Without wanting to sound blasé at all, I have to admit to not looking too closely or reading too much about the route of La Marmotte before riding it this summer. I had heard of the Cols we would be climbing before now of course but hearing about them is very different toi seeing them in the flesh or hearing locals talk about them as if they were some giant, about to lure you into their cave and swallow you whole. For example, Alpe D’Huez is a ski resort, I quite fancy skiing there. But, 20-odd switchbacks that take you to the top, at a gradient of over 10% in some places, I’d never heard about that. ‘Legendary’, ‘iconic’, i had heard but never for once thought that it couldn’t be conquered, after all so many riders have ridden it and raced it that it can’t be that bad. Even the Merle family I stayed with in Grenoble on the Saturday night did the thing where they mouth ‘Ooooooo? and shake their hand at the same time, to mean, i think, it’ll be hard.
And they were right, oh so right. After a 150km loop around the Savoie countryside, taking in Cols such as Glandon (1924m), Télégraphe (1566m) and Galibier (2642m) in all sorts of conditions, I briefly considered taking a left at the roundabout in Bourg St. Maurice, heading back to the car and sticking the bike straight in the back but that would have been a cop out. How could I come this far and not take on the ‘Alpe’. Negative thoughts eliminated, I took a brief refueling stop and headed up the immediate climb to hairpin number 21. Only 20 more to go…..
I cannot lie, this climb was the hardest climb i have EVER done. It is relentless, steep, unforgiving….yet strangely compelling when you can count down the number of turns you have left. It’s a funny place Alpe D’Huez in summer – the town itself is quite vast but barren, a landscape of hotels, aparatments, a few bars and bike rental shops but in winter I can imagine it being a big playground needing to be explored – an excuse for a return visit! The day before the ride, when you have to collect your race pack, was underwhelming. Clearly the large manufactures, who normally have a big presence at events like these, or so my experience tells me from L’Etape last year, clearly didn’t trust their wagons to make it up the hill because apart from the sponsors, Look Cycles, and a couple of others (more in the next paragraph), there was no one else there. Cyclists love swag but there was none to be had this time.
A medal round my neck, a bowl of crap pasta and a beer was enough for me to start heading down although getting stuck behind the Mavic truck wasn’t what the Garmin wanted when I anticipated measuring my downhill speed versus some Strava loving beasts. Impatience took hold of me and I passed the truck after one too many hairpins taken at walking speed although with the sheer amount of traffic on the road it was hard to generate much rhythm between the turns although i gave it a good go with some ‘breathtaking’ overtaking of cars, if I do say so myself! Bike loaded in car, snacks purchased for this instance consumed and I headed out of Bourg St Maurice bound for home, four hours away. A couple of stops for stretching and coffee saw me home about 8pm and dive into a hot bath to try and straighten the kinks at my knee joints.
A tough day at the office but a thoroughly satisfying one. I had completed La Marmotte, I had ridden up Alpe D’Huez and I had managed to put a Vélopunks sticker on each Col sign. Mission accomplished.