Thursday, 15 October 2015

La Marmotte 2014 Update

OK so after finishing 2013 La Marmotte and swearing I would never do that again, yes you guessed it I signed up for 2014 La Marmotte as soon as I received the email.

Again I could find no cycling friends to go with me so I used Classic Cycling Tours travel company.  I paid a little more than the previous year but once again they were outstanding as was the amazing chalet we stayed in at the top of Alpe D Huez.

This year I done a lot more 100 mile rides.  In fact id done at least one 100 mile ride every month of the year in 2014. I was roughly the same weight.  I just really struggled to get any lower.
This year due to the Tour De France back home there was a lot less of us Brits doing the race.
The day before the race I just did a gentle spin along the valley floor to the base of the Glandon to give some of the group a recce of the start. We got a lift back up the Alpe to save our legs.

We had a great meal in the evening and then an early night to bed.  The weather forecast wasn't great and there was heavy rain overnight and the temperature was pretty cold.

I slept a little and woke early to very thick fog and wet roads which put pay to our idea of descending the Alpe.  We quickly came up with the pan to load the bikes onto the 2 vans and descend in those rather than risk the cold wet descent to the start.


I had a new bike this year. Ribble R Stealth with full Campagnolo Chorus Groupset, handmade Kinlin wheels and 3t finishing kit, oh and most important  I had a 32t cog on the back as well as a compact on the front. Super light, super stiff and dream to ride.
My pockets had a couple of flapjacks, Energy gels, hydration tabs and paracetamal.

Thin Gilet, Lezyne mini pump and Lezyne multi tool.

This year I wanted Gold. I knew the course and was sure I could get it.

The start was cold while we waited.  We started edging forward and then we're off. I had decided to go hard at the start of the race to make up some time. I got into a good fast group with some big Dutch guys on the front and we were hammering along at 30mph. We made it to the first switch backs at the dam before the Glandon in double quick time. Moved along the plateau in good time and then started the Glandon climb proper.
I dropped down into 2nd and set my own pace never pushing to hard. Got my breathing under control and tapped out and easy rhythm moving past plenty of riders.  Even so I had forgotten how hard and steep the bottom of the Glandon is. I'd gone with one water bottle strategy to save on weight until the village at the mid point where I could refill. I got there in good time slightly ahead of my pacing.  I filled up both bottle and set off down the steep switchbacks before th final few KM's to the top of the Glandon.

The top of the Glandon was again a scrum and I road straight through.  I only stopped to get some food out of my pocket. The descent off the Glandon was much better this year.  Although it isn't timed I used this as a place to get in the swing of going downhill.  I passed hundreds of riders with hardly anyone passing me.

At the bottom of the Glandon just before the timing chip starts again I decided to fill my bottles from one of the public water spots.  Bad mistake!!! it was hot water not cold coming from the tap. I was now down to one bottle with the heat rising and a long drag to the start Telegraph.
I got in a good group and sat in doing no work at all. We moved at a decent speed but really could have done with it being a little faster.

I got to the food stop before the Glandon still on pace for a gold medal. I ate some food, drank plenty and filled up my bottles. 

Ok, so who's idea was it to rip up the road surface on the Telegraph!!! Ahh the top layer of tarmac had been stripped leaving the climb up the Telegraph rough and leg sapping.
About half way up one of the guys in my group, Geoff caught me up. He was setting a good pace on his 10k Team Sky Bike but I managed to have a chat with him and sit on his wheel while he paced me up. I did have one little incident half way up where some Dutch guys decided to take the whole width of the road.  As I made my way through one of them veered into towards me and then started shouting out something in Dutch about my riding style. Idiot!!

I made it to the top of the Telegraph without stopping. At the top I filled up with water and had a quick bite to eat.  I was starting to feel it a little now.  The sun was hot and my legs were feeling tired.

I shot off down the side of the Telegraph to the base of the Galibier. I tapped out I decent rhythm to the big food stop where it flattens off slightly. I grabbed a few orange segments and a bread roll and set off up the long climb determined not to stop till Plan Lachet.
I climbed well and got to Plan Lachet still on schedule for a gold time. I had a bite to eat, stretched my legs, filled my bottles and set off. Another chap from our group passed me at Plan Lachet and was a good 300m in front of me. I decided to use him as a carrot and tapped out a nice rhythm bring him back slowly until by the time i'd got to the top we were side by side.


