La Marmotte - The famous one
2014 - Gold for all 3 of us!
After a first edition in 2011 we selected La Marmotte once again in 2014. In 2011 Marie-Claire could not ride the race as she was injured and also another friend wanted to join us to ride this famous Gran Fondo. In 2011 we explored all the mountains of the race in the week before the race and then I climbed them once again during the race. For that reason we decided to stay a couple of days in Annecy and explore some mountains in that region, before heading to Alpe d’Huez on Thursday.
The city of Annecy is a great place to stay. You have the ancient part which is very cosy with small shops, bars and restaurants. There is also a huge weekly market which is worth visiting. There are also plenty of shops where they sell ice cream. You also have the lake which we enjoyed very much. The water is cristal clear and you can sunbath in the grass, something I prefer above sand. There is also a jetty so you can enter the water via a stair and don’t suffer any rocks or any mud. The water was cold in the beginning, but then it was very nice. So we strongly recommend this area for a holiday as it has so many things to offer. I think we will ever get back here.
On a rainy afternoon when we declined to bike we visited Geneva. We visited the St. Peter’s Cathedral and obviously the famous Lake of Geneva with the fountain of 140 meters height. We had lunch in The Spaghetti Factory. We also spotted a “Restaurant sans Alcool” and were wondering if anyone would ever go there 🙂 However, it seems the restaurant is there since 1920 and is focused on people that try to conquer an alcohol addiction. We walked a bit further and visit some shopping area but we were not that charmed with the city. When later in the afternoon the weather got better, we decided to go back and make a little trip with our bike.
World Cup 2014
During our stay it was also WK in Brazil. We watched a game of Holland and 2 Belgium games. The best bar was Le Finn Kelly’s bar where we watched the exiting game of USA vs Belgium with tons of saves of the USA goalie.
This B&B, located in a quiet area of Thusy, is a good place to stay. From Belgium it’s very easy to reach this place and you have immediate access to Annecy or Aix-les-Bains. The host is very friendly and helpful. He provided us with some tips for local restaurants and biking routes. We had the spacious coffee room which has a private bathroom and look on the pool. The breakfast is served at the common table and is simple but good and sufficient. We got cereals, yogurt, fresh fruits, bread, a croisant, fresh orange juice and coffee and tea. Just what we needed to start the day. The pool is just heavenly when your return from a biking trip, and beds and towels are available on site. We certainly can recommend this place.
We started all of us in the first wave and the first 15 km go very fast. You won’t nearly experience you are driving above 40 km per hour. It’s a wide road so quite safe. It’s very important to find quickly your own pace. It’s very tempting to overdo yourself and follow faster riders. But don’t forget this is a race of a couple of hours, so don’t spoil your powers in the beginning. You might win a few minutes in the beginning of the race, but if you overdo it, you can loose a lot of time in the end, when you still have to conquer Alpe D’Huez.
Marie-Claire had a very good result and ended on position 38 in her category and 3830/6314 overall. Tom finished an hour faster than in 2011 and became 1397/6314. Our friend Stefan even finished on place 259. This resulted in a gold medal for each of us.
On Alpe ‘Huez we stayed in this big hotel provided by the organisation with whom we booked our La Marmotte arrangement. The rooms were not too big, but we did not spend much time in them. The breakfast was very extensive and you could even make your own pancakes. It was crowded on the race day, but they got things nicely arranged. During our stay the hotel was full with people which participated to La Marmotte. It is very convenient located on about 1.5 km from the finish. In the morning you can descent by bike so you don’t need any additional transportation. It might be a bit chilly, so a wind stopper jacket might be very convenient.
2011 - First Gran Fondo ever
After a first experience with biking on a mountain during our trip to the Mont Ventoux back in 2010 Tom aimed immediate for the extreme: La Marmotte, known as one of the hardest Gran Fondo’s. We prepared well and Tom had 7.000 km between 1st of January and D-Day. Although we would always have some tension the day(s) before a Gran Fondo, the tension for this race was the most extreme, as this was the first one. Next to that, as we were staying in a hotel with other participants of which some already participated multiple times, the talks during dinner mostly were about the race. Each told his own experiences, fears, training efforts and so on. In fact we were making each other crazy. Combine that with a lack of experience and some of you must know the feeling.
