La Marmotte - 10 Days to Go!
This was the last available weekend before the Marmotte, as a works “do” on the penultimate weekend means that the last feeble attempt to shed a few pounds is lost. As a penance for losing the last weekend, two long days were spent on the Corvid. 160k with 3000m of ascent on the Saturday, with 150k and 2000m of climbing on the Sunday.
The Saturday route is always a test of fitness, and this was the last opportunity to push the hours spent climbing. The Yeste route includes an “Alpe d’Huez” type climb. Just shy of 800m ascent in 11k, (the Huez is about 1000m in 14k, depending on who you read and where they measure it from!) the Yeste route has about 20 switchbacks and was once included in the Tour of Spain. It always feels good to ride past the names of the climbing greats daubed on the road. “Virenque” and “Pantani”, once brilliant white, the paint now peels from their names, as if to mimic their own fading reputations. Its about 98k of undulating riding through river gorges and across dams to get to the start of the climb, so legs are pretty tired before the climb starts for real. The climb passes through sleepy isolated hamlets on the edge of ancient walnut and almond terraces before passing through pines forests and breaking out into the high scrub and tundra. The sound of bells jangling around the necks of distant goats, the dry sirocco winds rustling the branches of the pines, the constant drone of rubber peeling off the hot tacky tarmac; creating a soundtrack to the climb, a hypnotic melody that dulls the pain in the calves and thighs and carries you on to the next psychological marker. The target is always “under the hour”, but never achieved. Today I made it with 40 seconds to spare. Maybe the Huez is doable after all? The Corvid carried me up the climb like a hot thermal, invisible, intangibly light and rushing ever upwards. The custom fit perfect, no stress points, no aching back or neck, just the constant hum of heavy breathing and the inexorable sensation of lactate build-up. It feels as if the Corvid wants to take off to meet its avian brethren, soaring high above the rocky cliffs. The 1400m summit is the crux of the route, from here the trend is ever downward and the remaining 50k is a “tempo” ride for endurance and stamina, safe knowing that the bulk of the mileage, and climbing, is done and you’re only getting closer to home.
Sunday was less severe, the route chosen for its long ascent to the high point at “Puerto del Pinar” at 1600m. A climb that starts in Nerpio and climbs nearly 700m over the next 40k. Not as high as the Galibier, but maybe just as long. The Vuelta passed over the Pinar in 2007, I was with a group of friends as we watched the peloton speed over it like it wasn’t there. Going over the same routes as the pros reinforces what amazing athletes’ pro-cyclists are. Years spent in the saddle, pushing themselves to the boundaries of human possibilities, starving themselves to lose that extra ounce of excess weight, and earning less than a Dixons shop assistant while doing so (not at all like the pampered Shitzu’s of sport...footballers!). The ride descends from Puerta del Pinar to Pedro de Don Fadrique and the long straight, ever descending road to Baranda. A great road for getting the head down and just peddling for 2 hours. Pushing the big ring all the way, a wide plain of cereal fields on either side, the crops shimmering as the breeze creates swirling patterns across the heavy heads of wheat; while the speeding road warriors whooshing past explain the sporadic stink of road kill as you ride!
So that was the last weekend of training before the big event. I hit my target weight on Monday morning (just) but will probably add a kilo between now and the race. I’ll have to drink beer and eat crap at the works do, and the drive to Bourg d’Oisans will be long and full of service station high salt/trans fatty shite. Nevertheless, the bike feels great, I’m feeling pretty fit, and the goal of getting a “gold” seems more likely now than it did 6 months ago when all this started.