, I felt much better and could concentrate on the task at hand. The first 20 km or so was straightforward – and then we started to climb the Col du Glandon. By dint of taking it easy – pacing is vital in a ride of this magnitude – I managed this with little fuss and made reasonably good time. Topped up my water and fought my way through the hordes of cyclists to begin the descent. This is narrow and tricky at the top, and there was a casualty about halfway down (ambulances, etc.), but rediscovered the joy of descending.
The next bit was featureless and rather industrial. I tagged onto the back of a group to help save my legs for what I knew was to come – the Col du Telegraphe.
This was relentless climbing of about 12 km, but I was prepared for it – I’d done this sort of thing a number of times before. Actually found myself enjoying the climb. Got to the top, hoping to find some food. Nowt – just water. I had plenty of food with me, but I was yearning for something savoury, having consumed gels and energy bars thus far. Took a bit of a break here, which turned out to be a mistake….
Headed off down the Telegraphe – you don’t go down very far before the ascent of the Galibier begins. Finally, here was a food stop with cheese, ham and other proper food. Stuffed my face and my tri-bag with some of this and carried on.
The next bit was hellish. It was getting hotter – the temperature hit 34 degrees at one point – but the killer was the length of this climb. 17 km, much of which was at 8 or 9 %. Doesn’t sound much, but it just got steeper and steeper and bleaker and bleaker. It is one of those ascents which plays tricks – it goes back on itself and, just when you think you’ve reached the top, there’s another couple of kilometres to go, much of which is over 10 %. I finally got there, pretty knackered, again expecting to find some food. Nope – just water again! My stomach was rebelling against food in general at the moment, but I forced some down, got my picture taken, and donned arm warmers, gilet and rain jacket for what I knew was going to be a long descent.
Above: At the top of the Galibier
After the initial twisty bit at the top, the descent was fantastic. Maybe fatigue was playing its part, but I was euphoric all the way down. I knew I’d lost a lot of time ascending the Galibier, but here was a chance to make some of it up, although I got really frustrated with not being able to pass motorised traffic on the way down, as I was actually descending faster than they were. There are a few hills on the way, but it’s pretty much downhill from Galibier all the way back to Bourg d’Oisans. By the time I got back to Bourg, it was 6.30 p.m, so I’d taken more than 10 hours to get this far with Alpe d’Huez to come. I’d wasted too much time at the Telegraphe.
To my enormous chagrin, I was outside the time limit, so I wasn’t going to get an official time for the ride. They took my timing chip off me, but having got this far, I was absolutely determined to climb Alpe d’Huez.
I’d already done 100 miles by this stage, so I only had eight miles to go. However, it was the most brutal eight miles I have ever done. Much of the lower slopes of the Alpe are 11 %, and when you are as knackered as I was, to be faced with another seemingly interminable stretch of 11 % after every hairpin bend was very hard indeed, both physically and mentally. I just plugged away, very, very slowly. It took me nearly two hours to get up to the top, by which time the light was beginning to fade. I’d made it, but there was no euphoria. Just relief. I was still mortified at missing the time limit. Also, my Garmin had run out of juice about a third of the way up, so I would not have a full record of the ride.
Donned outer clothing and started the descent. I just wanted to get back to the B&B at his stage, but as the descent progressed, I began to enjoy it a bit more. Fortunately, it was pan-flat back to the B&B after coming off the Alpe, and I finally arrived to cheers from Jean and the other guests.
Showered, changed and ate some food that Lynne had very kindly set aside for me. Soup and shepherd’s pie, but I couldn’t do it justice. My stomach seemed to have shrunk to about a quarter of its normal size.
Mixed feelings. I’d completed it, but it was too slow. However, everybody reassured me that it was still a great effort. It was certainly an effort, and I can tell anybody who cares to listen that I’ve done the Marmotte, so I must be grateful for that, I suppose. I was far too tired to complete the blog for the day, but I hope, dear reader, you will forgive me for that. There is a lot more to tell.
Would I do it again? If you’d asked me on the following day, absolutely no way on this planet. However, by the following Tuesday, when I’d recovered, I was already thinking “I’ve got to come back and improve my time”. I learned a lot, not only about myself but about how I would tackle this ride differently next time!