La Marmotte

In the  words of Alan Partridge’s Geordie friend Michael  – “sometimes it makes you wonder what it’s all aboot”.

15 things you probably knew already
  1. The Marmotte is an event for amateur riders in the French Alps
  2. It is about 175km long and covers 3 famous ‘hors categorie’ climbs – the hardest categorisation
  3. It’s widely considered the hardest one-day amateur ride
  4. The course is the same every year
  5. It is not the more familiar ‘Etape du Tour’ which is a different stage of the Tour de France also open to amateurs.  The tour route changes each year and so does the Etape
  6. The Marmotte is, ignoring weather conditions, a harder ride than the Etape
  7. The climbs are the Glandon, Telegraphe, Galibier and Alpe D’Huez
  8. The Telegraphe and Galibier combine to form one monster climb
  9. The total climb for the ride is about 5,000 metres or 16,500 feet
  10. The ride starts in Bourg D’Oisans and finishes at the summit in Alpe D’Huez
  11. The ride includes two spectacular descents off the Glandon and Galibier
  12. About 7,000 riders start the event each year.  Less finish
  13. The Galibier is a monster.  Tour-creator Degranges said of it – “all other climbs are gnat’s piss”
  14. It would not be unexpected to consume 8,000 calories during the ride
  15. The ride, like many ski runs in the area, is named after the small animals that live on the mountains

 

The Galibier – no photograph can do it justice!

31509154_9b5985990d

 
Climb Stats
Climb

Length

Gradient

Total Climb

Link
Glandon

24km

4.8%

1,150m

[more info]
Telegraphe

12km

7.3%

850m

[more info]
Galibier

18km

6.9%

1,250m

[more info]
Alpe D’Huez

13km

8.1%

1,070m

[more info]
Total

67km

6.4%

4,300m

 
 
Marmotte 2008

My account from the ride last year.

Lance

If there is anything or anyone that can polarize the opinions of cyclists it’s Lance Armstrong I’d like to know!

I’ll come out right away and say that I think he is a legend and without doubt one of the finest cyclists ever to get on a bike.

Lance_Armstrong_7

I was only dimly aware of cycling and the Tour de France during his reign.  It is only in retrospect that I have been able to enjoy his feats during his 7 victories.  I don’t really do hero-worship but after reading It’s Not About The Bike I found it impossible not to have respect, not just for his achievements, but for his mere survival.

You’d think that, given this struggle and his subsequent incredible achievements, he’d be revered much like (or much more than!) other sporting legends, for example Tiger Woods.  However, spend a few minutes on any cycling forum and you’ll get a good sense of the bitter hatred that many ‘cycling fans’ have for him.

There’s a good element of confirmation bias here I suspect.  Once the decision has been made to love or hate a sportsperson, all new information is evaluated and distorted to fit this prejudice.  For those that hate, every single utterance and action is twisted into a negative to reinforce the original views.  And if that person sets up a foundation to help and support cancer sufferers then there must be some despicable, disreputable, self-seeking ulterior motive.

I’d like to think that a more nuanced view is more appropriate.  There are very few people that are 100% good or 100% bad.  And sometimes the things that make the good possible are responsible for the bad too.

I’d like to deal with some of the criticisms that are often aimed at him

Doping

Ah.  If ever there was a sport that is ruined by the use of performance enhancing drugs then it is cycling.  At the end of the day the drugs do work.  And only too effectively in an endurance sport like cycling.  Once a pro rider has achieved a ‘basic’ level of fitness, drugs are worth more than any amount of genetics, equipment and skill.  Depending on who and what you read, EPO is worth a 8, 10 or 15, 20% performance benefit.  For already highly trained athletes it’s not possible to make up this shortfall.

Anyway, the biggest criticism against Armstrong would seem to be that he comes from an era tainted by doping and that he must have doped.  This is part-laughable – every era of cycling is tainted by doping and the same critics favourite riders have been caught or retrospectively have admitted doping.  Pantani, Ulrich, Virenque, Simpson, Fignon; the list goes on.

Anticipating audible groans – Armstrong has never been given a positive result in a properly conducted test.  In fact, maybe one of his biggest crimes is not having been caught!  Or maybe, he is innocent?  I don’t know the answer to that question.  My best guess is this; I suspect that Armstrong must have doped just to have been competitive with his contemporaries.  However I also believe his success was not down to doping – but merely this put him on a competitive level with those he was racing against.

