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A short and hyperbole free account of Marmotte 2013

Some things in life may be constant, but Marmotte arrangements are not amongst them. Last year’s West Wallaby Wheelers raiding party had been pared down, with Nick and Mrs Nick no longer on the roster. For some reason, they had decided to buy a house and do it up rather than spend every waking hour either training, talking about training or surfing Wiggle/Evans for the latest essential bike accessory. Some people have no commitment! Other people probably need committing, and I wouldn’t dispute anyone claiming that the three returning riders – Tim, Mrs SR and me – should be included in this category.

Logistical arrangements had also undergone refinement. Tim had originally planned to drive down the weekend before with Nick, taking all the hardware, with Mrs SR and me flying down later in the week. At this stage, Mrs Tim was in denial, and pretending that she wasn’t going to come, but when Nick fell victim to his property tycoon tendencies, she signed up as Mrs SR’s flying companion, with me taking on the role of Tim’s co-driver and navigator. Everyone felt safe that as I’ve driven to BD’O many times, not even I could stuff up the navigational side of things!

The upshot of all this was that Tim and I had the best part of a week to ourselves to talk b*llocks, take in some gentle rides and plan our future careers as Ironman Triathletes. The only attraction of triathlons to me is that Mrs SR has sworn blind that she’s never doing one, so this at least is one sport where there’s no chance of her beating me. The attraction to Tim appears to be that it offers three outlets for buying pointless gadgets rather than one!

We fitted in a couple of serious rides before the final period of rest commenced. A long-standing ambition of us both has been to ride complete the ascent to the Tour finish on the Alpe in under an hour.  So, shortly after arriving in Bourg D’Oisans, we headed off to give it our best shorts. To cut a long story short, we both missed by a long way: Tim by 4 minutes, me by 7. It is just too far and too much climbing. Tim could do the climbing (1080m) in an hour, but the killer is the flat section at the top. This means a VAM of circa 1200 is required to do the climbing in around 56/57 minutes, leaving enough time to ride the required distance on the flatter section. This is just too much, even given our combined limitless optimism. We have officially run up the white flag on this front. Still, I churned out a VAM of over 1000 for the section before things flatten out, which is not to be sniffed at.

We continued to the col de Sarenne, and what we found was very interesting. The road is in a very dodgy condition. The descent back to the Barage de Chambon is narrow, twisty and steep. Plenty of scope for GC ambitions to be curtailed, particularly if the weather is bad. There’s a long, easy descent from the Barage back to the bottom of the Alpe, so plenty of time to organise a chase if someone does undergo a mishap.

Next up was the Izoard. Since I bought my Wilier Izoard, I’ve wanted to climb the col after which it is named. Just to make sure, we did it from both sides! To avoid over-doing things for the Marmotte, we rode up at low heart rates. Well, Tim did, as I’d forgotten my monitor strap. Instead, I sang whilst on my own and talked incessantly to anyone I encountered to confirm that my exertion levels were appropriate. There must be at least a dozen Dutchies who are still traumatised by their encounter with the mad, singing Englishman!

They may also have been traumatised by my kit. Whilst I possess large quantities of bad weather cycling gear, my tasteful warm weather cycling gear is actually quite limited in volume. To keep my race kit in pristine condition for the big day, I was kitted out in an odd combination of Decathlon bargain bucket buys and stuff only ever intended for use on the turbo. Thus it was that I strutted my stuff in a dodgy combination of dayglo, white lycra and side panels. Despite these sartorial misdemeanours, it should be noted that whilst I was going very “tranquillo” I was still “dishing it out”, which was good psychologically after being severely beaten by the Alpe the day before.

Both ascents and descents are superb. Smooth tarmac, sweeping bends, long straights and stunning views. All in all, ideal terrain for the Condor of Calcaria’s technical deficiencies on the downhills to be masked and his low tuck to be exploited. I even took the downhill bits during the ascents, and their resulting additional climbing in my stride, whereas normally this sort of misbehaviour by the road engineers has me chewing my bar-tape in frustration! It was refreshing to be doing a climb and not bothering about how fast I was going. I just admired the views and took the odd photo.

The final pre-Marmotte col-bagging was carried out by Mrs Tim. She set out to tackle the Glandon, with the rest of us due to meet her at the top after registering. To cut a long story short, when we encountered Mrs Tim on the road, she looked like she’d already been to Hell and back twice, with the knowledge of at least one more round trip to come. She was a very tired lady indeed when she arrived at the top to notch her first HC climb, but notch it she did. The Glandon rarely features in discussions of tough climbs, but it is an absolute monster, and anyone who climbs it gets a “chapeau” from me. Mrs Tim also got a Pineau from me once she’d rehydrated in more conventional fashion!