No stopping at the top of the Galibier. I flew down the other side passing a lot of riders. I got to our support van and stopped briefly to fill my bottle and take on some food. I continued on down to the base of the alpe on what is my favourite part of the course. Big wide roads, great surface sweeping corners. I was mainly on my own but did manage to get into a small group as I got near the bottom.

I was still on time for gold so decided to stop at the bottom of the alpe to get some water, eat something quickly and take 2 paracetamal. I spent maybe 5 minutes doing this and just stretching out a little.
Off up the Alpe I went, 8 miles, steep unrelenting and boiling hot. I was in first and moving slowly but not stopping. Turn 16 I stopped briefly and took on water. I carried onto Dutch corner and again took on water and over my head. There were loads on the road walking pushing their bikes with plenty of crowds cheering us on. I didn't stop then till I got to the top where I once again mustered up everything I had to sprint the last 1km to the line.

I crossed the line, relief and emotions kicked in, I had completed the course way faster than last year.

After a brief rest I fought through the crowds and handed in my chip and got my certificate in return.

Hmm , hang on a minute, there must be some sort of mistake, it says silver!! No I had rode a gold time surely. I checked again, they were right.  Somehow in my delirium from being so tired I had got my timing wrong and the extra stop at the base of the Alpe had cost me a gold medal.  I missed the Gold medal by a few minutes !!!!!!!!!! I couldn't believe it.  I was absolutely gutted.  Id gone through all that pain and training again to miss gold by minutes.

I think I was 2nd fastest back out of our group so I was pretty pleased with that but missing gold by such a small margin was rough!!

I have for now decided to put the Marmotte on hold until I get the extra time when i'm 50

The training and dedication involved to complete it just takes over your life.
I definitely want to go back to the Alpes but it would be in a non race capacity.  Just enjoying the riding and the scenery which you don't get time to appreciate whilst your turning yourself inside out


Wednesday, 31 July 2013

My La Marmotte 2013
Date: 6th July 2013
Distance: 108 miles
Climbing: 5000m+
My time: 10.06 hrs
This is a simple blog to show my journey to and on the La Marmotte 2013 Sportive.
My aim is to offer any tips and advice that I found whilst training for and riding the Marmotte. I have only ridden it the once so I am certainly not an authority on the ride but I will do my best to give any advice that I found helpful.
I will break the blog down into sections so as easier to navigate.

You can do it!
 I had only been riding a road bike again for about 3 years (was keen roadie in my teens. now 38).  Before that I was riding MTB mainly just to work, the odd weekend out. I am relatively fit, (have run a few 10k)  slightly over weight (5,11 and 13.4 stone)
This is something I wanted to do as I didn't want to wake up one day as an old man and think " I wish I had done that"  by then it will be too late.
If you want to do it but are worried whether you can or not, as Nike says "Just Do It"

I couldn't persuade any of my cycling friends to take me up with the challenge (see above) so not to be defeated I decided to go to France on my own and do it.
On the basis that I had never done anything like this before I decided to use a tour operator.  I won't bang on selling their service but I will say just one word. Fantatastic.  Check them out.
Or you can book the whole thing yourself and the event through
For me it was way easier to pay a bit more money and have someone else do all that for you.

Ok so you have booked your place. S**t now you've actually got to do this. I am not going to give advice on training plans, there are tons of them on the internet already.  Everyone is diffeent and if like me you have a family you have to fit in your training around them.
My average week though consisted of:
Monday:  Commute 22miles round trip  (sometimes I extended my trip home to 20 miles with a hills)
Tuesday:  Commute 22 miles round trip (sometimes I extended my trip home to 20 miles with a hills)
Wednesday: 300 exercise routine (40 mins)
Thursday:  In Winter Turbo/Spin. Summer 28 miles Loop 2700ft (I already did this on a regular basis)
Saturday:   Early morning ride. Started with 50 miles built up to 100+ miles in the last couple of  months before event. I had 3 x 100 hilly mile rides in my legs 1 month before.
Sunday: Possibly 300 again
I would stretch after every ride.
Log your training. I found it key to log my miles, feet climbed, average speeds, Power output etc.
I also logged my non cycling training.  Twice a week I would do a 300 type workout. Press ups, back exercises, arms, legs, stomach lower back. Log all this down and the reps.
If you use a turbo or spin bike like me log down times spent on it, miles what you did.
Writing it all down makes it much easier to track your progress.  You can see yourself improving week on week.
It goes without saying that weight is a big factor in getting round the event. Lighter your are easier it will be. I lost 1, 1/2 stone. Try and loose as much as you can (safely).  There are a million diet plans to choose from.
The above training got me round in 10hrs. To give you an indication I live in the hilly North West and avergae around 15mph for a 100mile 8000ft+ training ride
Things I will do different next time.
*Try and get a few more 100+ mile rides in.
*Try and lose a little bit more weight.  1/2 stone more. I was  strugglilng with the diet towards the end. Sweet tooth :)
*More core exercises. Very painful lower back at alpe d huez.  I would strengthen this up.