Attitude

No doubt about it – Armstrong has attitude.  And there’s plenty not to like if he’s not your cup of tea.

It’s hard for ordinary people (and cyclists :-) ) to understand the mind-set of a human being that has the capability to win the toughest sporting event in the world 7 years in a row.  In fact, it’s even hard for pro cyclists to understand

“It is very hard for other cyclists to relate to Lance Armstrong. We respect him – there is no doubt about that – because of what he has achieved and how he races his bike. He is clearly one of the greatest bicycle racers in history. But outside of that, it is very hard for us to even fathom what he achieves. It is, even for us, his peers, unfathomable what he does.”

The words of David Millar.

I wonder if it is possible for someone with the incredible determination, focus and ruthlessness required to achieve such awesome feats to not have any corresponding negatives.  I do not think so.

More from David Millar

“But he is also complex and paradoxical. He can be very unforgiving, and yet at the same time he can be incredibly kind and empathetic. It’s an odd mix”

Winner

It’s interesting to me how some sports seem able to enjoy their most celebrated competitors during their reign.  The British, goaded by the media I’m sure, seem far more willing to love a plucky loser than a calculating winner.  I’m different; I support the best talent, the most dedicated, the guy that’s trained the hardest, prepared the best.

Michael Schumacher is a brilliant example.  Even Mercx was not feted during his time.  But Tiger Woods is.  I find this odd.

Cycling has moved on

Another often heard criticism is that cycling has moved on from the drug-fuelled era of the Armstrong years.  Also that there is a new generation of riders that are clean.

After last years Tour de France this does not stand up to scrutiny.  The likes of Kohl and Ricco were part of the supposedly ‘new clean generation’ and frankly took the piss.

If anyone is going to be clean in this year’s Tour surely it must be Armstrong?  Would he risk riding doped jeopardising his entire legacy?  Surely this is the year to prove that he can win clean, even after 3 years out and 18 months older than the previous oldest winner?

Overall

Whatever happens in the Tour this year, there’s no doubting that it’s going to be compelling viewing.  I would love to believe in the dream but this has to be tempered with realism.

If Armstrong won it would be a miracle I think.  I’m not an expert but it seems like too big an ask, even for a man of his incredible achievements.

My main hope is that he rides with brilliance and humility and wins over a few of those that are so critical of him.  Though I fear the latter might be harder than winning the Tour itself!

Either way, roll on Monaco…

Dragon Ride Photos

The Dragon Ride Photos are up.  Including this one of DaveC and I, appearing here courtesy of the former.

Dragon Ride ‘09 Result

Results in – I got 12th place, excluding Dan Lloyd.  Not bad.  Without the cramp probably would have got a top 5.  Still, no complaints. 

Great rides by DaveM and PaulS too – 35th and 36th respectively.

Dragon Ride 2009

Mixed day in the office for this one. 

Positives

  • A good but not great time
  • Managed to hold on to the end despite doing a 50km solo effort
  • Great weather
  • For those not struck with misfortune, a good day for the Bigfooters
  • Event – much better start, good route, well marshalled, well signed, high five drinks at feed stations

Negatives

  • My new super-shoes nearly killed me
  • Missed the chance of setting a great time if I could have found more riders to work with or had been more patient
  • Something went wrong nutritionally.  Felt terrible the whole ride
  • I experienced all kinds of new leg pain, not least some nasty cramping.  Probably down to the new position on the bike which’ll take time to get used to
  • Event – food at feed stations still crap (I only stopped at the half-way point though), poor facilities at the end (after a long ride I need a drink of champions – ie a Diet Coke), not sure about the extra 10 miles this year – 119 miles is a tad long.

Respect to AndyC who put on a brave face having had a very mixed day – missed the group start, but then ended up riding with Dan Lloyd (!), but then rear derailleur blew up.  Another terrific ride by DaveM.  And bad luck to DaveC who rode strong and very smart and has earned himself another 6,000 trouble-free miles after getting yet another puncture on ProRace3s.

Bike fitting at Corridori Cycle Sport

Nice day today.  I decided to try and sort out my position on the bike. 

