CONQUER LA MARMOTTE PART 5: RACE DAY CONSIDERATIONS

marmotte finish line
marmotte finish line
At the finish line on top of Alpe d’Huez

As the day of the race approaches, you’ll want to check-in and get your timing chip. And if you’re like most cyclists, you’ll probably buy some swag along the way.

Then on the morning of the race you’ll head to the start line. In the following post we’ll discuss things like where to assemble for the start, what to wear, food and water, safety, and what you’ll do when you triumphantly – or desperately – reach the finish line.

CONQUER LA MARMOTTE PART 4: THE FINAL WEEK’S PREP RIDES

cyclists in fog
Col d’Glandon

My first trip to the Alps had ignited my passion to return, and since I only got in two rides on that trip, I was over the moon thinking about how much great riding there would be on my return to the area. When we booked our trip, we decided to arrive in Bourg d’Oisans an entire week before the event, and my initial thought was that I would ride all over the wonderful mountains, every single day, as preparation for the “big ride”.

Fortunately, however, I have a friend who is a seasoned gran fondo racer, and he pointed out the realities: if I was satisfied to grind my way through La Marmotte and just survive to the finish line, then climbing all over the Alps the week before was fine, but if I wanted to do well in the race and put in a good time, then I needed a different strategy.

This was food for thought, and sound advice. My initial excitement about a return vacation had blurred my vision of what I wanted to accomplish. I’m a racer, and I had put in months of hard work toward my goal of riding the Marmotte. I wanted to do well, not just suffer my way through it on dead legs to collapse at the finish line.

HOW TO CONQUER LA MARMOTTE, PT. 3: EQUIPMENT

cyclist on alpe d'huez
cyclist on alpe d'huez
Alpe d’Huez 2016. Disc brakes on my rental were a big plus

When I rode Alpe d’Huez for the first time in 2016, it was during a brief two days of riding, so I rented a bike locally from Prompt.cc. The bike served me well, and while I planned take my own bike to France for La Marmotte, the rental had two key aspects that I was keen to replicate. First, disc brakes, and second, a compact 50-34 with a 32 cassette at the back. I also had to think about transporting my bike by air and car this time around, and making sure that everything was in tip-top shape since the bike rental company wouldn’t be doing my tune-ups this time.

HOW TO CONQUER THE MARMOTTE GRAN FONDO PT. 2: TRAINING

cyclist on galibier
cyclist on galibier
On the Galibier

Everybody reading this post will have a different starting point to their Marmotte training, as well as different scheduling demands and different terrain options. In this post I’ll detail my own situation and the steps I took to prepare in the months before getting on the plane for France. Hopefully you will find at least a few insights to apply to your own situation.

CONQUER THE “LA MARMOTTE” GRAN FONDO, PART 1: REGISTRATION AND ACCOMMODATIONS

riding up mountain
riding up mountain
The road is pointing up, up, up and it’s great!

In late 2016 and early 2017 I wrote several blog posts about my conversion from a cyclist who hated climbing to a cyclist who couldn’t wait to get back to the big mountains, about my change from a cyclist who thought the La Marmotte gran fondo was sheer insanity into a cyclist who couldn’t resist it, and my various investigations into and ultimately the purchase of my first new bike in ten years (here, here, here, and here).

I never followed up with a blog post about just how AWESOME it was, so I’ve decided to do it now in the form of a complete series of posts about my experiences, and to provide advice and opinions for those who are considering doing it for the first time – just like I was. I did a lot of research on the internet as I planned my trip and my training, but the result was basically a hodgepodge of bits and pieces from various sources. I didn’t find any really useful “big picture” articles about it, so hopefully I can fill that void to some degree with this series of posts.

This post will cover the registration process, and some of the ins-and-outs of booking accommodations for your trip.

First impressions of the TCR Advanced Pro 1 Disc

giant tcr advanced pro disc

I’m finally able to follow up with a report on my new TCR disc bike. It arrived at the very end of November, but December has been a busy month with the holidays and all, so it has been hard to find the time to switch out the various components to make it fit me. And since I wanted to offset my costs by selling the parts that didn’t match my needs – like the longer-armed crankset and the short cage derailleur – I didn’t want to even take a test ride and put them into the “used” category.

