MY MARMOTTE (TAKE TWO) !!
Article Published : 16/07/09
Event Date : 03/07/11
LA MARMOTTE (TAKE 2!)
I’m nervous ! It’s 4.30AM on July the 4th 2009 and here I am in an apartment at the top of the L’Alpe D’Huez about to wake my buddy Steve Henson who has come with me as a Marmotte “virgin” to ride probably the most prestigious Sportive in the World, and I’M NERVOUS ! How ridiculous is that? I’m practically 60 years old and I rode this thing two years ago and made lots of mistakes and now I’m back for a second try to get under the “magic” 7 hours and I’m nervous!!
I first rode this crazy event in 2007 and I got cramp, big style, on the Galibier which ruined my ride, and put paid to any hope I had of breaking seven hours, which is the target I had set myself. It was my own fault, as I’d overgeared and the temperatures were in the low 40’s and I can’t function at those temperatures. But it had been a lesson in realising I wasn’t the 25 year old super climber I used to be and I just had to make allowances for my age at some point in my life!
I had hoped to come back in 2008 and “blitz” seven hours, which I knew was within my capabilities if everything was in my favour and the heat wasn’t so intense. BUT, I had one of the most horrendous crashes in my life at my training Camp in Denia in the March of that year and , I started back much too early with my training for the Sportive Season. My injuries were bad with a triple fracture of the Radius and a very bad back injury. I had also lost a stone in weight from the crash Trauma and was in no fit state to ride La Marmotte that year…In fact I was in no state to ride any Sportive that year, even though I did… Typical Dave Lloyd… All or nothing .. 100% or nothing. Why on earth I can’t do as I tell my athletes, which is common sense, I will never know and my long suffering wife, Chris had told me over and over again I was doing far too much without giving my body a chance to heal !! But it’s always a case of do as I say and NOT AS I DO with my coaching. Compulsive obsessive comes to mind !! But I simply love this bike sport of ours and I simply love riding the bike. Even at my age, setting myself targets in the Sportive world gives me immense satisfaction and I still get a huge buzz from a Sportive I know I have ridden to the best of my abilities…..I DO BELIEVE, HOWEVER, I HAVE NEVER, EVER GOT BACK TO ANY FORM APPROACHING ANY I HAD BEFORE THAT FATEFUL CRASH IN DENIA.... NEVER FELT THE SAME STRENGTH IN MY BODY SINCE THAT CRASH !!
So, 2008 was pretty much a write off and I spent most of the year trying to put the stone in weight I had lost back on and get myself in good condition for 2009, when I would make La Marmotte the major goal of the year and finally get under that 7 hour “barrier”.. To this end , I had persuaded one of my athletes, Steve Henson to ride it with me. Steve had had a Cancer scare in 2008 and had part of his stomach removed. But he is a tough guy and a great bike rider and was Cancer free now and riding his bike as strongly as ever…(He is also great company, so there was method in my madness too!!). We planned the logistics of our trip, and were going to go out on the Thursday this year, to give us an extra day to acclimatise to the heat and get bedded in at the top of The Alpe. We had booked an apartment right by the finish line and booked the flights and were going to hire a car from Geneva Airport, where we were flying to. Everything was in place…. I had even got myself a brand new bike for the occasion and it was a beauty. A hand built Dimar-HBM with Lightweight Wheels and a Campag 11 speed group set which gave me the 27 sprocket I needed to get me up the Galibier without too much of a struggle.. As I said, I was over geared in 2007 with a 25 sprocket and couldn’t get used to a Compact Chainset, so compromised on the 27 sprocket, which actually worked out really well in the event…. Steve and I had also ridden my Mega Challenge two weeks before La Marmotte and the White Rose Challenge the week before which both proved IDEAL preparation….
