Yesterday at La Marmotte Sportive

Glandon feed station - 2hrs in
Immediately after finishing yesterday's (Sat 6th June) La Marmotte Gran Fondo Sportive I Tweeted that it felt like "one of the most unpleasant days I've spent on a bike". 

I think I've worked out why.

(Read my event description and subsequent advice for riding La Marmotte article)

Firstly, I thought that, having completed the Raid Pyrenean three weeks earlier I would feel stronger  and La Marmotte would feel easier. I was wrong on both counts.

Secondly, although I knew around 7000 riders took part (Etape Caledonia is not far from this) I wasn't ready for the Hell of Other People. 

The photo shows the first feed station on the Col du Glandon and most the crowd couldn't fit in the frame.  I shudder just looking at that.

Thirdly we were given slightly misleading information.  We'd been told to reach the bottom of the Alpe d'Huez climb by 18:15, the "cut off point".  

The Sports Tours International rep thought this was just the time the Alpe d'Huez opened to traffic, so I didn't give it much thought.  Then at their feed station just below the Galibier where around 5pm-ish I was told, "don't hang about if you want to make the 6:15 cut off".  Until then, I assumed I'd be well within the cut off. 
Neutralised Glandon descent - loads of punctures

I'd even lingered over this descent from that crowded Col du Glandon. 

It is neutralised - the timing stops at the top and restarts at the bottom - because there have been serious accidents. 

Nevertheless, I saw two folk with head injuries being put on ambulances, and SO many punctures. I stopped counting at thirty.

Best advice I was given was to run tyres no more than 100 psi. 

Otherwise the altitude and hot rims from breaking cause explosive punctures, usually to the front wheel.  If you're going fast into a corner when it happens, you crash.

So there I am on the Galibier, later than intended being told to get a move on or miss the "cut off". Suddenly my mental finish line switches. To stay in the event I must put everything into reaching the bottom of Alpe d'Huez, not the top.
Galibier summit
I'm not proud to admit I shot down the Galibier like a bat out of hell.  

Reaching the main road at the Col de Lautaret I didn't slow and, with a French lad, did some crazy high-speed overtaking of cars and vans that were stuck behind slower cyclists.  

Into a headwind I was in time-trial tuck battering out +40kph on the flat, as the minutes ticked away. 

God it hurt.

I swung onto the Alpe road with four minutes to spare, only to find it blocked by a reversing coach and a lot of cyclists waving arms and shouting at the banksman helping if reverse. 

I stopped, checked for Gendarmes, then went - cutting behind the bus and powering to the line. A car diver coming the other way yelled "the timing's still open - just GO". I crossed the timing mat at 18:13.

At 18:15 precisely... nothing happened. Eh? Oh, the Alpe climb re-opened to traffic but that was all. Riders continued to stream over the mat. No gate closed.

I was in bits. 

I had poured every ounce of energy into making the non-existent 6:15 cut and had nothing left for the 21 hair-pin climb. This definitely contributed to my feeling disappointed last night.  But I was wrong.  
Alpe d'Huez

There is a cut-off. At 18:30 not 18:15.

Speaking to the organisers press team today (hence this second draft) I learnt that the police insist on a 18:30 cut off. 

Fail to make the bottom of the Alpe by then, your timing chip is removed, and your certificate says "La Marmotton" (or something like that) not "La Marmotte".

So while Marco Pantani's (drug assisted) 1997 record of, from memory, 37 mins 35 seconds was not under threat, unlike many competitors I was not going to walk. Stop and pant, yes.  Frequently.

I was in such haze at the summit I pressed stop on my Garmin a while after crossing the line, so I'm not sure how long the climb took me.

My overall time was 11hr 35min. The Silver time, for my 50-59 age group, was 10:44, so I was disappointingly well outside that.  And of course that time doesn't include the neutralised Glandon food stop and descent, so I was on the bike, under the strong Alpine sun, for well over twelve hours.  I felt roasted.

I'll try to write later what worked well for me, but there are things I'd do differently.  I need to let the dust settle and I start feeling human again.

By then I might have forgotten the bad and only remember the good - of which there is plenty. I was told last night, "cyclists have highly selective memories". 


Anonymous said...

This could be my blog - an almost identical ride with identical cut-off realisation at top of Galibier. Same age group and my time was 11:29. If the reversing coach had a trailer then we were probably stood together. Good day out but would agree some of the feed stations were poor. Worst water stop at bottom of telegraph where 2 people were individually serving water to hundreds of cyclists - bizarre. Rob entry 3986

Simon said...

Hi Rob

Thanks very much indeed for your comment - it's a relief to know someone else shared a similar experience of the event!

The volunteers on he route did a great job looking after us and must have been under huge pressure - I would not have liked to be handing out water or food at any of those feed stations.

I'd have expected the organisers to get across this by now, but perhaps it's seen as part of the experience?

The (seemingly British run) feed station above Valloir below the Galibier was great - but of course by then most people were wll infront of me!

I wonder whether I could ever face the 13,000 people of l'Etape du Tour?

Thanks again

Anonymous said...

Just finished my first Etape in 9.00 (cut off 9.30)

It was SUPREMELY well organised and reading your take on the feeding stations on the Marmotte make me a little apprehensive to try it .

Simon said...

Thanks VERY much for the comment Anonymous.

I fancied trying l'Etape but my Marmotte experience put me off somewhat. 13,000 riders is a big step up!

You've gone some way to restoring my interest in the event.

A sincere "thank you".


Anonymous said...

Like you I stayed in Beau Soleil with Sports Tours. Done 2 x Etapes and the Marmotte with them and they are flakey but get your entries and have good accommodation. The food stations were chaotic and contributed to my missing Gold by 34 seconds - the other, bigger, contribution was cramp caused by incorrect fuelling. I should have known and planned better. Etape food stations do seem better planned so I wouldnt be put off we just thought that this years Etape "didnt look hard enough" looking at the last climb I'm pretty sure it would have been. Cheers, Bill

Simon said...

Thanks Bill. As the days pass by I seem to recall only the good bits of this ride.

As an experienced rider of this event (34" off Gold - wow!) if you'd care to add any comments to my follow up article it would be appreciated.