Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Sam conquers Marmotte

From Sam our roving/cycling reporter from France.

Hi Simon/Aaron/Emma

If you ever want a cycling challenge, come and have a go at the Marmotte. With 7000 cyclists crammed into the narrow streets of Bourg D’Oisains at 7.30am, it made for a spectacular start.

As I crossed the starting line, I could not image what lay ahead in what turned out to be a long day in the saddle. I finished in 10hr and 14min and I felt well chuffed with myself even though the final climb up to Alpe D’Huez proved to be really difficult.

Before reaching the final climb, I had to first conquer three other legendary climbs of Col du Glandon, Col du Telegraph and the really difficult Col du Galibier. While the 5000m of vertical climbing proved to be a huge challenge, the descending proved to be a challenge too.

As soon as I went over the top of the cols, there was some very scary and dangerous hair-pin bends to navigate. I opted for the safety first approach and took it very easy while some riders flew past me at a vast speed even after seeing casualties on the side of the road being treated by ambulance staff. I even saw one guy on a stretcher in a neck brace just about to be put into an ambulance.

The last decent off the Galibier and back to the base of the Alpe D’Huez climb was a staggering 60km and my shoulders were screaming after all the braking. Once I was back at the start of the Alpe D’Huez climb, I refueled and I felt reasonably ok. But I soon discovered I was beginning to bonk! The worse part of the Alpe D’Huez climb is the fist 6 hair-pin bends since they are steep and sustained. I managed a few of these early bends without stopping but then I found my breathing becoming erratic and my lower back giving me a lot of pain. So I had to stop to stretch my back and to regulate my breathing before continuing up the hill.

I repeated this stop and stretch approach a further three times before I finally made it to the top and to the finish line where Carmen was patiently waiting. What a relief it was to get off the bike and to duck into the comfort of the feed tent albeit I could not face any food which was a shame since the pasta looked really good.

After a nice hot shower, Carmen and I retreated to a bar where I supped a lovely grand bier and we watched some of the tail-enders approach the finish. Boy did that beer taste good. I checked my result today and I discovered that I was in the Silver category (as opposed to the Gold and the Bronze) based on my finish time which is not too bad. To give you an idea, the top riders did the course in 6h 30min! I can only imagine that these riders are mountain goats in disguise!

In summary, the Marmotte is an absolute “must do” event for cycling enthusiasts and especially for those that get a kick from ticking off the famous climbs featured in the Tour de France. It is a similar format to the L’Etape du Tour and having done both events, I reckon the Marmotte is the more challenging. Stick it onto your ‘to do’ list!


PS My Cervelo R3 SL proved to be the dog’s bollocks. I was very happy with how it coped with the ascents and descents and the SRAM worked a treat too. So no complaints except for the old fart riding it!

Simon says: - So Sam has now got most (if not all) of the course for the Alpe d'Huez Long Distance Triathlon under his belt and dialled in. It sounds terrifying and we have a half marathon to run at altitude straight afterwards - can I get my money back please - can I just go and watch, drink wine and eat cheese & baguettes?

Yet again Sam you inspire me and remain firmly in the "Gold" category of my sporting heroes.

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