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Lesley Scally

Memoires of La Marmotte - 4th July 2009

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Over the past few years, having done a number of UK Sportives such as the Bealach na Ba and the Fred Whitton, I wanted to set myself a bigger challenge in sunnier climates so thought it would be a "good idea" :lol: to enter the daddy of all Sportives - La Marmotte in France. I knew this was one of the most difficult, if not the most difficult Sportive but if you're going to do a challenge then why make it easy for yourself - right? I had ventured up all of the Cols the Marmotte had to offer on previous cycling holidays so did have some idea of what I was letting myself in for, but had not done them all in the one day before!


The Preparation


About 6 weeks before heading out to France, I squeezed in a couple of weekends cycle touring : wkend1 (Sat/Sun) - 2x100 mile runs, wkend2 (Fri/Sat/Sun/Mon) - 3x100 miles + 1x120 miles, followed by the 100 mile JWCC run organized by Dennis just to make sure that I would be comfortable with the 109 miles of the Marmotte. I then headed out to France 2 weeks before the event to search for my climbing legs ;-) . Equipped with my new light weight Zipp 202s and a 34x28 (which I was saving for use on the big day) I felt like Mrs Sastre preparing for the Alpes – if only I had legs like Mr Sastre!!


First port of call on the Scally Training Camp was Annecy where we spent 3 days exploring the area and taking in a couple of small Cols to loosen the legs after travelling and then finished with an 85 mile run which took in the Col de la Colombiere at 1618 meters (stage 17 of this year's Tour de France goes up this Col). It was 4k from the top of this Col that the stark reality of the Marmotte hit home as I struggled my way to the top and realised that I may in fact have bitten off more than I could chew - how did I ever think I could complete the Marmotte when I was finding it hard to get to the top of just one Col!! :cry: I was starting to have serious doubts, but I was soon reminded by Donald of the bottle of wine and numerous Long Island Ice-Teas I had devoured the night before and that we still had plenty of time to get more climbs in before the big day. So with his words of reassurance, I decided to try and put it to the back of my mind and just enjoy my holiday – without the Long Island Ice-Teas :oops: .


After our time in Annecy, Donald wanted to head further south and take in the splendours of the Mount Ventoux, so we drove to a town called Orange about 40k from the foot of the climb and stayed there for a few days. I decided to test drive my Zipp 202s and make sure they were fit for the job, but climbing the 1909 meters of the Mount Ventoux in 32 degree heat was bloody hard work, despite the lower gear ratio and lighter wheels - the fact that the first 10k of this climb was about 10% might have had something to do with it :shock: . I had to stop after the first 10k of climbing for a rest otherwise I would simply have fallen over with heat exhaustion. My fears and apprehensions about the Marmotte began to rapidly re-enter my mind as I couldn’t blame it on the cocktails this time. After a few more days cycling in Orange, we headed to the Ardeche for a few days and cycled around there for a while. For those of you that have not been there before, it's a lovely area for cycling and still has plenty of climbs to challenge you without the severity of the Alpes. From the Ardeche we started to make our way to the mountains of Briancon taking in the Col d'Izoard (2360 meters) and then settled in Bourg D'Oisans to get ready for the Marmotte, doing only a few small runs including the Col d'Ornon (1371 meters).


A couple of days before the event we literally bumped into Campbell Hutcheson as we stepped out of our hotel. Campbell was also in France to do the Marmotte as well as the Etape. We chatted for a while and Campbell, now a seasoned Etape rider, shared his experiences and provided good advice on how to “surviveâ€.


The day before the event I was a nervous wreck. I had to keep reminding myself that no-one was making me do this but myself so what’s the problem!! It wasn’t so much fear of climbing the massive Cols, although hitting Alpe d’huez after 100 miles was playing on my mind somewhat, but it was the thought of the descents that were freaking me out – all those people, going too fast, cutting corners, carnage at the side of the road! Would I come out of it alive? To relax, I spent the day sitting about town while Donald spent the rest of our holiday fund on Look cycling kit to match his bike :roll: , not that it was likely to make him go any faster as he was under strict orders to be my domestic for the event! ;-) – well at least he would look the part if nothing else. Sitting about the town didn’t ease my nerves as all these fit professional looking cyclists were parading about with their top end race machines and lean muscular legs (not that I was looking of course) making me once again doubt my participation in the event – only 2.8% of the participants were female.


The Big Day

It was an early rise at 5.30 am for breakfast at 6.00 am. Croissants and jam butties devoured, we stepped outside to watch the first wave of 2000 riders receive a warm send off at 7.00 am to the tunes of a local French band, followed by another 2000 leaving at 7.20 am (including Campbell). We were due to depart at 7.50 am in the last wave of 3500 riders.


The location of our hotel meant we were able to start near the front and get away smoothly. It was a brisk start with speeds quickly picking up to 40-45 kph but it wasn’t difficult due to the big group we were in and the calm morning. As soon as we hit the first incline, I settled into a steady pace keeping the heart rate at a sensible level, which was my plan for the whole event. The Col du Glandon (1924 meters) was a steady climb with a massive field of riders stretching as far as the eye could see to the front and back. I’ve never ridden with so many people round about me, it almost made the Bealach seem like a club run. Over the top, we opted not to stop at the first feed station and started on the descent. My nerves started to pick up especially upon seeing medics attending to some riders at the side of the road near the start of the descent, but thankfully I managed to get down safely without any concerns which gave me some confidence to tackle the next descents.