I already had a nice carbon Planet X bike. Campagnolo 34/50 - 12-29. It isn't super light but is good enough for me.  I purchased some new wheels as mine were wearing thin.  kinlin 200 rims lightweight hubs around the 1300g. so pretty light.  Everyone has there own preference. Tyres conti 4000s
Advice I will give about wheels.
ok there it is. Why?  Your rims will get very hot descending and if you read around on the internet you will find that full carbon clincher rims can not handle this heat. Your tyre may (will) explode or as happended to a chap in our group your rim will melt.  Yes, on the descent off the Glandon both his carbon clincher rims melted!!  game over all that money and training down the drain.
Tubulars are different and can handle the heat which is why pros can ride them. I have no experience with Tubs so can't comment.
Basically you want wheels which are lite as safely possible for your weight.
On the way down the descents you will see loads of punctures.  Why? mainly tyre pressure to high, hot rims BANG! tyre explodes.  drop your pressure to about 100-110psi. I saw maybe 30 punctures just descending the Alpe in the morning to the start and plenty more off the Glandon.
New brake blocks.  Again personal preference. I chose Swissstop green.  worked perfectly for me

I saw lots of people with triples (I know we all laugh at them over here)  believe me I lost count how many times I went searching for an extra gear with non to be found. I wish I had had a triple.  I was struggling with a 29. Never happens over here, over there its a different story. Next time I would get a 32 on the back.  Just allows you to spin.  Again this is all personal preference. I am not the strongest climber.  Not the weakest though either.

mini pump. (or CO2)
tyre leavers.
2 x tubes
multi tool (with chain breaker if possible) chap in our group snapped his chain
chain quick link. (see above. his mate had one.  saved his ride)
small zip ties. 2x. can come in handy to secure broken bits

There are Mavic service vehicles floating about and mechanics at least at Valloire feed stop if you are desperate.

Funny story, I saw one chap with his seat in his back pocket making the flat transition from base of Glandon to Telegraph standing up all the way!! 15miles.  Obvisouly snapped it somehow. no doubt he will have got it fixed before start of Telegraph.


Depending on weather:
Gilet/thin jacket
Arm Warmers
Cap? thin headwear.

This year it was very hot.  The descent in the morning I put a waterproof jacket on and then ditched this in our support van before the start.  You will see people coming down in all sorts of crazy clothing, boiler suits, bin bags etc.
Once at the start I just braved the chillyish morning as once we got going you soon warmed.  No need to then stop and remove clothing. I saw lots of people (European) who had full arm and leg warmers, oversocks, gloves etc.  It was boiling and so were they after a bit.  It is just more stuff you then have to carry around.
I only took a thin Gilet.  This was plenty just to stop wind chill off the Galibier.  As soon as you got past Lauteret though it got very warm very quickly and it went back into my pocket.
I didn't need any warmers or caps or anything.  It was a very warm day.
Put sun tan lotion on or you will burn.


2 is a must.  at least 500ml. I went through loads of water both over my head and drinking.  Keep hydrated at least one bottle per hour.

Hydration tablets of some sort.  I just had some cheap salt tablets and they were fine for me. Again whatever you have trained with


This is a personal preference.  I only ate my own food. 2 reasons.  The feed stops are a scrum. especially at top of Glandon. I would reccomend just getting  some water there and carrying on.  It is chaos as everyone is still together.
Second, I know what im eating.  Not concerned if it has been sat there for hours or a thousands hands have already mauled it.
Personally I get the massive flapjacks from cheap pound shop.  about 500cals in a block and energy gels. I started off with 2 flapjacks and had about 6 energy gels
You need to be eating about 200 - 300 cals per hour.
If you have a support van on the circuit (ours was after Galibier) then great as you can put some food in there. Saves you having to carry it all the way round again weight saving.