So, on Thursday the 2nd of July, off we flew from Liverpool first thing in the morning and got into Geneva at around 9am… We had no real difficulty in hiring a small people carrier to get both our bikes and our suit cases in, and off we went to L’Alpe d’Huez. The apartment took a bit of finding and we had to then hire linen for the beds and go to the Supermarket to get stores for the two days and for the all important breakfast for the morning of La Marmotte…
Steve was just blown away by the scenery and the Alpe itself and just couldn’t wait to get out on the bikes and ride up this legendary climb.. Off we went down the Alpe , into the valley with spectacular views all around. It really is a stunning place and Steve was agog… We probably went too far, but you tend to get carried away with the place a bit and we decided to turn round when we realised we had been out for a long time, and retrace back up the Alpe and back to our apartment… I was amazed by how many Brits were out there and how many recognised me.. Shouting “Come on Lloydy” and such like !! One of my athletes (Bart Glover) over from Ireland passed by on the climb in his hired four by four with his wife and he shouted encouragement.. I heard him say to his wife “ Just look at that guy go, and he’s not even breathing heavy!!” I must say, I still get a buzz from little things like that and it makes me feel hugely thankful that I was blessed with some talent to excel at something I love!! So the first day came to an end and I got a call from a very old friend of mine from Sweden (Hakan Persson) who invited us out for a meal that evening, so we had a very pleasant end to the day with a nice meal and great company and talking BIKES!!
The Friday dawned with beautiful blue skies and , as usual, I was up EARLY, much to Steve’s disbelief ( he said something like that anyway!!) and cups of tea were made and consumed. A nice breakfast was had and we were out on those bikes again… On reflection, perhaps we did a little too much on this day before the big event, but we both got carried away with the beauty of the area and Steve had worked out a route he wanted to try. I guess we were out for 3 ½ hours altogether and not going too hard, although you always have to finish up the L’Alpe, and the temptation to push on up there is always a problem, as there are so many other riders around you.. YOU DO TEND TO GET CARRIED AWAY !! Anyway, we really enjoyed the ride and we rested in the afternoon and prepared our bikes for the next day at our leisure.. We again had a meal with Hakan and his wife in the evening and the day flew by… We were in bed early after preparing our OH! so important drinks and food for the following day and getting all the clothing etc. we would need and sorted for the “battle” to follow the next morning. Sleep didn’t come that easily for me for some reason.. I had a read and eventually, after calling Chris for the fourth time that day (no wonder my phone bills are ridiculous!) I fell soundly asleep..
And so the day of La Marmotte dawned, and looking out of my window at 4am, I couldn’t see a cloud in the sky and knew it was going to be yet another scortcher… DAMN!! ….. Still, nothing you can do about the weather Dave, just get on with it…. I woke Steve at 4.30 am, (much to his disgust) and we ate a hearty breakfast and took on plenty of electrolytes and prepared for the 12 Kilometre (cold) descent down to Bourg d’Oisans for the 7 am start. I had a very old Dave Lloyd wet top I could discard at the bottom of the climb if I needed to and Steve took a Gilet with him. All the food was placed in the back pockets, a final bike check and a hand shake as we probably wouldn’t see much of each other after the descent as we had different starting “pens”. So, everything was ready and we began the descent (along with 7,000 others) down to the start. The first thing I noticed is that it was nowhere near as cold as 2007 on that descent and I was beginning to worry that the heat was going to prove a problem yet again….