Last year I was able to ride and ride without hardly a single ache or pain.  This year has been a bit different, not least I suspect as I’ve been working much harder on the bike – not so much in terms of volume, but of a much increased intensity.  Also on long climbs I’ve been finding that my back has been getting really sore.

After a tip-off from PaulS I decided to book myself in for a session at Corridori Cycle Sport, which is out near Epsom.  They are an official Specialized Body Geometry Bike Fit centre and the fitting is based on the ideas of famous cycling doctor Dr Andy Pruitt.

The Shop

I turned up at the shop a little early in the hope that they might be able to give my bike a mini-service as it hasn’t been quite the same after the disassembly and reassembly necessary for the trip to Majorca.  The bike was whisked off and I was offered a cup of tea!  How about that for service?

The shop is owned and staffed by cyclists which is fantastic.  Better still it is staffed by cyclists that know how to provide customer service.  The shop is very modern, has wooden floors, is very neat and organised and they have some good kit.  Specialized is the primary brand sold but Bianchi and Van Nicholas are also in evidence.

The shop is owned by Guy Rowland who has raced with Chris Boardman and is a National Champion on the track in his own right.  The manager, Paul Smith, has been involved in cycling for over 20 years and was going to be doing my ‘fit’.

The Fit

Paul was really friendly and instantly put me at ease.  He went to a lot of trouble explaining how the session would proceed and patiently explained every aspect of the fitting process.  This involved some questions about my cycling history, my goals and existing problems.

Various physical checks were then performed including flexibility and movement tests, the whole time Paul going to great lengths to make sure that I understood what was happening and why.  Despite being a terrible listener and generally disliking being instructed I found it really enjoyable.  Paul’s combination of knowledge, experience and evident enthusiasm made the whole process really enjoyable.

The next stage involved me getting on the bike which had been set up on a turbo.  I pedalled away while Paul went off to make another cup of tea – awesome :-) .  After more close inspection and measurements a few adjustments were made to the bike.  I’d also decided to get myself some proper bling shoes too – how about these bad boys?

Once the saddle and cleats had been set up we worked on the front end of the bike, specifically raising the stem a little and trying different length stems.  It became apparent that I had been over-reaching and needed a shorter stem.  Alas they didn’t have a suitable one in stock but not too worry.

Throughout the fit there was no hard sell, in fact quite the opposite.  If anything I was actively discouraged from ‘treating myself’.

So all done.  If I’ve made this sound like a quick process then that’s a false impression.  The total fit took almost 3 hours!  And only cost £120 – which is outrageously value.  The whole session was really informative and enjoyable and totally unhurried, which is not a reflection of a lack of diligence but instead of care and attention to detail.

Conclusion

In the end the changes that were made were relatively minor, but that is to be expected.   The full report can be downloaded here.

My seat was raised quite a lot, my cleat angled differently and insoles placed into my shoes and I’ve since purchased a shorter stem. The shoes, and I think specifically the insoles, instantly made a tremendous amount of difference.  When I first got out of a saddle to power up a hill I couldn’t believe how much more stable I felt.  I’ve no doubt that raising the saddle will eventually yield considerable advantages once my legs have adjusted to the new position and hopefully the shorter stem and raised bars will help with the sore back.

In the end for every hour on the bike there’s around 5000 pedal revolutions – it only takes something to be slightly wrong for problems to multiply.

In addition I now know how and what to measure on my bike and how to set up my other bikes.  Teach a man to fish and all that.

Could the service offered by Corridori been any better?  Hardly.  It’s ludicrously cheap given the time, care, knowledge and experience invested in the session.  A 10% discount is offered on any products that are purchased in the store.  The mini-service was completed at no cost!

OK – two minor areas of possible improvement.  It would have been great to leave the store fully sorted but there wasn’t much in the way of replacement stems that I needed.  This seems a bit of an odd oversight.  I was not surprised to have confirmed that I have tight hamstrings and it would have been great to have been offered advice on exercises that might help.

Overall I recommend the service to anyone.  Cyclists spend crazy amounts of money to shave a few grams of their bikes.  To not make such a small investment that can make so much difference to the riding experience and give real long term benefits would be nuts.

Crystal Palace 2nd June 2009

“Tis a beautiful night for a kicking” I twittered.