Anyway, back to the real business, the Marmotte itself...

Needless to say, the objectives for Mrs SR and Tim were simple: gold medals. Tim wasn’t satisfied with an over 40s golden gong (8:39 excluding the Glandon) and instead wanted the under 30s equivalent of (8:13).

Those with a good memory will recall that I retired from Marmotting shortly after crossing the finish line last year, even before turning green, feeling sick and falling asleep on the tarmac in the finish area. Mrs SR had other ideas though and before the ink was properly dry on my certificate, she’d signed me up as her domestique for this year’s campaign. I was hoping to get away with not having to train as much as last year, but Mrs SR’s form in early spring combined with me missing a month due to illness meant that from late March onwards, I probably trained even harder than before.

Whilst riding round with Mrs SR as she bagged a gold medal was high up my list of priorities, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that not getting dropped up Alpe D’Huez was even higher up the list. Second only to not getting dropped on the Galibier, in fact! There isn’t a Velominati “Rule 100”, but if there was, it would read “Being beaten by your wife is unacceptable. End of” and I’m sure this rule would soon surpass “Rule 5” as the most important if “roadies” could actually get their heads round girls taking cycling seriously.

The final change from last year involved a subject close to my heart – refreshments. We would not be benefitting from the personal feed-station at the top of the Glandon as we’d run out of people foolish enough to believe our claim that a 630am start to drive up the Glandon and spend hours watching waiting until the roads cleared to enable the descent represents a good day out. I can’t think why!

This meant braving the melee at the official feedstation there. This would be a time-consuming business, but no longer presents a risk to medal times, as the gongs are distributed based on times excluding the descent. The downside of stopping is one of disrupted rhythm and getting bashed around by hungry, thirsty Dutchies keen to be on their way to try and kill themselves on the descent. In short, it is no place for a lady, so we decided I should take advantage of my early start time, take a leisurely trip to the top, refill bottles, secure food supplies and stretch my back out, so that when Mrs SR arrived, we could be on our way without a break.

Mercifully, I managed to talk Mrs SR out of insisting that I rode up with the usual catering arrangements for a family trip out in the hills, namely the Fortnum and Mason’s hamper. This might seem like an act of charity to a lowly domestique from Mrs SR, but simply reflected the fact that I wasn’t riding quickly enough to make it to the top in time under the extra burden!

Trials suggested that if we exchanged the traditional Magnum of Champers for a standard bottle and ditched the Rapha official Sky picnic blanket, the weight might just be manageable, but we do have standards and whilst one of these sacrifices might be acceptable, two represented a step too far, so the hamper was left behind. For picnics, as with training, if you can’t do the job properly then don’t do it at all.

Thankfully, Tim’s suggestion of me riding with a trailer and a complete spare bike for Mrs SR did not reach the ears of the All Powerful One. I suspect she’d have gone for that one!

And at last, the riding...

Mrs SR and I left bang on 630am. Tim was faffing around so we left him behind. We wanted to be in the start pens before the 7am start, as alfresco natural break options are better, involving bushes rather than the river bank. This is no small consideration. One small slip on the bank and you’d be in the river to do battle with beetroot juice and caffeine enhanced mountain pike. These babies eat piranha fish for breakfast so are best avoided.

I left Mrs SR in her later start pen and loitered for a while until Tim finally rocked up. We passed the time – naturally – by talking b*llocks, and we were soon on our way. My legs felt good and revved up to a further level of excitement by the sound of mass clicking-in, we hammered out of town on the flat first 11k to the bottom of the Glandon. This warmed me up nicely for the climb, and I soon settled into my cruising heart rate of low 140s. The legs felt great, and I settled in to admire the stunning scenery in the area. Despite the Glandon being on the receiving end of some decidedly agricultural language from the usually genteel Mrs Tim the day before, it remains my favourite climb.

I got to the top in 2:01, 4 minutes faster than last year. Tim and me had got split up; it’s nigh on impossible to ride together in your own rhythm in the seething mass of humanity that is the Glandon on Marmotte day. The feed station takes seething humanity to the next level and it was with some relief that I filled bottles and stashed my bike safely before heading for the arranged rendez-vous point to collect The Boss. She was well ahead of schedule – 2:09 – and we were soon on our way down.

