Sunday, July 3, 2011

Ride notes from Marmotte 2011

Riding back from lantern rouge on La Marmotte: my assorted recollections. I'm still far too shattered to attempt real sentences.

Only finally decided to ride it Friday morning, as Emma's cold had improved. Plan to ride first Col (Glandon) and make call there whether to continue.

Crossed start line 7.09. Good progress to base of climb, not involved in pace line like last year but still fast running. Climb over lower dam and first half of glandon in middle ring, then deployed super-granny for the second part up to summit, 2000ish meters.

From Marmotte 2011

Both felt good, climbing well, decision is to continue over to back valley : commit to 2600m more climb to get home.

Hectic at top, Emma grabs water while I push bike through crowds. Start descent. Emma is unpacking some food, lots of bikes about, sharp hairpins and narrow roads. Make 3 switchbacks, then disaster begins. Bang! Phffffft! Front wheel flat. Stop bike without spilling. Clear out the way of masses. Tyre off eventually (no tyre levers! Forgotten when swapping seat packs the previous night.) Rim tape is split. Only fitted that tape yesterday. Would have been better to leave the old suspect tape from previous weekend!

What to do? Not carrying spare rim tape. Nor is any of the other sportive riders who we ask as they puncture about us. (Saw at least 5)

Use blunt screwdriver to cut up failed innertube and improvise rim tape repair. New tube in. Somehow damaged the valve closer attempting to inflate. Maybe fixed it? Continue gingerly down. 2 switchbacks and slipping about : this one is flat - pinched tube refitting tyre. Final spare tube in. Flat after couple more corners: glue has failed to stick prior patching properly. Patch other  tube, but valve now definitely dodgy not sure it will hold. Running out of CO2 cartridges now too, and 1 of the 3 I packed was a dud.

Set off again: sound of metal death from rear brake. Disc pads have worn right out with all the slow descending.  And front brake blocks have glazed with heat and juddering badly.

No brakes. No innertubes. No rim tape. No tyre levers or gas.

Decided to abandon. Send tweet. Sit on verge, watch streams of bikes pass. A chap stops, he's after a CO2 cartridge - can't do as our last is already fitted in the pump, but I use last of it to get him going again. Emma gives him a couple gels too as he'd dropped his.

Settle in for long wait for sag wagon, for the long ride home. Spot marshal, go and ask him when it would be (explaining bike bust). Question lost in translation : he says we must continue 2 or so km for mechanical assistance. OK, at least we'll be doing something that way.

Manage to use a combo of front and parking brakes to control our way down. Spot the mechanic's car just as front tyre gives out again.

He has no tubes left. He has no disc brake parts. Borrow pliers and use to re-run the brake cables so we have two rim brakes. That massive disc is now just dead weight. Rear V brake not setup for drop levers, very mushy to use, but better than nothing.

Mechanic has rim tape, fits that. Fresh glue under failed patch. Fix other valve with some gentle plier love.

The final riders pass us by, mechanic is just packing up to finish.  We must be the last bike of the 6000+ to leave glandon.

Cautiously test out front wheel and new brake setup on final swooping bends, slowly some confidence is returning.  Turn out at bottom to the back valley road. Marshals point the way but look ready to head home. Like us. We're just cycling back to camp now. At least, until we're caught by a sag bus.

Tailwind on the rolling back valley road. Holding 24kmph on the ups, soon see the back markers. They are definitely struggling. Whoosh! We're no longer last on the road.  Then pass another. A few more. A whole team of cyclists from the Loire valley. Things are looking up, but what about the two cols to come?

Telegraph in 1pm heat. Tough work, but such a beautiful view as you climb we soon found a twiddling rhythm and plugged away at it. Passed as many solos as we were passed by. We're climbing OK then. But saw many packed riders at base of climb waiting by the two sag wagon buses. Will they catch us?

1 hour we're at the top. Refill water, on into Valloire.  Draggy climb out the other side hits us hard. See food station and decide it's time for lunch. Oranges, bananas, sugary sweets, cake, dried fruit, Camembert, in no particular order.

Plan Lachat long time coming, ramps seem steeper than last year. Stop for coke at cafe, to wash down a gel. Now for galibier proper; everything before was just the prologue.

