Saturday, 10 July 2010

Day 0: The ride of my life.

5am and the dawn breaks on the day of reckoning.  A short but restful sleep, we headed down for breakfast, which was supplemented by a couple of pots of instant porridge we had bought with us.  I thought I had managed to stave off the nerves but it was pretty difficult to get breakfast down, and I had had three nights bad sleep, so maybe there were some underlying nerves there. 

By 6:30 I was descending off Alpe D'Huez to the start.  It was a beautiful serene morning, and everyone was dropping down the hill in silence, making for a surreal start to the day.  I arrived in the 4000+ pen after bidding farewell and bon courage to Mark, who had a start number with the elite riders.  I got a good position about 200 metres from the front and soon got chatting to some Aussies.  Spirits were high, the temperatures were cool and after about 45 minutes our group was called forward.  Trois! Deux! Un! and we were off!!!  After hearing my dibber beep as I passed over the start line I soon settled into the biggest peleton I have ever ridden in.

We had motorcycle escorts for the first section on the flat, and it was cool enough to wear arm warmers.  At this stage the nerves turned to excitement, just enjoying the spectacle of 7000 cyclists filling the road, cheered on by bystanders and stopped motorists.  20 minutes later and we were at the bottom of Glandon.  It was an easy start up, over and along the dam and then the work started.  The gradients were hard, which was made more difficult by being in a tightly packed group as I spent the entire first section of the climb constantly watching the wheels in front of me and jostling to keep my position. I had a couple of near misses with over excited testosterone filled guys overtaking on my right and then cutting in front, making me have to slow down to avoid their back wheel hitting my front.

The descent after Rivier de Allemont was made trickier by the faster guys overtaking, taking my line.  Luckily my well practice cornering skills meant I could negotiate the turns pretty tightly to keep safe.  Then came the worst section of the Glandon.  It ramps up like a UK climb and a lot of riders slowing up.  Due to the crowds I kept on the wheel of a couple of guys for a while, rather than trying to get around riders on a steep climb.  But then I started getting a whiff of cheese, really strong cheese.  Either someone had a brie sandwich in their back pocket or was literally sweating the stuff.  It started to make me feel nauseous so I over took the two guys who I had been following and then it was back to fresh mountain air.

By this stage it was getting pretty hot, the arm warmers had come off and people were already stopping for rests on the side of the road.  Due to my recce in May, I knew that I just had to dig deep on this steeper section until the dam came into view.  Soon enough I was onto the easier gradient and over the top of the dam to see the barrage in all it's glory.  I could taste the first summit now and a few kilometres later I was at the junction to turn off for the summit of the Glandon, where there were crowds of people cheering us mad folk on.

I wasn't really prepared for the bun fight at the feed station. Finding food was okay but it took me awhile to find the water as it was so crowded I couldn't see it.   I joined the fight for water and ten minutes later I was ready to descend, trying not to be too put off by the the ambulances and emergency helicopter

This was the section I was most nervous about due to the reputation for crashes and there are some pretty hairy hairpins.  Luckily the descent had been neutralised so the pressure to race down was off.  Red flag waving marshalls warned us of the worst corners and everyone gave plenty of space.  I have to admit I was a bit slow at the top but I soon got my descending skills back, despite going past the scene of another crash, and enjoyed the exhilarating ride to the valley floor.  

I was anticipating that the ride to the bottom of the Telegraph would provide a chance for some recovery time before the next climb but it was so hot that I really started to suffer.  After a bit of work I managed to get onto the back of a group, which turned into a bigger group when we swept up more people.  Unfortunately I felt the effects of the shelter and thought I was going to pass out from the heat. I needed a breeze!!  So I eased off the pace for a bit just to get some air.  Reaching the water stop at St Michel de Maurienne, I was so hot that I treated myself to pouring a 750 ml bottle of water over my head - helmet and all.  The heat was unbearable but luckily there was some clouds building and the odd rumble of thunder.  (my computer gave a max temperature reading of the day of 43 deg c - and it felt it here!)

Still it was time to hit the Col de Telegraphe.  There were people stopped in the shade of the trees all the way up.  Many were on mobile phones - texting, tweeting or pulling out?? Who knows.  I kept plugging away, keeping an eye on my heart rate and slowly passing others.  I really suffer in the heat relative to others, or so I thought because there seemed to be others suffering more than me today.  When I got to the top of Telegraphe there were a lot of people sitting around.  I actually felt in good shape, except for a sore back, and so I carried onto the food stop 2kms up Galibier.  Here I gorged myself on banana, baguette and more water.  Thank goodness I had bought tonnes of Nuun tablets so I could turn water into an electrolyte drink and keep hydrated well.

On the way up to Plan Lachat it began to rain which was such a welcome relief, although the sound of thunder was foreboding.  Another water stop, another gel and then it was time for the last 8km of Galibier. It was just incredible! There was fork lightning below us, an Audi full of Aussies driving up and down with a Tour de France horn and you could really feel the atmosphere building.  I love the last section of a proper mountain climb. And the fact it gets steeper just adds to the challenge.  I was so up for the last 2kms, which is like the ramp snaking up to heaven.  It got a bit tricky as there was a lot of debris and water from the snow melt, and completely out of it people walking their bikes up.  I got out of the saddle at the last 1km, had to negotiate around a few slow people and even changed up a gear for the last 500 m.  I guess the acclimatisation earlier in the week had worked.

It was absolutely freezing at the top and it took a lot of energy in the wind to get the extra layers sorted for the descent.  The first 2 kms were quite tricky but the views were incredible.  You can see forever to the valley floor.  At this point I suddenly felt very cold and extremely tired.  The three nights bad sleep, three cols and the heat must have taken their toll.  I had also started to get stomach cramps from the water.  It took all my concentration to get off Galibier.  I went through the scene of another bad crash - four ambulances, a closed road and riders lying down the side of the mountain. This reinforced the need to take care.  I had no option but to stop for a caffeine hit at the first cafe I could find. 

Next was absolute cycling heaven.  40 kms of downhill, that just seemed to go on forever.  Even with tunnels and the odd tight corner it was not too technical.  Due to my tiredness I felt like I was in a dream.  I even felt like falling asleep at one point.  I got to the bottom of Alpe D'Huez at 7pm, an hour after the cutoff.  I was absolutely done in.  To get to the top would have taken me ages, given my state, and to be honest I was chuffed with getting this far.  I didn't have summit fever enough to push myself to the top of the Alpe at all costs. So I handed my dibber in,  and got on the bus with the other "slow coaches". 

I had ridden 160kms, ascended 4000 metres and am extremely proud of my achievement.  I had the best and toughest day ever on my bike. For many, just to do the circuit is good enough and now I understand why.  In recognition of my efforts I officially finished the Marmotton*, with a Gold Medal no less.

*the Marmotton is awarded to riders who complete the Marmotte route without Alpe D'Huez
(100 miles taking in Col du Glandon, Telegraph & Galibier).


  1. Hi Michelle- most impressed- we will follow you along, say hi to Lance ok?!

    Denise & Graeme in wintery NZ

  2. Great write up Michelle, what an epic day for you both.
    Rgds, Bill

  3. Hi Michelle. Well done! With or without the Alpe d'Huez the Marmotte (or the Marmotton) is massive. Rgds Jesper

  4. Great post, it was good to follow your build up and big day.