Eight Hours! Well, official time of 8:03. Could have had that under 8 by a healthy lump if I hadn't been chicken on the decent off the Galibier, but I´m getting older, and fast descents scare me, I should work on that for next time!
This was our second appearance at the start line of one of the worlds toughest cycle-sportives (for first impressions read full report from 2010 here). This year I felt much less daunted, knew what was coming and had trained for some long hard climbing. Probably less hours in the saddle this year, but more climbing and a little less weight meant I felt pretty good. Lessons learned from 2010 meant not dawdling on the run out from Bourg d Óisans and shoving calories down the throat straight from the off. An earlier start and cooler weather also meant carrying less water up the Glandon, a single bottle was plenty. Not sure why but the water station at the top of the Glandon seemed much less chaotic this year, maybe I was earlier so less people? Or perhaps was just lucky enough to catch a small gap where I could grab a bottle, fill my bidons and bugger off.
The descent off the Glandon, although neutralised, is still full of those under the illusion that they are immortal. Whilst I'm sure that many are very safe and fast defenders, the road is full of idiots riding UP while 8,000 or more riders are going down, chuffin nutters; and the road is OPEN! Seeing ambulances and marshals should be enough to remind people that there is no rush going down here. Its NEUTRALISED!
The section to the foot of the Telegraphe is usually fast, especially if you hook up with a good cluster of riders. I seemed to keep missing my cluster though. The clumps of riders are continually congealing and elongating like wax in a lava lamp and it seems that whichever blob I was with was either hot and racing ahead too fast or was cooling down and dragging me back. I seemed to spend the time falling off the back or breaking off the front.
Tactics for the Telegraphe were to use the same as last time, find a wheel thats going at a good pace, and hang on. This time I found a great wheel, some bloke with a seemingly effortless fluidity about him; steady cadence, smooth style, no upper body movement or theatrical grunts or out of saddle baletics, just good solid style. No idea who he was, but we seemed to fairly whizz up the climb. He veered of for water at the top, and I sped down the descent to Valloire and the food station.
Having no support team this year meant I was hunting for food. The food stop was a sensual feast of of vibrant jerseys, carbon soles on crunching gravel, pungent aromas and a cacophony of languages. The melee in front of the canteen was bustling, but not intimidating. Grabbing some meats and breads I crushed them into a lump and devoured them, cleaned the sausage taste out with some quarters of Orange, and swilled with water from one of the many hosepipes. Fine dining at its best!
The Galibier is as much mental as physical. From the Lachat hairpin the climb is relentlessly steep. The onset of hypoxia means despite your fitness levels, your heartbeat races higher as your lungs try to vacuum up the O2. The snow capped peaks seem insurmountable, yet you know thats where you're headed, you can see the summit in the distance, and the multi-coloured necklace of cyclists labouring to the to top. All you can do is keep going, telling yourself not to stop, to just keep peddling and it will soon be over. Spirits are lifted by the beauty of the climb, the cadence inducing a mild hypnosis, the serenity of the peaks an opiate soothing your aching limbs.
Cresting the Galibier is an exhilarating experience, not only is the reward one of breathtaking beauty but you know that you have one of the worlds best descents to enjoy, from Col de Lauteret back to the foot of the Alpe d¨Huez. An amazing journey with over 45km´s of sweeping Alpine descent, just so long as you put the tunnels out of your mind!
The climb of the Alpe d¨Huez was again a simple tactic, find a wheel that will challenge you, but not kill you, and hang on for all you're worth. This time I hooked up with another cyclist with great style and perfect pace. Just fast enough to know I was hurting, not too fast that it was impossible to hang on. I clung on to about turn 6, but had to let them go, I felt strong enough, but mild cramps had started to send shivers of tension down my legs, maybe I´d pushed to hard, maybe not enough salt, but either way, I wasn't going to risk my time by inducing a full on paralysing cramp and having to hobble the last few K. I eased back a bit and yo-yoed in and out of the saddle, just about keeping it at bay. Cresting into the end-zone at the summit lets you enjoy the bucket load of endorphins that have been flooding your system for hours, gifting you with a euphoria that lasts for hours, and almost makes you want to get back on your bike and go do it again...almost.
As seems to be a developing trend, Harbs was under the weather, and was destined for another bad year at the Marmotte. Maybe this isn't the event for him, but it means we´ll have to come back so he can have another go!
STATS GC: 1612 out of 6037 finishers. Thats an improvement from top 35% in 2010 to top 26% 2012, so happy with that. Group position was 206 from 1097 riders in their 50´s. So happy with that as well. We went with Stuart Hall Cycling; and stayed at the Hotel Chamois: very friendly people, accommodation a bit "tired", but people great, food sound, and pretty close to finish village.