Marmotte Route Profile

The usual suspects were, Big E, Andy Smith, Andy Hill, Sidney Bell, the Doc and Mario Cipollini, (though it could have been Shakey).

Went out Wednesday (ride Saturday) to acclimatise and the ruffty-tuffty mountain bikers took this as an opportunity to get the fat-wheeled bikes out and do sections of the Mega at Alpe d’Huez and next day try the trails at Les Deux Alpes where they found the resort crowded with skiers and snowboarders, still skiing/boarding the glacier! They had to ride some snow at the top of the resort before getting onto what sounded like fantastic MTB trails.

Looking up at Alpe d'Huez

Registered Thursday, at the top of Alpe d’Huez and got a chance to see how steep it was as we drove up. Found that there were going to be about 8,000 riders on the event. Start at 07.00 in batches of 2000.

The day was cool and clear and we got to the start and waited but despite the crowds we managed to start at about 07.40 and Shakey (whose number meant that he was supposed to start much later managed to ride through covering his number).

There were a few people on it!

Little do they know!!

The start

The plan was to ride together (for half a mile at least) but as I stopped to take the pictures of the start I found I was on my own. About 20 minutes later I passed Big E and Shakey who had stopped briefly (number 1 call) and met up with Andy Hill on the Croix de Fer who then had to stop (number 2 call/’wild one’, not easy on a broad hillside meadow in full view of the road with only a boulder surrounded with nettles as cover; I couldn’t bear to look and rode on).

Found myself on my own and ploughed on up the Croix de Fer and the Glandon and got to the chaos of the first feed station. Got refuelled and set off on the first descent. Having completed the first long climb it seemed that a significant number of people went mad and there was carnage. I saw one girl being stretchered into an ambulance and between us we saw or saw the results of at least five really nasty crashes. Beautiful roads however and great descending with the interest kept up by idiots slow and fast all around on non-closed roads with blind bends. The descent was so long that I got a stiff neck from keeping my head up whilst being on the drops.

Got to the transition road leading to the Telegraphe and still felt OK; locals out in their front gardens applauding and waving and ringing the odd cowbell. The day was heating up by this time as we turned onto the Telegraphe. I recalled this as a steady but not too challenging climb before the hell of the Galibier but on this occasion I found it a hard grind and was overheating by the time I reached the top. Quick ‘splash and dash’ and dropped the 4k down to Valloire before starting the Galibier. This starts with a nasty short ‘kick’ out of the town before continuing with  the long slow, escalating climb. I ground my way on and stopped at the café just before the point where the road zig-zags up the side of the face of the mountain before the second half of the climb! Grovelled my way up the rest of the way with some stops for rest and taking on water (I wasn’t looking for a time, just to finish). Got to the top, had a bit of bread and ham from the feedstation, refilled my juice bottle despite mild shakes and set off on the descent.

View from the top of Galibier

Initially sketchy roads and high wind making the descent interesting but after the turn onto the Col du Lauteret there followed a glorious 27.5 mile descent with just one blip of a climb. Points of interest were the numerous tunnels which I seemed to float through (since I couldn’t see much through my shades) whilst wondering whether the pools of fluid were water or diesel!

Got to the bottom of the descent and along the flat to the base of Alpe d’Huez and felt good; fluid fill up at the bottom of the Alpe and set off. Deliberately in my lowest gear from the start (the steepest part of the climb is the first 4 hairpins) and didn’t feel too bad. Gradually as I went on I found the miles and heat getting to me (Shakey’s bike computer thermometer registered 40°C about a third of the way up the Alpe) and it became a real ‘grueller’. Ended up stopping three or four times just to cool down in the occasional shade at the side of the road and really appreciated the iced water thrown over me by some of the locals near the top. Took on more water despite having filled up at the bottom. Still surrounded by cyclists but there was no chatting now and looking around I could see expressionless faces dripping with sweat and it was clear that we were all in our own private heaven! Some people walking, some just standing at the side of the road, leant over their bikes, head resting on the bars or the saddle. It was clear that some had just run out of gears and were struggling just to turn the cranks and I was grateful for having a compact chainset and 32 back block and was able to spin reasonably fast. Still, though I passed a lot of people plenty still passed me and one bloke with whom I’d been swapping places since the top of the Galibier finally did me on the Alpe. Managed to get up to the edge of the town of Alpe d’Huez and knew that the last pitch into the village was easier than it looked and got a bit more energy from the crowds in the cafés at the side of the road who were all applauding and cheering all the riders as they came through. We were diverted off the normal route to the Tour finish and taken up through the town and as I came towards the point where there were barriers at the side of the road I suddenly felt brand-new, got out of the saddle and sprinted for the line until I heard the ‘beep’ of the timing chip registering my finish. I cycled slowly into the crowd and got off my bike hardly able to walk. As I was looking for a place to leave my bike another finisher was walking his bike along with his girlfriend, when he suddenly stopped and threw up copiously in the road…I kind of knew how he felt.

Didn’t know where everyone else was and couldn’t get replies on mobiles so hung around a bit more. Then it started with thunder/lightning and heavy rain, so the descent of the Alpe that I’d been looking forward to wasn’t going to be much fun and I got going before it got too bad.

Back at the camp I got in touch with Shakey who asked my time and when I told him (roughly 10 hours 5 minutes) told me he’d “done me like a kipper” and that he’d done 9 hours 26 minutes. So Super Mario Shakespeare was the class act of the day from our lot with the rest of us managing times around the 10 hours plus. If you really want to see the actual times then this is the link
(Andrew Smith is the one listed as “J Inconnu”)

To put it all into perspective however:

  • A 63 year old on our campsite did it in 9 hours 36 minutes (!)
  • Don Parry (a friend of a friend) and ex League of Veteran Racing Cyclists champion (60 years old) did it in 8 hours and 31 minutes (!!)
  • The fastest time of the day was 6 hrs 9 minutes (!!!!!) by a bloke called Bert Dekker.

So we all lived, I’m back on the booze and thinking of the next challenge!

The Doc