Eat little and often.  You can eat plenty on the flat bit between glandon and Telegraph + before the Galibier reallys kicks up before plan lachet. Eat again before Alpe D Huez. 

Mobile Phone.
Money/Credit Card.
Emergency details
Garmin or whatever.

The Day

If your like me then you will have had little sleep due to nervous tension.  Don't worry you will find that most people haven't slept well. Its just one day, you can get through it.
I stayed at top of Alpe D Huez so made the descent with thousands of others to the start.  It is chilly. I would take something that will keep your warm on the way down that you can then ditch.
Try and have a decent breakfast before you set off.  It is a fairly long wait till you actually start.
I took an extra bar of flapjack to eat at the start.
When you get to the start you are herded into the backstreets and taken to your pen depending on your number. All very straight forward don't worry about it.
Have a wee before you go across the timing mat.  There were toilets before you got to it or like me and hundreds of others, weeing in the river that runs through Bourg :)

You creep foward, music gets louder......your off! bang, you're hammering along at 20mph+ bikes flying past at all speeds.
Be carefull, watch your line, watch wheels in front, people charging up your inside, street furniture.
Try and stay within yourself.  No point burning a load of energy on these first flat 7 miles.  Try and get on back of a decent moving group and sit in till Glandon starts. 


You hit the first couple of switch backs at the reservoir and boom everyone starts going backwards or you get some heros out of the saddle thinking they are Nairo Quintana.  save yourself.  This is just a very short warm up over the dam and then it is a couple of miles of flat and down hill.

then the fun begins. If like me you have never ridden long climbs abroad before (4-5 miles in UK)
Then don't panic. You start the Glandon.  It is very busy around you.  Just drop into 1st and set a nice pace, don't push too hard, there is a long way to go.  About 15miles. The uphill just goes on forever. You pray for the odd slight peice of flat.  It is all in your mind.  Easy tempo.  Don't push it.

You then get to Rivier de Allemond.  If flatens off through the village and thens drops down through some steep switch backs. Be aware, dont go tearing down here or you will miss a corner or lock up you back wheel. 2 miles down and it goes straight up 10%+. be careful as people don't change down in time or chain drops off (get a chain catcher) and can cause a blockage.  Try and keep some room around you.  Change down to 1st early on. This goes on for about a mile or so then it is just more 7%climbing until you go downhill again at the next reservoir. It then climbs again till you are at the top.
The top will be very busy.  As previous I would just recommend filling up with water, taking a quick picture and getting off.
The descent is neutralised off the Glandon all the way down.  It is very steep and bumpy road surface at the top, take it easy.  Don't go tearing down.  No point,  you will still get idiots who do.  Just let them go. Don't sit on the brakes all the time or you will overheat your rims.  You get used to it the further you go.
Stark reminder.  I saw one very bad crash.  Chap was unconcious on the floor with paramedics working on him.  Hopefully he was ok.  At the very least it was the end of his Marmotte.

At bottom of Glandon it is a long 15 miles to the base of the Telegraph.
Get in a group.  DO NOT DO ANY WORK let some big dutch guys tow you along.  If you need a faster group one will come along.  don't go too hard.  there is an 7 mile climb to come.


This is billed as the easiest climb.  For me it was the worst.  It was sooo hot.  There is some shelter in the trees but there was no wind.  Never too steep so no issues there. Again, take it easy.  Galibier is not far away.

There was water on one corner part way up which I ran over my head.  Also you can fill up with water at the top, or you can carry onto Valloire feed stop if you have enough to get you through 6 miles. I used both as it was so hot.
Short decsent to Valloire. 4 miles maybe


