Back in overcast London after a spectacular few days cycling in the mountains of the Alps.

This trip was conceived long before attempting the 2015 Marmotte.  Following the mountain collapse and subsequent closure of the Grand Tunnel du Chambon the 2015 sportive and also a stage of the 2015 Tour de France was re-routed.  This meant that the 2015 sportive would be a unique event in that the Marmotte would take a different route for the first time in it’s history but it also meant that those completing it would not complete the traditional course.  If we wanted to do the traditional Marmotte we would have to come back.

Roll forward 12 months and a number of our 2015 group are gathered again in Le Bourg d’Oisans ready to face the Marmotte again.  This time I was joined by my 16 year old son who had finished his GCSEs and so we made a bit of a holiday of it.

A few days before the event on our way through from Lake Constance (where Scott went for a 3 hour bike ride and rode through three countries ) we traveled to the Lombardy region of northern Italy to tackle a couple of famous climbs of that region, the Madonna del Ghisallo and Mur de Sormano.

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This was the first big test for my son Scott in the mountains who had previously not had the opportunity to experience a sustained incline over a distance of many kilometers.  It was a shock again to my system having been nearly a year since I had ridden anything similar despite accumulating over 5000 training kilometers in 2016.  Riding up the Ghisello a 8km climb averaging 9% in temperatures hitting 32 degrees reminded me of the effort we would need to put in for the Marmotte.  After a necessary rest at the cafe at the top of the climb adjacent to the Museum Cyclismo (which was closed) we headed down the descent before turning right to commence the climb up to Sormano.  We discovered the restored road of the Mur de Sormano (The Wall of Sormano), a stretch of road/track that had been used in the harder days of professional bike racing.  A 3.5km stretch of uphill averaging 17% and peaking at 23%. We decided we would detour and attempt the climb.  Each metre of elevation is painted onto the road surface, emphasizing the incline and taunting one’s morale as the climb continues.  With the Marmotte just a few days away it was more than my legs could/should take and I accepted a sensible defeat by the climb.

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The Lombardy region is definitely an area to visit again. The stunning mountain and Lake combination produces some spectacular scenery to enjoy on the bike. It also helps when the weather is so fine.

As the other members of our group began to arrive in the area we made our way over the Italian/French border to the Oisan Valley. I had organised with Will Corder from Bikelodging.com for a large chalet in the small village of Venosc, 8km outside of Bourg and at the south foot of the ski centre Les Deux Alpes.  Will is an excellent host and his food was fantastic. Our first evening meal of duck set the standard for the next five days that we would be there.

Additional rides along the valley floor from Venosc through Bourg and Allemond as well as a ride up to Villard Notre Dame (9% gradient for 9km) provided the final training rides in the lead up to Saturday’s 175km 5000m epic.

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The red line shows roughly the route of our ride climbing up the face of the mountain and then along the gravel track from Notre Dame to Renaud

The day of the Marmotte was actually the worst day weather wise of the entire trip. Overcast and in the mid twenties for most of the day with a downpour around 4pm (just when we were on the climb of the highest pass The Col de Galibier)

We rolled out from Bourg at around 8.10am and cruised along the valley road to Allemond and the ascent of the Glandon with about 2000 other riders.  After packing up his weather jacket Scott settled into a rhythm and rode away from me and the others in our group.

We met again at the top of Glandon (1924m) at the feed station and dropped down the semi technical and quick descent into the valley town of   St Etienne de Culnes  before getting into a group to head along the false flat of the valley road to St Michel de Maurianne and the bottom of the Col de Telegraphe.

Once again Scott dropped me on the climb as we rose up the mountain through the trees. Probably my favourite part of the ride.

Scott was about 3 minutes ahead of me at the top of Telegraphe as we dropped down to Valloire and the main feed station before beginning the major climb to the Col de Galibier  at 2600m. The first 5 or so kilometres rise at a steady 4 to 5% and are manageable until one hits the refuge and the road kicks back on itself in a series of switchbacks rising at an average of 9-11%. At this point the weather changed and the clouds rolled in with a fine mist of rain that turned to sleet as we climbed higher.

Scott, once again paced ahead of me and reached the water stop at the tunnel at the top of Galibier about 2 minutes ahead of me.  We didn’t stop as the temperature had dropped to 7degrees and we were both shivering. So a quick descent to the Col de Lautaret (2058m) where the weather had cleared and the sun was coming out again. A quick stop for a hot chocolate, warming the hands before the long fast descent back to Bourg d’Oisans. We passed a crash in one of the tunnels Scott who was ahead narrowly avoiding it.

We reached the bottom of Alpe D’Huez at 5.30pm back on target for what we hoped.   Having made his way over Galibier in fine form, battling through the weather and cold Scott was riding high in confidence and set off again at a faster pace than I could manage on the first steeper 3km of the famous 21 bends. I was half expecting to find him stopped on the side of the road having exhausted himself but as I plodded on past each of the bends counting them down he was nowhere to be seen.  He hit the finish line 11minutes ahead of me with enough energy to raise his arms in celebration. His time 9hours 43minutes 04 seconds earning him a bronze award for the 18-29 age group even though he is only 16.

I crossed the line 11 minutes later to earn a silver award for my age group (40-49) 1 hour and 40 minutes quicker than I did in 2015. Obviously helpful having a 16 year old domestique to pace me along.

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After a rest day on the Sunday and before transferring down to Bedoin for Mont Ventoux it was time to test just how good Scott was on the mountains.  On Monday morning two days after the Marmotte we gathered at the bottom of Alpe D’Huez and set Scott up on Andy’s Canyon Ultimate CF SLX. A bike that was about 2kg lighter than his Lapierre. We sent him up the road to see if he could climb the 21 bends of Alpe D’Huez in under an hour.

We followed him up in the car filming his ascent. He made it over the line in 59mins 24 seconds, beating his previous time from Saturday by 20 minutes.

After lunch at the top we all headed down on the bikes and back to the chalet to pack up and head to Bedoin to climb Ventoux.

Setting off from Bedoin mid morning we hit the best weather of the day on our climb up Ventoux, the windy mountain, nicknamed the bald mountain or the Giant of Provence. click here for a description of the route  Certainly we were all feeling the effects in our legs of the previous few days as the road slowly winds it way past the vineyards and then ramps up at 9-11% through the forested side of the mountain until we reached the Chalet Reynard. Scott and I stopped at the Chalet for some lunch and a break waiting for Andy and Sian to catch up with us. IMG_0302

After a good break we finished the last few kilometers to the top at 1911m, 21km and 1600m of climbing.

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Our final day on the bike was planned so that we intercepted the Tour de France at stage 5. We drove up from Bedoin to reach the Ski centre of Le Lioran in the heart of the Central Massif. We parked the car and headed through the finish line back along the course until we found a suitable place to stay and watch the pros.  We waited just before the summit of the Col De Perthus. It was a fantastic end to a great few days of cycling and in the process Scott has raised £250 for his friends charity.  The page is still open for donations. www.justgiving.com/scottsmarmotte.

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Our Key Stats:

  • Cycling : 630km  13,000m of Climbing, 18,000 calories expended. 29hours 45 mins.
  • Driving: 2900 miles.
  • Steaks eaten – 3
  • Pizzas eaten – 3

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