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Marmotte 2012

Marmotte 2012

a late submission from Rob Dickson…

In 2011 I had dragged my body through the epic 260km ‘Tour of Flanders’ Sportive. For this, I had based my training on the philosophy of the ‘Time Crunched Cyclist’ by the now discredited Chris Carmichael (alleged coach of Lance Armstrong, although most believe this was now really Dr Ferrari). This states that if you aren’t very good, and only train six hours a week, you can just about get by as long as you work very, very, hard in the time you have got’. Not exactly rocket science.

Having been persuaded by the same group of friends to undertake the altogether different challenge of the Marmotte (the legendry Alpine 174 km (108mile) route) in July this year, I adopted a broadly similar approach, this time preparing with two training blocks of nine weeks each, and up to about eight hours per week on the bike.

The day itself was scorchingly hot. Setting off from pen no. 2 at about 07:30am, which contained about 2,000 riders, I felt reasonably comfortable (it’s all relative) on the first ascent – the Col Du Glandon, topping out at 1,924m (6,200ft).

The treacherous descent from the col was neutralised, however, this still didn’t stop the wild antics of some riders, which resulted in at least one poor individual I saw being loaded into a waiting ambulance on a stretcher, with neck brace already in place.

There then followed about an hour’s drag through the Maurienne Valley, which I had previously imagined to be a thing of beauty, but is disappointingly a heavily industrialised (and more disappointingly also heavily trafficked) non-descript part of the route. For this I forced myself into various groups, concentrating very hard on holding the wheel in front – a skill that doesn’t come naturally, but I’m very gradually improving at.

We then started the climb of the Col-du-Telegraph (1,566m, 5,138ft). Again I had what is for me a reasonable rhythm – but about half way up I started to get an unexpected problem. Hot foot. I had read about this before, but never experienced it. By the time I crested the top of the Telegraph, my right foot in particular felt like the pedal was a molten fire poker underneath each toe. (Note to self – school boy error not to have thoroughly tested new shoes beforehand). At the top of the climb I had to stop, remove my cleats, and reposition each one as far back as I could. I also massaged my feet for about ten minutes until the pain was bearable. This was to be a repeat theme during the rest of the day.

After a short descent, I regrouped with my colleague from the Sheffrec cycling Club, before tackling the giant Col-Du-Galibier (2,642 m / 7.925 ft). Now things were starting to get serious, but although my legs were by now tiring and (even) slower, I was able to make it to the top without stopping again.

From the top of the Galibier, plunging down the approximately 20km descent to Bourg d’Oisans, the constant braking and riding on the drops caused my right shoulder in particular to completely lock up, such that even riding on the hoods caused extreme discomfort. I now realised, unexpectedly, that it wasn’t my legs but the rest of my body that were in serious danger of not making the finish

I had ridden up the Alp D’Huez (1,880m, 5,640ft)  once before, but perhaps unsurprisingly, with 160km in the legs, the gradient now seemed twice as brutal on the final climb. After eleven of the twenty one hairpins, I simply had to remove my shoes again, and massage my feet for about twenty minutes. During this time I noticed many riders walking up, mostly holding their shoes – I can only assume with similar problems to me. Having got this far however, I wasn’t going to complete the route on foot, and as soon as the pain had subsided I remounted, and rode exhausted to the finish with my colleague. Crossing the line was a huge experience, even if it had taken me the disgraceful time of 10hrs and 51 minutes to get there.

After the immediate reaction of stating this would never happen again – the following more rationale thought process took over in the following days.

  • The event timings showed I had spent more than two hours not moving! – i.e. massaging feet, resting etc. even if I had cut this in half it would have made a huge difference.
  • Although I’m a slow rider, it wasn’t actually my legs that were the problem. If I could cure the feet and shoulder problem, perhaps I could contemplate similar escapades in future.

On this latter note, in September I booked myself on a Retul Bike fit. This resulted in a further change in cleat position, my saddle moved forward, and a 30mm reduction in stem length. This doesn’t make the bike look good – but does seem to have improved comfort significantly.

Again, I also find myself promising to actually go on some club runs to test this, as well as starting to think about the next epic ride.

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