I'm not a rider well known for my climbing ability, however never one to say no to a challenge I signed myself up to La Marmotte Gran Fondo sportive. It's a ride of 175km and taking in 5000m plus of climbing and has been described as one of the toughest sportive's you can take on. It takes in the Col du Glandon (1924m), Col du Telegraph (1566m), Col du Galbier (2642m) and finishes at the top of Alpe D' Huez.
I'm not unfamiliar with riding in the mountains having visited the French alps twice before as part of the Tri La Tania women's training camps. I always loved being in the mountains and being part of such a supportive group of women with great coaching too. Having been on these training camps this prepared me to a certain extent of what to expect but also with being confident on the descents and aware of what to expect when riding in alpine conditions. I have several friends from these camps that had ridden La Marmotte and so they sent me out to France equipped with great advice and tips. I felt inspired, if they could do it then so could I!
I drove out with my partner Carl, who has competed in La Marmotte three times previously. The last time coming an impressive 88th out of around 7500 competitors. The weather on our arrival was a crippling 40 degrees plus and when going out for a ride on the first day I struggled massively in the heat. Despite doing everything correctly, drinking as much as possible and keeping up energy levels with correct nutrition I totally wilted. My body just couldn't handle the temperatures and I couldn't physically drink enough to stay hydrated. A combination of me not being great at coping in hot climates, having not yet acclimatised along with the altitude all left me feeling concerned for how I was possibly going to survive the week.
Somehow I got more used to it and it also cooled down to a very slightly more reasonable 30 degrees towards the end of the week! By getting out during the early morning, I got in a few rides and supported Carl in some of the other rides he was going that week (another brutal mountain sportive, a 30km mountain loop TT and the Alpe D'Huez TT). We were based at Alpe D'Huez which is already at 5500ft altitude, the scenery is stunning and the place and surrounding area really has a real buzz of cyclists!Guide: How to train for your first sportive
Come race day I was feeling as prepared as I could for what was to come. I'm not unfamiliar with challenging rides or the distance, or even much longer but on this ride the test really is the elevation. It's a mental battle as much as a physical one and I was well aware that for a rider like myself it was going to be a long day in the saddle. There were feed zones dotted along the way, but as I always do on any of these rides I carry a lot of my nutrition with me and so I left the house with jersey pockets stuffed with food, electrolyte tabs, energy powders, gels, bars, a light windproof waterproof, my phone and cash. Amazing how much you can fit in your pockets when needed!
The atmosphere descending Alpe D'Huez to the start in Boug D'Oisan felt tense. No one talking, everyone just riding down the mountain to the start, there didn't seem to be many women at all but lots of very lean men and I really started to think my goodness what have I taken on. It was an excited feeling though and nerves are always good.
It was a fast start for ten miles to the start of the Col du Glandon, flat roads and in a big bunch meant I was well in my comfort zone but this wasn't going to be lasting for long as in no time we were on the climb. I rode to my own pace, kept it steady slowly climbing up through the woodland. The Glandon is a lovely climb but the descent is very twitchy and even as a confident descender I didn't enjoy this at all. As it can be slightly dangerous this isn't a timed descent and so the timing chip restarts when you're at the bottom. The Col du Telegraph and this is where it started to feel grippy, I was getting hotter and hotter on each switchback but kept up the hydration and nutrition and kept tapping away.
Onto the Galibier, I went through so many different feelings on this climb, from feeling OK to feeling very not OK, to thinking 'yes! I'm doing this' to then thinking 'I can't do this'. This is where it turned into a game of mental strength as the climb continued and got steeper and the lack of air at 2600m+ altitude. There were starting to be some very tired bodies on the road, myself included. Yet again, somehow I made it to the top, refuelled and was ready for the descent. The top was terrifying with the road dropping off at both sides, twisting and turning and with windy gusts but soon I was feeling confident and over taking people and that was one amazing descent. Finally in my head I picked up again and knew I would complete this ride, but still had the Alpe D'Huez to get myself up!
Now this was one long climb and there were bodies everywhere on the final road. Carl rode down the mountain to ride back up with me (top domestique!) and actually I'm not even quite sure how I made it up, I was riding on empty but no way was I giving up now! I cannot tell you the relief to make the final turn into the finish and the feeling when I finished. It felt emotional to have dug so deep and finally made it. What an epic day, what a long day but what an achievement and I'm proud to have finished a truly tough ride. I told myself never again, but I'm already planning next years trip and home to take some of my LFCC women's team mates out to join me.
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I have been cycling for around three years now, I started as I wanted to build some fitness for a charity challenge I was taking part in.
It all started on an old bike found in my parents garage that had seen better days, but short 10 and 12 mile routes gradually became longer and in six months I had ridden my first century, I remember feeling so proud! Things have moved on since and I now train for racing and time trialling. I was pleased to gain my 2nd category road race license last year and gain time trialling personal bests at 10 and 25 mile distances. I also rode my first 50 mile time trial. This year I plan on riding the Tour of Cambridge for the second time as well as taking part in the Ride London 100 mile event. I loved the Tour of Cambridgeshire and so am looking forward to giving it another good go!
I'm passionate about women's cycling and encouraging more women to have a go at racing and competitive events. We have a great team of women competing in my club Leicester Forest Cycling Club in a number of disciplines which is great to see and be part of, and I love sharing stories of your everyday riders and their achievements on my blog. Most importantly I just love riding my bike, seeing the countryside, trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle, being the best I can be and enjoying it along the way.
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