Report by Andy H & Dave B
Reputedly “the hardest one day amateur event in Europe” it said on the tin. After a 2-year Covid delay and various iterations of the Waldy Marmotte crew (notably DT joining late with 48hrs notice due to Andrew covid situ) we finally set off, full of relief to be underway and more than our fair share of informative Marmotte YouTube video horror stories/advice.
Following in the footsteps of the Waldy 2018 contingent of Dan, Matt, Guy, Tim, Phil & Jason, the late withdrawal of Andy S meant last minute search for new wheels, insurance and new drivers, with thanks to Richard for sorting all this and to Andy and David T for sharing the driving while Dave was left to ponder his ‘not so clean’ driving licence as soigneur ensuring drivers blood sugar levels did not dip dangerously low on Carrefour supplies.
A cheese loaded lunch in champagne country, an overnight stopover in the charming town of Dijon (with one too many interesting continental beers than necessary) and a cheeky pre-race ride loosener down a canal and we had made it to the Alps and into registration. The drive up Alpe d’Huez to do so was intimidating to say the least and I think we were all filled with trepidation about the next day’s challenge. Pre-race pasta in our Airbnb mountain lodge near the bottom of the Alpe calmed the nerves despite Richard’s valiant attempt to make us eat a tin each of protein packed sardines.
Race day started excitedly at 5am with copious porridge, coffee…and cutting holes in bin bags – we were the envy of the European peloton around us! These make for warm disposable gilets but meant we were not at our aesthetic best first thing.
As is customary at European Sportives, we aimed to gatecrash an earlier pen for fear of missing cutoffs later in the race. This was ultimately successful, notwithstanding Richard being screamed at by the Marshall and some attempted rugby tackling as we forced our way over the start line to save a crucial 10 minutes.
After an 11km flattish section past a beautiful dam we hit the first of Marmotte’s four climbs - the Col du Glandon (1470m over 22km @ 7%). There are 3 golden rules when doing the Marmotte - don’t go too hard up the Glandon, don’t go too hard up the Glandon & don’t go too hard up the Glandon!
With fresh legs and plenty of shade, this was a manageable climb, especially for Dave B who in a spate of early race enthusiasm pushed a bit harder … and that was the last we saw of him after the foodstop at the top – Dave mindful of the Chinese proverb, man who enjoy foodstop too long end up in broom wagon with severe cramp! The technical Glandon descent is, thankfully, neutralised to discourage loons. Marmotte rule no 4 - get in a train for the approx. 30kms between mountains, ideally behind tall Dutch and Belgian dudes.
David T and Andy picked up a 50 strong bunch, which eased the path for climb no 2, the Col Du Telegraph (850m over 12km @ 7%). This was another fairly manageable climb. However, the legendary Galibier (16.7km @ 6.8%) followed very quickly, an awesome and very exposed climb up a long valley and with temperatures by now in the mid-30s - we all started to enter sense of humour failure territory towards the summit when the col starts to hairpin. Smiles quickly returned as the epic 48km descent unfolded…a gift that just kept giving through stunning peaks and mountain lakes. Plenty of technical sections towards the top then straight with plenty of tunnels to navigate in the 2nd half.
We regrouped at the bottom then another flat section to the base of the Alpe d’Huez (1118m over 13.9km @ 8%, topping out at 1840 m above sea level) for our final feed stop. Six out of the first nine Tour de France stages at Alpe d'Huez were won by Dutch riders, leading to it being nicknamed "the Dutch Mountain". As the iconic 21 hairpins unfolded (each of them marked to help cyclists count-down, the very hardest being the first 4, but with each ranging from 8-11% and each one seemingly longer than the last), it felt never ending after 8 hours in the saddle and over 4000m in the legs.
Sense of humours had by now long departed as the skies started to darken. Broken cyclists littering every hairpin- 800 did not finish. Dutch Corner deserves its reputation as the most memorable (even without the crowds) and by bend 5 you have reached the cemetery of Huez, strangely appropriate by that time in the race. Next, the ascent to the village of Huez. We were only just hanging on (Dave’s smoky front brake pads having given up the ghost long ago) and it was great relief to get over the line in one piece for the underwhelming pasta and beer at the end some of which didn’t agree with Richard!
As the heavens dramatically opened after we had all finished, we could only pity those who were cramped by the roadside, still had to climb in the wet or endure a very slippery descent.
Overall 175kms, circa 5400m altitude and approx 10 hrs riding time 🥵🥵🥵.
The Alpe descent to the car was great fun and seeing Richard chase a French granny down the hill for bashing into his car and blatantly driving off as we approached our accommodation was a moment to remember 🤣🤣. The fly vs drive debate continued on the way home (between burger stops), which thankfully went much quicker than the outward leg.
Entries 4800, finishers 3980.
Pros: Stunning route, iconic climbs, decent foodstops, once in a lifetime experience….
Cons: Underwhelming event village/merch, start numbers allocated by pickup time!