10876047 I was right on two counts.  It was a stunning summer’s (ok technically late spring) evening and if anything a too warm.  DaveM and I cycled up straight for work and got our race numbers.

Alas I was also right on the second count too – I got a kicking!  After the last outing when I felt strong in the bunch right until the end and was possibly a touch unlucky not to get a placing in the top 10 I was feeling pretty hopeful. 

Off we went – 33 laps planned.  There were so many riders that it felt impossible to make any progress through the bunch so I patiently sat in to see what would happen.

I was even more hopeful when the pace for the first couple of laps felt comfortable.  The first bad thing to happen was an involuntary trip through the shrubbery on the climb on the back part of the circuit.  A rider a couple of places in front had a ‘moment’, which caused the rider in front of me to brake hard which forced me to take evasive action.  I was forced off the track and into a bush but fortunately I managed to recover back to the track in one piece.  Though I didn’t appreciate the effort trying to get back the places that I’d lost.

From this point on the race felt hard.  The pace quickened and I just couldn’t get comfortable.  It was depressing sitting in the bunch feeling that all  I could manage was to barely keep pace.  The only place where I felt strong-ish was on the climb at the back where I seem to have better than average pace. 

DaveM did well to hang on for as long as he did but bailed after about 10 laps having lost sight of the bunch some laps before.

I settled in but could tell that I was labouring.  I expected the pace to drop as it had in previous weeks but if anything the pace quickened.  I came out of the back at about 20 laps but decided to press on in case the pace dropped.  With what felt like a herculean effort I managed to get myself back onto the main bunch.  However, this was to be my final act of defiance – by lap 25 I’d had my chips as my whole body gave out on the climb.  I coasted back to the start/finish line and packed.

So, my first DNF.  This was a bit disheartening.  Despite these races ‘only’ being for training, I do care where I finish.  And I certainly care that I finish at all although I’m not prepared to cruise round once I’ve been dropped getting in everyone else’s way!

There was a nasty looking crash on the fastest bend involving a few riders including cycling ‘royalty’ Matt Seaton.  Some poor chap had his posh Cervelo frame broken too.  Hearsay has it that the accident was caused by a backmarker which does not surprise me.  There seem to be a few riders that turn up and pay their tenner to get dropped after a couple of laps, then hang round and cause trouble – what’s not to understand of “stay right”?

Anyway, I shall not bore you with my excuses.  I rode hard – average speed was just over 39km/h and my average heart rate 176bpm which is about 95% of my max – the latter of which I also hit!

I felt de-hydrated during the race and had a headache after I finished.  So I should try and take or more fluids in the future I guess.  On the plus side my ‘cramping’ left calf didn’t  play up during the ride so that was something.

Next week will be better… :-)

Majorca

I was on holiday in Majorca last week in a lovely villa just on the outskirts of Pollenca. 

It was fantastic as I managed to combine an excellent family holiday – with Rach’s two brothers, respective wives and niece – with some great cycling.

Mindful of preventing the cycling compromising the holiday for others and of the midday sun this involved getting up early in the morning and trying to hit the road by 06:15.  I managed 4 rides.

Ride

Time

Length

Climb

Day 1

4hr35

127km

1,840m

Day 2

3hr35

107km

1,125m

Day 3

5hr22

132km

3,020m

Day 4

4hr20

102km

2,612m

Total

17hr52

468km

8,597m

Without doubt this was some of the best cycling I’ve done.  The terrain was sufficiently challenging, the roads really quiet and some of the scenery just stunning.

On the fourth day I found the Sa Calobra climb which this photo only does partial justice.

It’s a 10km climb with an average of nearly 8% gradient.  Far too good to do only once so I did it a couple of times.  There was almost no traffic and just a couple of cyclists on the road so both the descents and ascents were terrific fun.  Surely one of the best climbs in Europe? 

There were plenty of other climbs including another corker over near Soller which had 30 switchbacks – eat your heart out Alpe D’Huez.  Well, sort of – it had nowhere near the ascent but you know what I mean. 

Majorca even has it’s own scaled down version of Mont Ventoux, Piug de Randa, which you can see for miles around.  If even has it’s own weather station at the top and tremendous views of the surrounding landscape.

I’ll definitely  be heading back there at some stage, probably for a Spring training session.  I can’t think of anywhere better.