Ride bikes. Have fun. Feel good.

La Marmotte

Martin Malins writes…

The inspiration for this ride was threefold;
1. Paul Harris had ridden the BRA many years ago and wanted to go for the Full Monty
2. Arthur Clune’s report a couple of years ago
3. Having ridden up AdH (Alpe d’Huez) the day after l’Ardechoise convinced me to try
for the Alps.

The usual packhorse impression to Stansted last Wed was followed by an
often very wet ride into Grenoble (note to self, French trees don’t
have enough leaves to keep one dry in a cloudburst; second note to
self, use the 4 euro shuttle bus for the very uphill return) and the
evening was spent watching a certain game of Football. The night was
spent trying to get to sleep amidst the noise of car horns.
Fortunately Paul was en route from Nice with a hire car on Thur which
saved a drenching; we drove the 3km up the AdH road to the campsite;
highly recommended, small tents get pride of place in their front
gardern overlooking the valley, and only 7 eu each a night 😉

see Martin’s photos

A quick fettle of the gears (notably the recently borrowed compact
chainset) and we decided to try a few hairpins. Well you know how it is
with hairpins, and before long we were up the top; no money, no water,
no thermal gear, brrrrr! all the way down.
Friday was spent registering and trying to avoid BEER. A couple from
Toronto arrived in the campsite to do L’Etape, having never heard of La

Saturday morning (race day) was a hive of activity in the bottom of the
valley as we joined the throng at 0645. Felt totally inadequate as
usual with my alloy bike without a Dura Ace groupset. Finally moved off
at 0745 ish. Paul was nowhere to be seen having been put in a different
numbered queue. I spent the whole day looking for him, only to find
several hundred identically coloured riders.

A benign flat 8km to the reservoir was followed by a brutal start to
the climb of the Glandon; in my case 3rd sufficed as a granny ring. The
road (by now) high above the valley floor has collapsed at some time in
the past and someone with a sick sense of humour decided to drop it
back down to river level and back up the other side. Use of the Real
granny got me back to where the road rejoined the original route and
after a lot of Up we came to the Glandon. It was shut.

Someone had gone AOT over a hairpin and they were waiting for a meat
wagon. An hour later I finally got going again after the gendarmes were
filtering about 20 through at a time. That was the silver gone,
although I did use the opportunity to fill my face with the usual
superb catering. A tremendous and very long descent reminiscent of the
Dales Grimpeur and the Northern bit of the LEL routes. After that it
got a bit boring as it went along the main road under the Croix de Fer;
but not for long as we soon hit the climb of La Telegraphe. This was
nice; bendy, shaded and not too steep. I felt slightly better at the
top by comparison to the poor sod chucking up in a very loud fashion
before finally lying down.

A short drop down to Valloire and we started on the day’s Big Fun, the
Galibier. A quck stop for more food and then it started to climb in a
fashion simlar to the Glandon; although I knew I had 14km and 1000m to
go. Suddenly the road stopped at a hairpin. Then it struck me, in a
moment of horror similar to Sigourney Weaver seeing the Mother Alien
for the first time. Some clown (taking lessons from the one who did the
Glandon road) had tacked a road to the side of the mountain. Like a
huge anthill with its 2 wheeled worker ants pedalling inexhorably up in
an endless trail. Well if you can’t beat ’em…

At the top another rider was bubble wrapped and carted off in a
helicopter. (I say the top, there was a crater about the size of the
Grand Canyon with an ant trail all the way up). I decided to think of
other things as I cranked away for the next 1 1/2 hrs in 34×26; and
mostly just one thing. 1815.1815.1815. That was when I had to arrive
back at the bottom of AdH to avoid the shame of a Marmotton (the ride
which finishes at the bottom).

And then about 300m from the top I came
upon a British bike; it was a chap from Brighton. Suddenly someone to
talk to took away the tedium and sheer effort, and we even got cheered
by a van load of supporters from East Sussex who saw my club top; they
had prepared a special King of the Mountains banner for their rider
(who presumably hadn’t appeared yet). And one last oomph and pretend
smile for one of the many professional photographers and we were there
at 1615. Bloody freezing!