In 2011 we smoked every now and then a cigar. Even the days before the race 😮
As we arrived a week before the race, we had time to explore the track of the race. We decided to climb everyday a part of the route. Like this we could gain some experience and enjoy the surroundings and take some pictures. During the day of the race, when you ride as hard as you can like we do, you don’t have time for this. Off course this is a personal choice. Marie-Claire does not always ride to obtain a gold medal and takes the time to enjoy. The older I get the more I see the benefit of this 🙂
The first day we started with the long col du Glandon. The climb starts immediate steep and only after a few kilometers you finally have some time to recuperate in the small village. Shortly after you have the steep decent to the river and then you turn up a straight steep part. After this part you go to the Lac de Grand Maison from where you continue with some hairpins to last part of the climb. Here it is a little less steep and the feeling knowing you are close to the top gives extra motivation. During the race you here have the first provisioning. In each edition we were in the first starting wave and we easily could grab what we needed. I heard from other participants in later waves it got very crowded here.
During the race the decent from the Glandon in neutralized, which means it doesn’t matter how fast you go down, as your time is stopped at the top and only starts again when you are down in the village. For people that put on a jacket to descend during the race, make sure you take it off before you ride on the carpets to start your time again. You could even wait a bit before the carpet and wait for a good group, as the part in the valley is easier in a group. It’s not certainly not flat and to my experience mostly headwind. If you ride alone I think you easily are 5 to 10 minutes slower then when you are in a nice group.
During the race you should try to recuperate a bit and eat and drink enough for what is yet to come.
The col du Télégraphe is one of my favorites. The climb is about 12 km and is 7% average and quite evenly. This climb is for people above 80 kg even a nice one. You start in the village and soon you enter the forest so you can hide a little bit for the sun. When you reach Valloire you have a decent and you can recuperate a little bit before continuing to the Galibier.
The col du Galibier starts rather easy when you leave the city center. During the race there is a provisioning zone just outside the village. For us this was not crowded, but here I heard same story for people in later waves that it was rather crowded. When you continue you come in an open zone where you can see quite far and this part is famous from plenty of pictures where the road incises the landscape and the mountain. And as the climb is still reasonable here, you better enjoy the view. Once you reach Plan Lachat with the small restaurant at the little bridge, you make a turn and then the real work starts. The last 10 kilometer are the real deal. You first have quite some hairpins and here you can also look back at the road incing the landscape. During the race you here see plenty of riders who still have work to get where you are riding in meanwhile. When we explored the Télégraphe and Galibier before the race on Tuesday Tom got a broken spoke at about 3.5 km from the top. The wheel was so crooked that even with an open brake the wheel could not turn anymore. If this would have happened during the race, I think you must feel really helpless. Marie-Claire passed a bit later and continued the journey to the top. I started to decent by foot and started to hike, as the village was more than 10 km away. After a 2 or 3 kilometer a car came down and they gave me a lift and dropped me at a bike repair shop in the village. There they luckily could repair my wheel and after a while I could decent together with Marie-Claire down the Télégraphe back to our car.
On Wednesday we explored the last part of the track. The famed Alpe D’Huez with about 21 hairpins, 13 kilometers with an average of above 8%. This is already quite a climb, but image to ride this climb after you rode 160 kilometers and 3 big climbs. What helps during the race is the cheering people in the first parts, which is above 10%. We did not descend the same way back, but took the alternative route. When you reach Huez you have an exit towards Combe des serres and Villard-Reculas. When you go down there, you end up at Lac du Verney. After the exploratory climb I rode back to our hotel in Vaujany and rode that climb as well. It’s a steep horrible climb with about 8-9 kilometers at around 10%. I was glad I arrived at our hotel, which is also the finish zone for the Vaujany race on the Saturday before La Marmotte.
In weeks before our trip Marie-Claire suffered already an injury at the knee. By exploring and riding all the individual climbs in the days before the race it only got worse. So in the morning Marie-Claire had to unfortunately cancel the race. Tom arrived in 8h49 on position 2755/6226 and obtained a silver medal. That was far enough from the boundary with the gold medal to not feel sorry for it. After this Gran Fondo Tom only rode another 700 kilometer in 2011 and in 2012 there was even a Sabbatical. Only early 2013 the second period of intensive biking would start with Passo Dello Stelvio and many more challenges.
On Friday, the day before the race, we visited Grenoble. Few people said we were crazy to walk around all day before the race, but we never took it so serious. It’s not that we are professionals :). In the city we visited some famous landmarks like Stade des Alpes, the Botanical Garden, the Drac river and few more. Accompanied by great weather we had a great time and even more, we did not think too much about our first Gran Fondo ever.
The hotel was part of a package we subscribed to. It included race participation ticket and a 7 night stay with including full pension. The hotel was basic but the people were very friendly and the food served was very good. As there were multiple people of the organisation staying in the hotel and all participating to the race, we knew what to talk about during dinner. I’m not sure if the hotel is still open nowadays as I read mixed reviews on the internet. Back in 2011 we had everything we needed.