I did my usual kamikaze descent, just to get me in the mood as it’s a VERY safe descent down to Bourg. I also knew I’d need the descending practice as there are some right idiot descenders in the Marmotte, who put their lives (and those around them) at risk… IN A SPORTIVE ??? A final “all the best” to Steve, who had followed my wheel down the mountain and we went to find our starting “pens”.. I had a great start number at 231 and was at the front of the “race”, as I was in 2007.. I knew they would be starting like nutters again and had vowed that this year I would let them get on with it and just save myself for the first climb (The Glandon)… I was lined up with the rest of the “fast men” and someone called to me from the side of the road.. It was an old guy I see on some of my training rides in the Wirral.. We had a chat and he offered to take my wet top from me and let me have it back when he returned home.. That was a bit of good luck and saved me losing my top which I certainly wasn’t going to carry around with me all day.. That’s always somewhat of a problem at that time of the morning.. The descent off the L’Alpe is really cold and you need to have something warm on your chest. You see all sorts of different means to this end.. Bin bags and Gilets and I saw one guy in a full polythene “body bag”… Very odd ! But it’s really important that you keep your chest warm on what is at least a 20 minute, freezing cold descent…
The time to the start was fast approaching, and again, I was feeling nervous. I did have a sort of game plan this year. I was not going to start as fast as two years ago and using my lower gears, I was going to try to spin a bit more up the Glandon and the Galibier and have a something left for the L’Alpe. Anyway, too late to think any more, because.. WE’RE OFF !! Sure enough, they are starting like their lives depended on it and I’m just not going to get involved this year and I can see the front of the group in one long spearhead, flying towards the first of the major climbs, The Glandon… I try to stick to my own pace, but just have to move up a little towards the Glandon as I am getting slightly swamped.. So, I get a bit further towards the front and BANG, we are on the lower slopes of the Glandon and it’s mayhem. Riders are missing gears and weaving all over the road as they are stuck in too big a gear.. It’s like a road block and I have to weave and fight my way further forward , otherwise, I think I have made a big mistake letting them get away early on… But I get past the initial blockage and climb the Glandon reasonably well and feel quite good at this point in proceedings… I must be somewhere in the first 100 or so and things feel good.. The temperature is rising very quickly though as last time I had a Gilet on going up this mountain and no way could I wear one this year.. It was getting HOT already…. DAMN !!
The descent of the Glandon is a bloody nightmare.. It’s dangerous and the field are still packed together and the “idiots” are out in force, trying to descend like Fabian Cancellara with one quarter of the ability to do so.. CRAZY!! I descend at my own pace, which is fast, but I may live to see another day…. The bottom of the climb is even more dangerous as the roads are now open and guys are coming past me on the wrong side of the road on blind bends. Can a Sportive be worth dying for? The answer to some is obviously YES!! I am very relieved to get to the bottom of this brute of a descent and the group reforms and some order is restored.. It’s a big group and they are working well together and all thinking about the next big climb of the Telegraph, followed in quick succession by the Galibier.. MY NEMESIS ! The group is being herded by police outriders and we all keep to the right hand side of the road and things settle down into a good rhythm but the speed is very high.. That’s good as we are probably making some good time on the rest of the field and things will be getting spread out a bit. Things are thus stabilized for a while and then suddenly we are on the Telegraph and the group explodes to bits as the “real” climbers put the pressure on, big style.. I am climbing pretty well and holding my place, but I am not feeling particularly brilliant and I actually make an unscheduled stop at a feed station near the bottom of the Telegraph to take on a bottle of water.. I am starting to feel tired and the legs aren’t working like they should at this point in proceedings… I AM GOING THROUGH A BAD PATCH…. I get over the Telegraph and on the flat bit of road now leading to the Galibier, Hakan Persson catches me and I feel the heat burning me and I start to feel really crap.. I shouldn’t be feeling this bad this early and Hakan shouldn’t have caught me. My morale takes a beating and the sun is outrageously hot.. I am frying (it’s 42 degrees) and Hakan keeps looking round to see if he’s dropping me…..No chance Hakan, I don’t give in that easily. I throw the bottle of water I picked up on the Telegraph over my head and I feel myself picking it up a bit. We are now on the Galibier for real and the road just gets steeper and steeper.. The gear feels fine, but I can still feel twinges of cramp coming on… NOT AGAIN SURELY… but they disappear as soon as they start, as I’ve taken loads of electrolytes and I start to come round.. I try to get into a good rhythm and I overtake Hakan and start to climb the top section of the Galibier much better than the last time I did it.. I AM COMING ROUND !! I am now in a good climbing rhythm and I pick the pace up over the top of the Galibier and don’t stop at the feed station. I have got plenty of food and a full bottle of electrolytes on the bike… But, I really need a pee.. In fact I’m bursting for one all of a sudden… No problem, there’s nobody about at the top of the descent, so the old Pro trick of peeing on the bike stands me I good stead and what a relief that is… No time lost and you can’t beat a good pee when you’re bursting!! Now I can concentrate on getting down the Galibier as fast as I possibly can. I think only two riders come past me on the descent, so that’s good! I also feel a lot better than I did at the start of the Galibier and my morale starts to pick up again.