Feel good in low gear on the tough first ramp, but it's still a long grind. Weather so much better than last time Emma cycled here - before marmotte last year - helps lift spirits. And then : "Hummers woz ere!". "Go Things"! YAY! Still just visible on the road from last year.

We are going to ride back into this. If we can just make the summit by 5pm maybe we have a chance?

Galibier is without equal. Dig deep and then deeper. Many people walking now. We have low gears and Randonneurs' backsides. Keep spinning, keep spinning.

Pass the place we were chased by a dog last year. Lots of support from passing cars, spectators, other riders. Some ask or feign complaint it must be easier on tandem. Emma swiftly re-educates them.

Now we see the summit of the pass. Road winding to it, then final 5 switchbacks including the steepest grades of the event. Another gel brings on sugary reduced oxygen high. We're shouting 7 shades of nonsense at each other as we pass the photo call and mount the final few ramps. Other riders seem bemused, but caught in their own turmoil.

From Marmotte 2011

Crest the top. 2646m above the sea. All down hill to our campsite now, should we wish!

5mins to refill water and put on more clothes. Start descent with exactly 10.00 hours on the clock. So it's 5.09pm.

Top switchbacks are little short of terrifying. Go too slow: we overheat rims and Bang! Go too fast and we may never stop until the valley floor. Front brake still judders at low speed, rear still very soggy. Make myself as large as possible for wind braking. We're still hammering past every other bike on the road, and any car we see too. There it is.

Reach Col du Lautaret. Smooth straight roads now, less severe grades. Good! Relax slightly, try and reduce pain in back and shoulders and neck from all that braking.

Eat, descend, drink, descend. Eat more. Still passing bikes by the dozens. Tandeming heaven.

Eventually: 5km to Bourg sign. Decision required. "How's that famous stubbornness of yours holding up Emma?"
"Surprisingly well!"

That's it. We're going to try to complete. Finish the gels. Cadge a toe into the control. It's 6.20, can we still continue?

No stopping: over the timing mat, ignore the fellow hollering that Tandems may already be out of time. Hit Alpe D'Huez. 21 switchbacks between us and glory. Or food, at least.

First 4 ramps are the steepest and longest. Count them off as we crawl up.

La Garde: plan was to get water here and recoupe. Still OK for water, Emma says keep going to the next water point. OK.

Cold weather clothes removed without stopping - Emma can deal with them with two hands. Passing as many walking as cycling now, but still sometimes we are passed by someone going at full-tilt, probably bursting between rests. Hare and tortoise. Although 'Hare' is generous by this stage.

9 more switchbacks to Huez village. Some short, but still takes forever. This is the bulk of the climb. Eventually get there, stop for water. Summit of Galibier to Huez without rest, has taken a bit over 2 hours.

I keep walking as Emma fills bottles, she jumps back on and we're off again. 6 turns to go, then final mile through Alpe d'huez itself. A man unexpectedly hands us a bottle of energy drink as we pass him, receives heartfelt "Merci!" in reply.

Everything hurts. Just need to keep turning pedals and we'll get there. Audax England jerseys are a big success: loads of support from all, and especially the Brits.

From Marmotte 2011

Through the town, GPS clock rolls over to 13.00 hours. Missed chance to complete in under 13. Too bad. Lets just finish. Broom wagon passes us, collecting signs. Still must be hundred bikes on road behind us though...

Final 300m is downhill, quickly gather astonishing tandem velocity and pass over finish mat at 20.09! Cheering lost as we climb off, grab drinks and a well earned hug!

After feeding and collecting our certificate, now how to get back to campsite? Don't want to trust our bodged brakes down 12 km of sharp hairpins, but it's getting too dark and cold to hang about looking for an alternative.

We set off. Do 4 corners, wait a bit to let rims cool. 4 more, wait again. Start to walk as we wait: trying to stop ourselves get too cold or the rims too hot!

A minibus passes us, then halts. We wave, and it reverses back up. It contains 2 supporters, one bike and a rider, but enough space and soft padding for a fleet of tandems! They offer a lift we say yes please without hesitation. Just to the foot of the alpe would be fine, but when they offer to take us back to campsite I can't refuse. In exchange we explain to them the location of three pizzerias in Bourg, along with their relative merits. They're happy they will get dinner, we're happy to be safely back at our tent and collapse to sleep. Ready for the 6am rise to start the journey back home....