I grabbed a drink and dried prunes at the top
then it was on with the Gamex top for the fantastic descent of both
Galibier and Lautaret (although the surface on the latter and the lack
of closed roads for the whole ride made it less than the 100km/h I have
read reports of). An absolutely mad passage through all the tunnels and
soon we were heading back to Bourg d’ Oisans and elimination time. I
got there with 30 min to spare so piled into as much sugar as I could
find from the refreshment stand (even Coke as well!) and grannied the

Stopping at the campsite to lose all my spare weight and stick my
helmeted head under the cold shower I continued up. I was past caring
by now as were most others but all I had to do was plug away. Finally I
hit Lacet no 1 at about 1940, but in a cruel twist of fate they decided
to add another 1km beyond the normal stop to where the Tour finishes. I
CNBA to queue for a Bronze certificate and still don’t know where I
came, but was apprently one of only about 2000 of the 7000 starters to

I met Paul who had been there about an hour (with no training
either!) for the usual free but uninspiring pasta and salad, before one
last plummet back down where we met the last of the finishers and a few
who had had their chips confiscated after the cut off time but still
decided to continue just for the hell of it; chapeau to them all.

We of course didn’t ride Sunday other then some contrived photo posing
in the dark tunnels on the other side of the valley, but took advantage
of the 1/2 price voucher to go up on the cable car to 3300m. And on the
way down, near Huez, having seen a few furry flashes and a tail
earlier, were rewarded with the site of a real actual Marmotte (or was
it a Marmotton?). The evening was spent in the Foyer Municipal with the
rest of B d’O for another less joyeous game of football.

And as Monday dawned and the Circus that is L’Etape rolled into town we
beat a hasty retreat before they shut all the roads, and went back to
Grenoble where we followed a very nice 70km route through the Vercours
that was in the free magazine that came in the entry pack.

A great ride; well worth doing before it gets Etappified, but very very
hard. The jury is still out on whether it was harder than the Dales.

And no I didn’t buy a jersey before the ride and yes they had sold out


Marek Siwicki writes…

11 hrs 34mins and 8 seconds for me, ouch. I had spent a couple of
days before the race in the mountains with a couple of friends from
Addiscombe CC, making the mistake of checking out the final climb of
the Marmotte, Alp D’Huez the day before the event, this made me very
scared. At the start of the race I was with my mates who I was
staying with. One of them is a really good climber and after the
initial relatively flat section, he shot off up the climb just before
Col De Glandon and I did not see him again. I stayed on the wheel of
my other mate who now lives in Switzerland, he was setting a nice
steady pace. On the descent just before the Col de Glandon I changed
down into my small ring and unfortunately my chain jumped off. My
mate had already started going up the hill, that was the last I saw of

I took it at my own pace, trying not to get my heart rate too high
knowing what was to come. At the top of the Glandon was the first
feed station. Unfortunately there had been a bit accident on the
descent and they closed the road for an hour and a half. I decided
to take it really easy after the hold up on the Glandon, after my
experiences in the past of blowing on these types of things I decided
to sod the time and just have a great day out. At the bottom of the
Glandon I bumped into Martin Malins and he seemed to be enjoying
himself, he was looking for Paul but was having difficulty working out
whether he was behind or in front of him due to the hold up on the
Glandon. I waved him my farewell and carried on towards the next
climb. The Col de Telegraph. This was actually relatively easy and I
felt quite confident at this point. But then THE GALIBIER.

The most difficult part of the day was going up the Galibier. This is
a horrific climb and I suffered with the heat and my feet felt awful.
For some reason my feet were feeling really weird like a numb type
feeling. This climb is long and gets steeper and steeper, you think it
is finished and then you go around a corner and you can see the climb
goes on for miles longer. It is painful but when you reach the top
the relief is awesome.

We then had the descent down the Galibier. Through some scary
tunnels, man I was shaking going through the first one I was so
scared. You literally can only see the headlights coming towards you

The last climb was the Alp D’Huez. This looks flat on TV and after
riding up the day before I knew to treat the first section with
respect as it is steep. It levels out a bit towards the top. I had
bought 3 Red Turbo Gels from some French pharmacist (or was he a
Spanish doctor). I had saved these all for the final climb and they
worked a treat. I even managed to sprint the final section and come
over the line at great speed.

I really enjoyed the ride, I have to say that although it was very
hard, taking it easy meant I had loads left for Alp D’Huez, although I
did stop at every water station on the way up as it was bliming hot.

Throughout the ride I was bumping into other colleagues from ACC, I
also saw some guys from London Dynamo, Pearsons and Old Ports out
there. It was good to have so many familiar faces around.

I really enjoyed it and would do this one again, although I may try
something else next year.



p.s. Alp D’huez is a bitch of a climb. For those who have not done it
and seen on TV it is nothing like it is on TV. It looks flat on TV, it
isn’t it is bliming steep and in high temps is bliming hard work. So
respect to all Marmottians and Etapists, and of course the pros who
raced up it yesterday.

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