Word has finally got round that medals are awarded on the time excluding the Glandon descents, and descending was generally on the conservative side. The Boss led the way, and we soon passed Tim who’d stopped with a puncture. This actually led to him abandoning the race as he’d damaged the rim and didn’t fancy riding a further 135k with shards of metal loose inside his tyres. We didn’t find this out until much later, though, and we pressed on. It was getting very warm, and there were a lot of punctures. I was glad to get to the bottom without having blown my tyre off. One guy wasn’t so lucky and after being stopped by the Rozzers to let an ambulance through, we edged past a stricken form on the road. This looked really serious, as usually, crash victims are moved off the road for treatment. Everyone headed down from here very cautiously, like us, I guess, thinking of the fine line dividing a day out on bikes from a genuine tragedy.

We were riding roughly to my 2011 schedule as this would bag The Boss the coveted golden gong and as we headed for the Valley of Death we were a few minutes up. Last year, I rode at the back of a lot of groups sucking wheels mercilessly. This year, the Cycling Gods claimed their revenge, as I rode at the front of a few big groups most of the time. The objective was, of course, to shelter The Boss and if a couple of hundred random Johnnie Foreigners wanted to tag along as well, then who am I to complain?

The Valley passed uneventfully for us. Not so uneventfully for the poor chap alongside me as we crossed the train tracks. Well, I did. He went arse over tit, but remounted swiftly and carried on. We loaded up on water at the end of the Valley. It was exceptionally hot by now, and avoiding dehydration was a key concern. I eventually finished having downed around 7.5 litres and should probably have drunk more. As luck would have it, I’d fitted an extra two bottle cages to my bike and was able to carry The Boss’s extra bottle. I was officially a Watercarrier at last!

We took the Telegraphe in fine style. The heat wasn’t bothering me directly other than making my feet swell up, which whilst unpleasant, was not a serious risk to progress at any stage. More serious was that neither of us felt hungry. I normally struggle with carb drinks, but I couldn’t get any down at all after the first two bottles. The melted sports bars weren’t much better, so I was living on peanut butter sandwiches and electrolyte drinks. The Boss was exclusively on gels and carb drinks by this point.

My back started playing up near the top, but with the descent and the gentle(ish) early stages of the Galibier to follow, it wasn’t until well after Plan Lachat that it started really giving my grief. Before this, though, I briefly lost The Boss, as we went to different fountains in Valloire to restock on water and lost sight of each other in the crowds. The Cyclling Gods were benevolent, though, as we quickly reunited. The Boss actually did a small section of the course backwards, whilst retracing her steps to where she’d last seen me. I narrowly avoided a punch up at my fountain when someone stepped in on my behalf to deal with a Froggy queue-jumper. He justified his actions by reference to riding for a time.  Like the rest of us were just there to admire the scenery!

Actually, notwithstanding my back, I was riding a crucial few % below my normal cruising pace, and did have time to admire the scenery. I pointed out where Bart stopped to throw up two years ago, the Pantani memorial and the Beaufort cheese shop. 14.50 Euros per kg is a steal but team orders dictated that I lay down a steady pace to the top rather than stop for a quick "degustation". We’d slipped a bit behind my 2011 schedule, as The Boss had been affected by indigestion following a heroic effort to eat a sports bar, which is hard work given that they had all melted and needed to be drunk!

We still had plenty in hand, and descended carefully to the Lauteret. There was a stiff headwind down from the Lauteret, which could easily eat into our margin, so I decided to set a brisk pace. The Boss would either follow or not. Fired up by gold medal fever, The Boss followed. Indeed, at one point as I slowed to replace my bottle, she came past spinning out the big ring, nose to the cross bar!

On the run-in the Bourg, I again had a large number of passengers, but my main concern was heat. It was really rather warm. I’d never complain about the heat after winter of frozen b*llocks in training, but it would slow us down none the less. At our final pit stop, we offloaded a ton of food and took on another full load of water and set off to do battle with the Alpe. We needed to do 1:50 or so to achieve objectives, and were soon into a steady pace of 9kmh. My Garmin packed up with 8k remaining, but as the corners ticked down, it was pretty much in the bag.

My back gave up the ghost at this point and I had to go for the stop-loosen-resume routine. I did this a couple of times, catching back up with The Boss, but eventually I had to stop before having re-made contact. With suitable foresight, The Boss had claimed her final bottle, abandoned me to my back-spasm misery  and set about dishing it out in the final 5k. I was pretty hacked off as I’d gone from cruising to being unable to pedal without ever feeling like it was hard work. I was in a much better condition than many, however, as the shady sections of the final few k were littered with broken bodies and the walking wounded.

