Marmotte 2010 - Race Day - Part III
Riders stopped at the summit of the Galibier, savouring their ascent and the “top of the world ma!” panorama; donning their warmers for the descent to Col de Lauteret and beyond.
My reconnaissance made me choose otherwise, it would be cold, but only for a short while, after Col de Lauteret, the air temperature increased, below 2000m the nip was replaced with hot air, and stopping to put on warmers, only to take them off again in the next 30 minutes seemed daft. The descent was taken with care. The road is narrow, had cars and camper vans coming up it, and tired riders going down it. Lucas and Madison would be waiting in the Land Rover and I was looking forward to Vanilla Coke and some Nutella and Banana butties! It was great to see them (the kids and the butties!). “Someone” in the support vehicle had got the map reading wrong and was awol missing from the Valloire feed station where we agreed to meet. I had missed the friendly faces of the offspring cheering me on from the windows of the support wagon that the Land Rover had become. The caffeine, sugar and chocolate was awesome, and I felt good and fit. We chatted about how we could deal with the loss of Harby (he hadn’t taken his mobile phone) and debated if they should wait or not. I was starting to think that a “gold” time was achievable and knew the descent and the climb to Alpe d’Huez was very doable and that I might get in under my “Brevet d’Or” time of 9:15, I didn’t hang around. Lucas and Maddy were to wait 30 minutes for Harby (an optimistic time frame!!) and then leave to meet me on the climb of the d’Huez.
The descent from the Col du Lauteret was fast and furious, much more aggressive than the earlier days preview. Certainly much more adrenalin pumping and no time to admire views, just concentrate on the fast corners and keeping a fast tempo. And then the tunnels. I’d forgotten how scary the tunnels were. This time it was much worse, like entering Tartarus, the realm of the dead, a dark and wretched pit engulfed in murky gloom, where the cold damp air steeps into your chest, chilling your bones. You enter the first tunnel at blistering speed, moving from brilliant sunlight into almost total darkness. Your eyes cant switch to “night vision” fast enough. The glare of oncoming traffic makes it even worse, like moths to a flame your eyes are instinctively drawn to the beckoning headlights of the oncoming vehicles. As you speed through the tunnel, barely being able to see, you resist the urge to veer toward the light and avoid the temptation to over compensate by tending to the right, just trying to keep to a direct line, avoiding pot holes and kerbs.
Emerging intact is a great relief, and for me, signified the beginning of the end. From here, it’s “just” the Alpe d’Huez. The Alpe d’Huez didn’t hold much fear for me. I was feeling pretty good, the Nutella had kicked in, I had some gels, and there was plenty of water to be had. I decided to sit in the 27 for the first 4 corners and then see how I felt. Riding the d’Huez on race day was much different to the dress rehearsal. It was more like the assaults on Gallipoli. The temperature was well into the 30’s (c). Bodies were strewn everywhere, the smells from heaving, sweaty, stinking bodies wafted across your path. Gasping dehydrated souls were strewn everywhere, the stifling heat and the Alpes’s tough vertical defences were beating back wave after wave of attacks. Assailants were off their bikes, lying on the floor, others tried sneak attacks and walked. The climb is littered with mountain springs running down the hill side, channelled into short concrete chutes etched into the ever-present vertical buttresses. Riders were using them as showers to drop their core temperatures, others huddled around the cascading water, filling bottles and languishing in the oasis of the shade. How badly prepared were these people?? OK, it was hot, but not unexpectedly so. Everyone I was passing had got here before me, obviously, yet here they were, having near death experiences. 8 hours of riding should not bring out this reaction unless you pushed too hard, or didn’t hydrate enough, or didn’t eat. Anyone making these mistakes on such a tough route was asking for trouble. Its not like this route was a surprise on these people. They volunteered and presumably knew the limits of their own bodies. Perhaps this was really just some masochistic self deception so that their war stories had a certain verisimilitude. I don’t know, but I certainly didn’t think it warranted the theatrics taking place on the climb. Preparation people!!
Personally, I felt I had enough left in the tank to drop to the 25 after the village at La Garde ( turn 16). Only some 10k left to climb, and then the race was over. I resolved to drop to the 23 whenever I could and would get out of the saddle to push that for as long as I could. I swapped between 23 and 25 the rest of the climb. I was passed, a few times, but only a few, and mostly by younger, and always by much lighter and leaner men than I. The climb was hard, but every stroke got me nearer the finish line and the time on the Garmin looked like I would breach 9 hours, 15 minutes clear of my “Brevet d’Or” time of 9.15. I pushed harder. To be just past 9.00 for the sake of a bit of lactic pain would be just too cruel. As you enter the ski village after a tough steep section, the route circuits the shops and chalets, as if to taunt you. I “sprinted” past the shops and burger bars, under the tunnel and around the town to the finish line and the concession camp. Exhausted.
The Garmin time? 8:59:51 (phew!). Certificate time (which includes the arbitrary “everyone gets the same time added” allotment from the neutralised descent of the Glandon) was 9:08:15. The official time on the downloaded results table was 8:31:47. (which means neutralised time given was 36:15? - they cant have appled that time to everyone, can they??)