This is the biggest of the day in terms of height. You come into Valloire then it kicks up quite steep which is demoralising for a couple of miles.  Then you get to the feed stop.  It wasn't quite as chaotic here.  I would fill up with water,  maybe take on some food then it is a long climb which is deceptive all the way to Plan Lachat. I had said to myslef im not stopping till Plan Lachat where you can take on water again before the fun starts.   It is hard work and a mental game when you look at your speedo and see you are doing about 4 mile an hour slower than what you think you should be doing.  Don't let it get to you.  Head down keeping turning.  Before you know it yor at Plan Lachat.
After Plan Lachat its a bit of blur, basically you have about 5 miles of steep unrelenting uphill with switch backs. you will see lots of people walking. In my mind I said no stopping till the top and I didn't.  Again its all in your mind. Head down count down the KM markers and just keep turning however slow that maybe. you will get there. Before you know it your at the top. Joyful.  I knew if I got to the top of Galibier I had cracked it.  There is a massive downhill 30 miles+ after this so plenty of time to recover you legs and take on food and drink.
Take a five at the top.  If you need to get some water. Get a picture.  Gilet/jacket on, head on down.
First bit agin is pretty steep and bumpy and it really took it out on my arms and shoulders.  Be carefull .  Cars will also be on the road.
Once past Lautaret the road opens out and you can basically take your hands off the brakes and free wheel for miles on end with big sweeping corners.  This was my favorite bit of the ride.
There are a few tunnels. Fortunatley I was pretty much on my own so didn't have to worry but all you need to do is move your glasses down your nose so you can see over them ok, take care through the tunnel and pop them back on the other side. Don't faff about trying to take them off and stick in your helmet it will just increase your chance of crashing.
As you get down to the bottom there are a few uphill drags.  nothing too long or severe but enough to make your legs feel it again. Then it is a downhill all the way to the bottom of the Alpe food station.

Alpe d Huez

I had already eaten on the desecent so only needed to stop for water (had 2 x gels left as well).  By now it was boiling hot.
I filled both bottles.
You hit the first slopes of the Alpe.  Drop it down into first.  No out of the saddle heroics.  It is 8 miles long.
Again I had decided not to stop till first water station.  I thing about turn 16. (past turn 16 the gradient eases off a little)  Once there I had my head under the taps and filled up both bottles again. take the corners nice and wide to benefit from the flat section.  Just gives your legs that 5 seconds breather.
Back on and no stopping till Dutch corner (7) where I did the same again.  Water over head and fill both bottles. All the way up I would drink at corners and poor some over my head.
Keep going. Your mind is telling you to stop but you can keep going no matter how slow you will see tons of people off walking, lay in the road, lay in streams, just head down and keep turning.  Set your self small goals.  Don't worry if people are going past you, you will also be going past plenty of others.
It is a very long slog but you will eventually be into Alpe D Huez itself and you somehow find the strength to sprint to the line.

At the Finish I was very emotional. Tiredness and months of training just all washed over me.  Others in my group said the same.

When you finish.  Hand your timing chip in. Not easy to find in the crowds. And then wait 15 mins and go and collect your certificate. amazing job.

Last notes

*If your mad enough you can do the Grimpe the next day.  Timed ride up Alpe D Huez.  This is at about 8am so i didn't bother.  I wasn't going to ride at all but ended up going out with others from the group and did a great ride from turn 6 on the Alpe to Villard Reculas, down to Allemond, part way up the Glandon, beer in Bourg then rode back up the Alpe again.  well worth doing as I got some great pictures.

*Don't be put off if others have way better bikes or kit than you (especially Italians) It doesn't mean  they are any better.  I saw loads of people pushing 10K bikes up Galibier and the Alpe.  If you know your own kit and bike and have done the training you will be fine.  10k bike or not

*Dont get hung up on times or speeds.  I had it in my head I could do this the same as my hilly rides back home averaging 15mph+ there by getting a gold easily.  No Way! I manged to average about 11mph just under. If this is your first time round be very proud just to finish as thousands don't.  Next time round now I know the route and where to improve I will be looking to get a better time and different coloured medal.

*Don't go for a big ride the day before the event. Just have a gentle (flat as you can) ride to make sure bike is working correctly after transit.  Maybe take a few pictures.
A couple of chaps in our group did a fairly big ride (30 miles part way up Glandon) the day before. They didn't finish Marmotte. I believe if they hadn't done that then they would have finished.
Just rest up , eat and drink.

*You register at top of Alpe D Huez day before. You need your reg info and your medical cert (they didn't ask to see mine)  Reg was open all day till about 7pm

*Hard to say I enjoyed it at the time as it really was hell when I was riding but a day later on reflection it really was the best thing I have ever done.  I have watched all the youtubes videos since
and spent ridiculous money on photos.I can't wait till it becomes available for next year as I will hopefully be back again.

As I said at the beginning, if you are in two minds about doing this or any other big event, just do it. Your a long time dead so make the most of your time living.

Hope the above was of some use