I soon arrived at the top - naturally zipping up my jersey for the finish line photo - tracked down The Boss. It was a very emotional moment, with copious tears added to the heady mix of sweat, suncream and dust. We nervously headed to collect our certificates, conscious that a dodgy timing chip could scupper everything, but everything was fine and The Boss was handed her certificate containing the sweetest words in the French language: “Brevet D’or”. My main feeling was one of relief, as neither of us have to do this again. The Marmotte itself is OK, notwithstanding a few childcare issues, but another off-season of training in the cold and wet for hours on end is not an attractive option.

So that really is it for both Mrs SR and me on the Marmotte front. There are few finer experiences for a man and wife to enjoy than an intimate joint Marmotte retirement with “his’n’hers” gold medals to remind us of the days we were as fit as we were deranged. I hope that one day the Little Rowers will be impressed, but to be honest, they seem a lot more interested in the upcoming weekend trip to Lightwater Valley than in Alpine anecdotes. And who can blame them?

Sounds like you had a great time - v. jealous! Thanks for taking the time to share your travels with us. Chapeau to all concerned!

An awesome ride by you both, very well told Mr SR!  Quite humbling really, and puts the piddling 15 miler i'm off to do now in perspective

Great job!!!

JohnD wrote:
An awesome ride by you both, very well told Mr SR!  Quite humbling really, and puts the piddling 15 miler i'm off to do now in perspective

Well that's a cunningly similar distance to the ride I did today. And it probably took me twice as long as you!!  Embarassed

Good story telling, as usual.  Thank you.
You seem like a terribly fit guy (and gal).

Great account SR thanks for taking time to tell your tale so eloquently.  Congratulations to you both on your achievements.  I love the idea of you dressed like a hobo singing your way up the Izoard - were you channelling the spirit of Alf Tupper?

Great stuff and well done, but if you ever paint numbers on your body you are dead to me...

Chapeau MrsSR and SR.  

I'm so flattered that "the spot where Bart stopped to throw up two years ago" is mentioned in the same sentence as "the Pantani memorial". Both Meccas for cyclists the world over!!

I started reading earlier but was ordered to put it on hold until she was asleep Smile  Great write up as usual and wondering how we're going to fill the winter months without the 2014 preparations. Congratulations to the two of you again.

The combination of me squinting at my phone screen and droopy eyelids resulted in me thinking for a second or two that the final paragraph contained a doping confession bombshell when you seemingly started talking about the pleasure of sharing an intimate joint with each other Laughing

Biosphere wrote:

The combination of me squinting at my phone screen and droopy eyelids resulted in me thinking for a second or two that the final paragraph contained a doping confession bombshell when you seemingly started talking about the pleasure of sharing an intimate joint with each other Laughing

And quite nice with Marmite too, I hear... Wink

Thanks for the thanks and positive comments on the write up.

Bart - being mentioned in the same sentence as the Pantani memorial is one thing, but in our house, being mentioned in the same sentence as Beaufort cheese is the real accolade! Ironically, mrs SR has no real memory of the Galibier other than indigestion, and my travel guide passed her by!

Bio - winter months will be filled with training, just not for events of Marmotte magnitude. "Out after breakfast, back for lunch" is the new mantra!

MrsSR wrote:
JohnD wrote:
An awesome ride by you both, very well told Mr SR!  Quite humbling really, and puts the piddling 15 miler i'm off to do now in perspective

Well that's a cunningly similar distance to the ride I did today. And it probably took me twice as long as you!!  Embarassed

Well i certainly wasn't weighed down by having a whole load of French mountains in me legs!
Slapshot 3

Brilliant tale as always and huge congrats to Mrs Sr for bagging that Gold. Shame you have both decided to stop, I've enjoyed the stories over the years....

Slapshot 3 wrote:
Brilliant tale as always and huge congrats to Mrs Sr for bagging that Gold. Shame you have both decided to stop, I've enjoyed the stories over the years....

Fear not, there will still be stories, just not about the Marmotte. The future stories might even be shorter, so it's not all bad.   Very Happy

Fantastic summary Very Happy Well done for the great times!!

I have the image of you riding in the wind for the Mrs... dangling not the carrot but the cheese on a stick to keep the focus Very Happy

Boogerd_Fan wrote:
Fantastic summary Very Happy Well done for the great times!!

I have the image of you riding in the wind for the Mrs... dangling not the carrot but the cheese on a stick to keep the focus Very Happy

Nice idea but by the time we were going into the wind any cheese (even wensleydale) consumed would have come straight back up again! Sad Forum Index -> Around the World
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