Along the valley floor, the temperature and pace quickly rose as groups of riders formed, eager to get to the next climb. At this point I sent Donald to the front of the bunch we were in to make sure there were no surprise attacks before the Col du Telegraphe ;-) (1570 meters) . At the bottom of the Telegraphe we stopped for a moment to refill our water bottles as the temperature was now well into the 30s 8-) . We set off again maintaining the same steady pace, noticing a few people hiding under the shade of trees who already seemed to be suffering from the heat, either that, they’d set off too quickly. We also passed a guy with one leg and one and a half arms – amazing! Within a few kilometres our bottles were getting low and I sent Donald back to the team car for a refill :lol: (it was actually a water station half way up the Telegraphe but that spoils the image). Over the Telegraphe and a short descent (3km and 140m in height lost) to the bottom of the Col du Galibier (2646 meters). By this time we’d been riding for just over 5 hrs, consuming only a banana, a couple of gels and a cereal bar, so 2k into the climb of the Galibier we decided to stop at the second feed station for a quick bite to eat, take a comfort break and fill up the bottles. Here we spotted a couple of Scotland jerseys and discovered it was a crowd from the Edinburgh Road Club who’d also come over for the Marmotte. We stopped for about 15-20 minutes and then headed off again before our legs seized up. By this time there was not the same cluster of bodies that we had experienced on the Glandon but more a steady string of riders wynding their way slowly up the climb. The pace was noticeably slower as many appeared to now be feeling the strain. The Galibier was certainly the longer of the Cols so again I opted to climb this at the same steady pace, although the darkening cloud and cracks of thunder above us did exert a little spring in the pedals and a slight quickening of pace. I actually really enjoyed the Galibier despite it being more difficult because the views were amazing especially the way the road double backed on itself and you could look down at the riders below. Upon reaching the top we didn’t hang about as the sky was getting pretty black behind us so carried on down the descent of the Galibier and the Col du Lautaret into Bourg d’Oisans, consuming another couple of gels just to make sure we had enough energy left to see us up the last 14k of Alpe d’huez before crossing the finish line.


We hit the bottom of Alpe d’huez after about 8 and a half hours riding and the temperature was 32 degrees. The first few hairpins were really hard work :angryfire and I couldn’t believe the number of riders sitting at the side of the road with their heads in their hands, slumped over their bikes, walking and resting in the shade of the trees. I was determined to keep plugging away and get there without stopping as I knew if I did stop, I wouldn’t get started again. The support of the spectators was amazing and I was so grateful for the cups of cold water that got poured down my back and over my head and for the shouts of encouragement “Allez Lady†and “Girl Powerâ€. As we came to the last few hairpins the number of spectators increased and as we entered the village the barriers were out and the crowds were clapping and cheering. Suddenly the legs felt energetic again as I knew we were finally getting close to end. I rolled over the finish line in 9 hrs and 58 minutes which meant I got a Gold standard Oh ya dancer ! . What a feeling. I’d done it and I was still in one piece. Out of the 7500 entrants, 5289 completed the event and I managed to come 53rd out of 152 female finishers so I was well chuffed considering I was aiming just to be able to get round it.


In all, it was an awesome experience and one I’ll never forget. To see so many cyclists together doing what they love best and despite witnessing so many screwed up faces, grimacing and signs of sheer exhaustion, one thing you could be sure of at the end of the day, once the pain had been dulled by a few glasses of vin rouge, they were all thinking “that was great†Hello, beer !! .


Here's a link to some photos my domestic took :grin: : http://picasaweb.google.co.uk/lscally1


x Lesley


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Well done Lesley Oh ya dancer !

Great achievement and a really good report.

Congrats also to Donald aka Domestique aka cameraman


Hope the Long Island Ice-Teas went down well :grin:

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Well done Lesley Hello, beer !!

Superb result and fantastic account of the whole event. Along with the photos, you get a real flavour of this; the daddy of all sportives. I almost feel I rode it myself - although I doubt I'd reach the Gold Standard if I did!


Congratulations to you and Donald.



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Guest EPCC

Well Done


How bad was Ventoux as we are hitting it in September for Firefighters charity, tell Donald he can come if he wants to go to France with L&Bs finest for a week.

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What a fantastic report of an amazing event. I can't imagine riding among 7500 riders; or riding up all these cols in one day; in that heat.


Your preparation was spot on (especially the Peebles bit ;-) ) and it sounds as though many people didn't do that properly. Great pics too, but where was the domestique? Hope he wasn't one of the guys at the side of the road... :shock:


Well done both!



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Hi Lesley,


That was an awesome report! Its been while since ive been in the alps but after reading that im twitching to go over next year.

All those hard training iles have paid off - what a result.


Let Donald know im asking for him.


All the best,



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