So finally, after an agonizing wait, we managed to install all the replacement items: a full compact with shorter crankarms, a medium-cage derailleur that can handle an 11-32 cassette, a slightly longer stem and narrower bars, and one of my well-used saddles. One hiccup caught us unawares, though: the standard Giant seatpost was actually too long to be lowered enough in the TCR’s extra-small frame for the bike to fit me! Fortunately my husband wasn’t daunted by the prospect of chopping up a brand-new carbon seatpost. Also fortunately, he knew better than to say anything about it to me until it was already done. So after a bit more tinkering the bike was ready to get on the road.

The most striking observation I have is that

Ordered my new “Marmotte” bike!

Well I did it, I ordered the black and blazing orange TCR Advanced Pro 1 Disc bike. It had been steadily on my mind since my previous posts (here and here) and I got pushed into action by two positive reviews that were published online. I didn’t particularly need the positive reviews – though they are heartening – but we’ve all known items that have gotten good reviews and are suddenly sold out. For me, needing the smallest frame size that is often produced in limited quantities, that was a potential concern, so I pulled the trigger.

Here are the reviews.

Shopping for the Marmotte bike

big tourist bike alpe huez

So I’ve been shopping for (and dreaming about) a sweet new disc-brake equipped road bike for my week in the French Alps and the big La Marmotte Gran Fondo. And I’ve discovered, surprisingly, that several of the big brand names still aren’t offering disc brakes on the kind of bike I want/need. Fuji, for example, doesn’t offer them on the Supreme, their highest-end lightweight race bike. My daily rider and racer for seven years has been a 2007 Fuji Supreme SL, and while I’m not dedicated to the brand, I do know it’s a quality bike that suits me. They (Fuji) do have discs on other bikes, but I’m not looking for an “endurance” bike nor something lower-end. I’m a racer, and the group rides I do tend to be fast rides with the guys, so I’m looking for a lightweight, aggressive bike that suits my riding style.

Might buy a new bike for La Marmotte!

cyclist on alpe d'huez

So I’m thinking about buying a brand new bike specifically for La Marmotte, and I am not someone who adds to the stable on a whim. In fact, my stable until very recently consisted of two bikes, both of which are ten years old. So to be thinking of getting a new bike “just” for a week in France is rather out of character. And honestly, my Fuji Supreme SL with “old” ten-speed Dura-Ace is very lightweight and a great little climbing bike.

However, riding up the Alps is only half the story; there is also a whole lot of riding dooown. Why does that matter? Two words: disc brakes. The bike I rented in September for my rides up the Col d’Ornon, Alpe d’Huez, and Col de Sarenne happened to have disc brakes, which turned out to be a great feature for half-hour-long (!) switchback-filled descents. They reduce the work you have to do to pull your brake levers, helping you avoid crushing forearm burn and fatigue, and they free you from worrying about overheating your rims and blowing off your tires.

Who would be crazy enough to do that?!?

cyclist on alpe d'huez

Since we had rented accommodations for our hiking-and-biking Alpine vacation at a cycling-oriented bed and breakfast, our little apartment was well-stocked with literature about cycling opportunities in the area. Given my ecstatic reaction to my two days of riding, my husband Theo was already perusing various booklets looking for rides I might want to consider at on our next (!) visit. He would occasionally read out some description of a ride or hand me a pamphlet to look at, but at one point he rolled his eyes and handed me an option with a particularly outrageous-looking mountain profile. Called “La Marmotte” after the (adorable!) little mountain marmots that inhabit the area, it was an annual Gran Fondo circuit that took in four of the biggest, most iconic climbs in the area all in one day.

profile la marmotte

That right, Col du Glandon at 6300 feet, Col du Telegraph at 5151 feet, Col du Galibier at 8670 feet, and finally the “little” Alpe d’Huez to finish the day at 6170 feet. 108 miles with about 16,000 total feet of climbing. The fastest riders each year – semipros at a minimum – finish in 5-ish hours (!), and those who just make time cut can drag themselves in after thirteen hours of suffering.

I shook my head, smirked, and almost shouted “Who on earth would be crazy enough to do that?!?”

Well, apparently I am.