Trip report La Marmotte, corona edition

Friday 11 September 2020 by Frank Jansen

Last winter I've done my training rides regularly with a cycling club from Chaam. This club asked me this spring if I was interested to go with them to the Marmotte. Since it was already a few years ago that I had ridden this gran fondo, I was looking forward to it. We would stay in a house for a week and finish riding the Marmotte. The corona virus frustrated the matter. It was uncertain whether the Marmotte could actually occur. In the end it was not canceled like many other gran fondo's but postponed to September 5th. That way I could continue the summer. ;)

Yet I went to the Alps with an uncertain feeling. I hadn't made any elevation this year, but I did do some long endurance rides and the mileage was okay. Luckily I had a few days before the Marmotte to do some more climbing training. But obviously I had to take enough rest as well. On Sunday August 30th I arrived in the Alps. It turned out we rented a chalet just outside Vaujany. Hell, that meant climbing back 7 km every day with proper gradients... I was hoping I wouldn't have to do this after the Marmotte.

When we arrived it was gray and cold. The gran fondo de GFNY Alpes Vaujany that day would be driven was shortened due to bad weather. The following days the weather cleared up completely and eventually we would have beautiful weather all week, really perfect cycling weather. The first days of the week I was able to climb quit a of cols: the Sarenne, Col de la Morte, Col d'Ornon, the Galibier (from both sides) and the Alpe d'Huez. I got more and more confident that I was going to accomplish the Marmotte.


On Saturday, September 5th, the alarm went off at 5 o'clock. Of course I had slept badly again, I always get nervous for a gran fondo although I've ridden enough already. I eat a big bowl of yogurt with muesli and some bread with jam. I had brought a lot of food with me on the way, I even had a frame bag on my bike. It was announced by the organization that only drinks would be provided along the way. In the end this turned out to be somewhat better, they did provide packed food but this was limited to liquid fruit, wrapped cakes and muesli bars. I was quite happy with the energy bars and other stuff I brought along.

At 6 o'clock we descended by car in the dark to Bourg d'Oisans. Mind you, it's September now and then it gets light a little later. In this way we didn't have to climb back to the house after the gran fondo. We parked the car just outside Bourg and rode to the start. Not everyone in our group officially participated, there were three of us. All three of us had a number a different starting block. However, I was allowed to enter the first starting block and so I was ready for the start at a quarter to 7. It was considerably less crowded than other years in the starting area. I would experience this the whole day.

A few minutes after 7 o'clock I'm driving over the starting line and out of Bourg d'Oisans. As usual, the pace is high there. We're fast over the 40 kph and I think that's a bit too fast, so I join a group that's just under 40. So we drive to Allemond and to the Glandon. On that col, everyone is looking for their own pace. I know I have to save here, in fact, I have to save the whole day because I'm still not convinced of my preparation. The first part my heartbeat rises to over 160 but after a few kilometers I can lower it to halfway 150. Fine, on this heartbeat I can keep up all day. A bit earlier than I thought we arrive at Rivier de Allemond, here the descent starts halfway the climb. Also here it is less crowded. After the descent there is a steep part, my Garmin shows 15%. After that, I calmly climb further towards the second reservoir. At this point the climb becomes a bit easier again. After more than 2 hours of cycling I arrive at the top of the Glandon. Here I can go to a table (after putting on my mouth cap) to have my water bottle filled. It is not very cold at the top and I go relaxed into the descent.

In the descent I really notice how much less crowded it is, there is a lot of room in the corners. I ride down the hill easily. Still, I manage to get my rear wheel to break out somewhere. Oops. I drive down a bit more carefully from here on.

Through the valley

In the valley I know I have to find a group. I can connect somewhere fairly quickly. However, this group rides a bit too fast, especially the acceleration after a turn takes too much effort. I let a rider walk in front of me and I close the gap. Still, I let them go pretty quickly after that and ride on my own. After driving alone for a while, a new group comes along, these are good riders and I can easily follow them. However, when a faster group passes by, some of my group hooks up here and the pace increases. I ride along as long as it doesn't cost me too much effort. Suddenly I hear a big bang, there are two riders on a roadblock, where a sign indicates the separation between bike lane and lane. The group literally falls apart and I ride alone again. But a third group comes along where I can hook up. I can follow this group up to the foot of the Télégraphe.

I drive up the Télégraphe quietly and halfway I stop for water. On top I eat a bar and a gell, take a picture and descend to Valloire. The two kilometers out of the village of Valloire are heavy, 8 to 9%. Luckily there is a supply just after the hard part. It really strikes me how few participants there are. I can fill my water bottle easily and grab some food. After a quick pee, I go on to the Galibier.

I had climbed the Galibier from both sides three days before so I still knew exactly what to expect. Even then, I found the climb from Valloire tough (although I was fresh at the time) so I knew I had to turn on the low-power mode again. Still, the part to Plan Lachat went pretty well again. And the first steep kilometer went smoother than three days earlier. Still, I had a hard time with the remaining kilometers to the top. It was really a mile countdown. It was nice that I didn't have to deal with racing motor bikes like three days before. When I got to the top of the Galibier, I was a bit light-headed, I had to recover for a while. But after eating and drinking I was feeling OK. I took a magnesium shot (I'm quite prone to cramping) and went downhill.

Strong wind

In the descent it sometimes seemed as if I was blown back, there was so much wind. On some stretches I barely exceeded 40 kph. By now it was pretty quiet on the road so I didn't have any illusions on a group after the Lautaret. Indeed, I drove this descent largely on my own. Still, that went great, taking on the corners full gas. There wasn't a lot of traffic so I really had the space. I had also driven this descent three days before so I remembered everything exactly. There weren't any groups along the way, I only caught up with slower riders. Only in the last flat kilometers before Bourg d'Oisans I could ride together with another rider so I could sit in the wheel for a while. My turns were of course a lot more economical ;) In the meantime I had been doing some math. I estimated that I would be able to finish before 5pm, with the neutral descent of the Glandon substracted, I would be nicely under nine and a half hours, a nice improvement on my personal best. At the supply in Bourg d'Oisans I filled my water bottles again, ate some and started on the Alp.

Suffering onn the Alpe

It was probably casued by the bright sun, but my Garmin now pointed at 34 degrees. Wow, that's really hot. It really took a few kilometers before the temperature on the screen was less than 30. I thought I was really riding the Alp in a snail's pace, but luckily I wasn't the only one. I had promised myself that I could stop in the Dutch turn 7 if I could get some water there. Luckily this was the case. I grabbed some cool water and poured some water over me as well. After that I continued my journey. So close to turn 2 I had a really hard time but because I knew I was almost there I could keep going. Once I arrived at the building the worst was over. The last kilometer is easy. So I was satisfied with the finish of La Marmotte, indeed a few minutes before 5 in the afternoon. In spite of all the corona measures, there was also pasta to be had at the finish. And even though it wasn't great I ate it empty, always nice to be able to eat some normal food after a day of bars and gels. After this I drove back to the terrace of L'Indiana, to join the others of the group that had already finished.

My official time was finally 9h16, good for silver in my age group (41-50). I was satisfied with this, because my best time so far. But I am especially satisfied that I rode the Marmotte in this strange cycling year!

Photo's and text: Marc Goossens

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