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La Marmotte 2016

By brian_perry - Posted on 08 July 2016

Alistair Howells, Tim Macfarlane and Stuart Baldwin rode the 2016 edition, here’s Alistair and Tim’s reports

“On Sunday Tim and I (and our wives) set off to ride the Marmotte. Before the start I had to double back to our B&B to get my forgotten Sunglasses. On the way back I hit something and lost my front light needed for the tunnels. I searched but it had vanished. I jumped back on my bike and must have hit the very back of the saddle because the saddle nose shot straight up. By the time I'd fixed that and got back to the start line Tim was long gone and so I set off on my own, thinking at least I had gotten my bad luck out of the way before the start...
The first climb was the Col du Glandon. I found a rhythm and went up at a pace I felt I could hopefully hold on all the climbs. The feed station at the top was chaotic and I loaded up with food and braced myself for the decent. I'm not the world best descender - to say the least. But I was just trying build up confidence when my front inner tube exploded. It was quite steep, with a sheer drop on one side people passing me at high speed. Strava tells me I was doing just under 29mph, I was very surprised I stayed upright. I tried to brake but the front tyre was off and I didn't seem to be slowing down. So I pointed the bike at the side of road without a sheer drop and crashed the bike into the undergrowth, expecting pain. It didn't happen. I'd crashed into massive Alpine version of dock leaves - which turns out to be ideal for this. It got everywhere, but whilst I was very shaken I was unhurt. Once I'd got the leaves out and new inner tube on, the bike seemed to be ok too. So, on I went my descending significantly more nervous than it had been already.
The Telegraph went ok, and so did the assent up the Galibier, which is a monster. Just as I got to the top of the Galibier the weather changed. It was really cold up the top and rain was coming sideways in sheets. I took shelter and waited for it to calm down a bit then tried to descend. But it was still raining quite hard and the wind was really strong. I started to shiver and quickly got to the point where I couldn't ride my bike. There was a crowd of riders in the same state by an ambulance and I reconciled myself to the fact my race was over. The ambulance got full and so it left saying then would send someone to pick us up, it should only be ten minutes. They handed out metal foil blankets like you get at the end of a marathon, but there weren't enough to go round so I ended up sharing a blanket with a Dutch girl called Martha, cuddling each other for warmth and waiting to be picked up. But the pickup didn't arrive. Eventually one of our shivering group phoned the race organisers who it seems were swamped with people in similar situations. They advised us to get a mile down the mountain to a ski lodge and wait there. But now the rain had stopped and the sun come out. So we decided to try and cycle down. I stuffed foil blanket inside my packable rain jacket and off I went. That worked really well, it is incredibly noisy at speed and I was still shivering but I decided to press on past the ski lodge and see if I could keep going. Looking at Strava I'd been on top of the Galibier for an hour. But once off the mountain It was much warmer although I kept the foil blanket on until the foot of Alpe d'Huez.
After a long day I was just glad to be there, I enjoyed the last famous climb and finished the Marmotte in 10:13 a silver time. Tim had long since finished with a Gold time of 8:15.
The event is amazing. The scenery is unbelievably impressive. I really recommend doing it, but if you do I hope your ride is less eventful.”

Tim writes:
“Unlike Alistair Howells I didn't find any Dutch girls to cuddle but i still managed to enjoy myself :-). Given I'd broken my collarbone 4 weeks and 6 days previously i wasn't sure where my fitness was at so kept HR below 150bpm and watts chugged away max on the climbs at 220. This seemed to work well and I felt strong until the last 4-5 km on Galibier where the wind picked up, temperature dropped, and the legs really started to feel it. Coming through the tunnel at the top the weather really changed and within minutes I was descending fast on wet roads through cold, driving rain. Although i had arm warmers and a packable jacket i was soon shivering and had lost feeling in my fingers, not the best when trying to control the bike on mountain roads. I soon got down to the valley however where the rain stopped and the warmer air started to defrost my hands. Starting the climb up Alpe D'Huez was in a funny way welcome as it meant i could really warm up again, i finished it strongly in a time of 8hrs 16mins and a gold for my age group. Given my recent injury I was pleased with this and now have a target for the next time! We stayed in the area for a few more days with a local cycling B&B and did some of the best rides i've done, Borg D'Osien and the surrounding mountains really are a cycling mecca and i'd highly recommend.”