In which an ageing climber comes to terms with life closer to the ground.


La Marmotte – well some of it.

Filed under: — Mike Chapman @ 8:42 pm

Col du Glandon, Col De Croix de Fer, Col du telegraphe and the Col du Galibier a long day

There is a cycle sportif that is held every year in the Alps that is supposed to be the hardest of them all and has more climbing than any other. It is called La Marmotte. I cannot enter it as it takes place in July and I am a teacher. I have never entered a cycle sportif but if I did this would be the one.

I have had the thought for awhile of doing it on my own without support during the summer holiday. Doing it alone causes a number of problems. Firstly what happens if something goes wrong as you cannot telephone for help? Secondly it finishes at the top of l’ Alpe d’ Huez after 5000 meters plus of ascent. I had planned to stay at Boug D’ Oisans which is the bottom of l’ Alp de Huez. After cycling 100 miles of the steepest terrain in Europe would I then want to ascend and descend l’ alpe d’Huez?

I started the ride at 7:15 am and by 7:17 it was raining hard, this eventuality was not in the plan. I ignored it, got soaked and when I did put a rain proof on it promptly stopped. The road to start the Cold du Glandon is the type I like, mixed woodland with shade and wild flowers by the side of the road.

towards the Col du Glandon

Two cyclists passed me when I stopped to take my waterproof off they were doing the same ride, we were travelling at the same pace, slowly, it was going to be a long day.

The forested section ended with hairpins up to the Grand Maison a large lake which was part of a hydroelectric scheme. The Col du Glandon is a different type of ascent to the hairpins that are usually found in the Alps. The road is straight “ish”, above the tree line and you can see the top from miles away. There is great mountain scenery and I arrived to see everyone having their photo taken at the Col.

I moved quickly on to the Col de la Croix de Fer, again a straight road. The descent of 30Km consisted of magnificent hairpins on a bumpy road with a good road surface that passed through ski resorts. In fact the descent was a bit like a computer game but for real and you only get one life. So you have to be careful.

There were also a couple of tunnels. I had bought a flashing red light and used it – impressed? The hairpins through woods were great fun and I overtook a couple of young fit cyclists – wimps?

It was now lunchtime, 30+ degrees C and I cycle the 15Km to St Michael de Maurier where everything was closed apart from places where you sat down for lunch and spent a couple of hours on the procedure very pleasant but not for me today. The petrol station served no food, the shops were shut so I asked someone and was told how to get to a supermarket that was open. I leave the bike outside, unlocked, when I return there are 5 racing bike next to mine (the Germans have arrived) and in a few minutes we are all sat on the kerb eating lunch,

The ascent of the Col du Telegraphe starts immediately from the town 11.5 Km of cycling later you have reached a point less than a Kilometre from where you have started but 1000 meters higher.

There is a short descent over a few Kms that has typically Alpine features – houses that are all roof with large wood stores, alpine pastures and cows with bells. When you reach Valloise at 1430 M things become character building if you are riding a bicycle. The main problems for me were blinding sunlight, heat and 1200 meters of difficult ascent. To start with the road was straight and steep the last part consisted of 18 Km of hairpins. All of it was in the blinding sun as there was no shade. I was not alone in finding the going tough. There were cyclists stopped by the side of the road.

I began to feel dehydrated and my left knee was hurting. I managed to stop poor water over my head and fill my water bottles up. My computer kept asking me if I wanted to exit, continue or change the settings. I realized with indignation that it was because I was going so slowly and it, the computer, was under the impression I had stopped. Reaching he summit was a relief and I knew now that getting home was my next target not the summit of the Alpe d’ Huez.

I still very much wanted to complete my challenge but with a tent at the bottom of the last climb, a painful knee and no one to tell me I was a not trying hard enough there was an easy opt out and I was going to take it. Also I had three weeks of a cycling holiday to go and I did not want to risk injuring myself. The descent from the Col du Gallibier was fast and without the Alpe d’ Huez to think about I stopped for coffee at the Col du Lautaret and then enjoyed a ridiculous 46 Km of descent, yes 46 Km of descent.

This was my longest descent since the Himalayes nearly thirty years ago.

It had been a very hot day. I had taken the precaution of coating myself with sun cream from head to foot at 6:00 in the morning and coating vulnerable parts with lip salve during the day. It seemed to have worked. The Germans in the bar looked like loblsters, most satisfying!.

The ride took me 9 hour 48 mins at an average speed of 16.4 Km/hr 70% Av Heart rate.

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