What is La Marmotte though? La Marmotte is not just a cute alpine creature that makes whistling noises, but also a cyclosportive in France that covers 174km and 5000 vertical metres. It is one of the toughest one day cyclosportives there is. The route starts in Bourg d'Oisans and then climbs over Croix de Fer, Galibier and then finally Alpe d'Huez.
|Struggling up the final climb in 2008|
The route starts off with a flat section before the climbing begins. It's amazing how many people sprint off, somehow forgetting they have 5000m of climbing ahead of them, get to the first hill and then realise that the sprint start really wasn't worth it as now they are knackered. Then you have the people who didn't train for it - the people that go round telling their mates how fit they are in the pub and that they are going to do a ride with 5000m of climbing, but never actually putting in the miles. Somehow they thought that lifting a pint glass up and down, up and down would give them the necessary stamina. These ones can be seen struggling up the first hill, getting half way up and then turning round and heading back.
Then there are the rest of us that did some training at least and we struggle through it but we do finally make it. Both years I completed it in a shade under 10 hours. The winners finished a long long time before that. It's a great event though, and somehow brings all the participants together. You look at your fellow two wheelers experiencing the same pain and effort as you are and it makes you feel somehow connected. After all, your average Joe Bloggs can't complete this event - it takes a special sort, albeit crazy sort.
Looking around at the bibs (race numbers), there are so many different nationalities that take part. The nationalities that dominate in terms of numbers are Dutch, British, French and Swiss. How on earth the Dutch train for the hills I will never know, but they are there en masse. It's interesting to see the difference in mindsets between the nationalities. The Swiss in general take the downhills at a decent speed but not exactly breakneck. The French on the other hand bomb it downhill as if the roads were closed, frequently using both lanes, despite the fact that the roads are still open to traffic after the initial stage. You always see a couple of near misses, but luckily to date I haven't seen any bike car bonding sessions (a.k.a. collisions).
At least by entering La Marmotte 2011 I have a more immediate target than something that is still almost one year away (the South America tour). The 2011 Marmotte will be taking place on July 2nd.