On the flat after the Galibier, I get into a smashing little group of about 10 riders and we are going through and off at a cracking pace. I now feel really good and am doing my share of the work and things are Hunky Dory.. I had forgotten how far it was to the bottom of the Alpe d’Huez from the bottom of the Galibier, but I knew the roads were good and fast, and looking at my Garmin, I thought a sub 7 hour ride was looking do-able.. All depending on how far it was to Bourg d’Oisans… THEN… catastrophe !! The group I was in came up to a long traffic jam, caused by a huge articulated lorry, with a trailor and then two busses behind that and then a huge string of cars. The roads were good, but very twisty and turny and lots of badly lit tunnels to get through. BUGGER! was the thought I had.. There was no way we were going to get past this lot, doing about 15 MPH when we were up to the high 30’s. The group, however had other ideas and in a long line passed the jam going through a badly lit tunnel on the wrong side of the road.. Completely suicidal . There was no way I was going to follow them, no way. I thought about Chris and Holly and what Chris would be saying (It’s a SPORTIVE!!!!!!) so I let them go and just waited for a safe place to pass. The lorry actually pulled over eventually and let everyone pass, and that was my opportunity to get past the whole queue… But I was now by myself and no way was I going to catch the group. I had lost a lot of time and felt the morale slipping again. I had no idea how far it was to Bourg and I could feel the 7 hour barrier slipping away from me. I kept the pace high though and then a big group caught me all working together really well. As soon as this happened I saw the 20 Kilo to go banner. I checked the time again and realised 7 hours wasn’t do-able. The heat was getting to me again and I was thirsty and a bit “crampy”. I decided to work with these guys as far as the bottom of the L’Alpe where I hoped there was a feed station to take on more fluid. We worked well together and we were soon at the base of the L’Alpe and, thank goodness, there WAS a feed station… I dived into it and got two bottles filled to the top and dashed back to the road and prepared for the final climb up the L’Alpe d’Huez…
The heat was furious yet again , and it was bloody WINDY to add to my woes. This was going to be a really hard climb. “Get into a rhythm” Dave and ignore whatever else is happening.. It’s just you and the L’Alpe now, so flipping concentrate… I was again on the verge of cramp, but nothing came of it. But it was just so hot I couldn’t give it 100% . I can’t function properly in that sort of heat and although my breathing was fine, my legs weren’t responding at all well to the climb. It was now just a battle of wills. I was going to fight and fight until I got to the top of this thing and I just HAD to beat 7 ½ hours, otherwise I would be unconsolable. I was burning up, but thank goodness there were some great people on the climb and I was handed up three bottles of water at intervals up the mountain at different spots, which I just poured over my head trying to get my core temperature down a tad…I was fighting and fighting and trying as hard as I possibly could, but the climb seemed to last for ever. I was catching a lot of guys on the way up though and only two guys caught me, which I took to be a good sign. With 5 K’s to go, I got another bottle of water, tipped it over my head, had a another swig from my own bottle and tried to give it a bit more.
With 1 kilometre to go, I saw it was touch and go if I made it a sub 7 ½ hour ride, so I just stuck it in the big ring and sprinted like a mad man to the finish.. I was amazed just how much I had left in my screaming legs. Had I paced it right, had I taken it too easy in places? Why was I so full of energy now, and not before ?… Just an adrenalin rush I guess ? I don’t know.. All I know is that I was so pleased to see that finishing line and I had done a 7.28.10 on my Garmin, which was confirmed by the clock over the finishing gantry. I had broken the 7 ½ hour barrier! Not only that, I had won my age category and was the fastest 60 year old ever to ride La Marmotte. It was great to be on the Podium again after 25 years away from competition. I KNOW it’s not a race, but try telling that to the competitors in La Marmotte!!! It’s an addictive “race” and you always say “never again” and mean it for about 3 seconds, and then you start thinking of all the places you could have made up time, all the places you lost time… All the “ifs” and “buts”…….
So another Marmotte was over and my mate Steve had done a great 3.52 on his first try. We are already making plans to come back in 2010 and this time I WILL get under that 7 hours (maybe???) … Whatever, we will be lining up on that start line next year, just as nervous and just as keen to do a GREAT LA MARMOTTE!
BRING IT ON !!
Dave Lloyd 12.07.09