Following on from my previous blog I arrived at Alpe d’Huez last week to take part in the infamous Marmotte (175km of toil over four mountains, climbing a total of 5000 metres) but also with half an idea of attacking my ‘PB’ for the climb of Alpe d’Huez. I’d packed the best wheels but I’d been out of sorts for a few weeks, consumed by the troubles of life, so neither my head nor body were really in the right pace for a committed 100% effort. There was the option to ride the official ‘La Grimpee de l’Alpe’ time trial the following morning but after 14 hours in the car the thought of a 6 am alarm call was too much, so if I was to have a crack I would have to do it solo later in the day.
Waking on Friday the legs were stiff, and one half of me said “No, not a chance, go back to bed!” The other half though, that said “Wait a minute” you’re here, you’re in Alpe d’Huez, I don’t care if you’re not 100%, you MUST sieze the bloody day!” After all, the weather was good, I had my best wheels and it was nearly 48 hours until the Marmotte, which is plenty of time to recover from an hour on the rivet right? So the decision was made, I slapped myself round the face and shouted “Let’s DO THIS!”
I drove to the base, parked up outside the Casino supermarket, knocked out a 25 min warm up (which wasn’t long enough), swapped in the race wheels, gulped down a caffeine gel and then I was ready. Once I leave the roundabout on the bypass and head to the base I imagine I’m an airliner throttling back on the runway. Once the engines start there is no turning back, no changing the mind, once the legs are turning they are committed, from now on the clock is ticking, Strava is watching and I must focus and execute to the best of my ability.
After some advice from Veloviewer’s Ben Lowe I held back on my effort over the first half. He rides with power so can gauge his output precisely, I however rely purely on feel, no watts, no heart rate, just by listening to my breathing and managing the discomfort in my legs and lungs. Having ridden the climb so many times I know which gear I should be in depending on the pitch of the slope, and I know how fast I should be spinning it.
Once I reached the village of Huez at about two thirds distance it’s here I opened the tanks up a bit more and really started to hurt. The further I climbed the more I pushed, and between bend three and bend two put in an almighty effort then tried to hold this intensity all the way to the line. The final stretch was interminable, the finish lies just over the brow between the huddle of cafe’s and gift shops and my contorted face must have delighted the shoppers as I lunged for the permanently painted line across the road.
I’d done it, it was over, job done for another year, but the moment I stopped my legs screamed. I don’t ride time trials anymore, I haven’t raced since winter track league so my body is just not used to efforts like this and every inch of my legs were in agony. I turned round right away, to roll back down to the base to spin the pain out, but it got worse. I had really hurt them this time. At the bottom I hobbled into town, struggled into a chemist to get some ibuprofen then ordered a large glass of red with lunch to help with the discomfort. I know I like to moan but I seem to have done real damage this time. I was now in real danger of not riding the Marmotte which was the reason I was here in the first place. I bought ice, went back to the hotel and spent the rest of the day doing intensive massage, resting and stretching, oh and I uploaded my effort onto Strava.
Had it been worth it? Had it? YES. A MASSIVE yes. I’d shaved, chopped, hacked even, 1 minute 14 seconds from my PB. For the past five years I have hovered around the 51 minute mark but this year I had demolished it and for the first time dropped under the 50 minute barrier. I was ecstatic, I could hardly believe it. Sensations on the climb were not brilliant, I knew I was close to a PB, but to take a minute 14 off, reducing it to 49.45, that was just brilliant. Job done, I was a very happy, yet very sore rider.
To sum up, you might feel the cr*p, you may assume you're unfit and try and talk yourself out of it but you can only be what you are on the day and if you find yourself in the situation where you can go for a goal then go for it, you may surprise yourself.
Next time I will tell you about my love affair with The Marmotte.