June 12, 2013

La Marmotte Tips from the Top (Parts 1-6)....

A Comprehensive Guide to Successfully Completing La Marmotte by....Peter Robinson, Gold Medal finisher and Personal Coach to Team Dave!


14:00 - 19:00 partners village and animations
14:00 - 19:00 PICK UP OF RACE NUMBERS 

10:00 - 19:00 partners village and animations
10:00 - 19:00 PICK UP OF RACE NUMBERS 

06/07/2013 BOURG D OISANS
06:00 - 07:00 PICK UP OF RACE NUMBERS 
06:00 - 07:00 START CHECK IN 
07:00 Start 1-1999
07:30 Start 2000-3999
07:50 Start 4000 +

10:00 - 19:00 partners village and animations
12:00 Pasta party start
15:00 awards ceremony
18:15 Closing of the race at Bourg d Oisans

Gold (Or) and Silver (Argent) Medal times:

A (18-34)
AB (35-49)
B (50 et +)
C (18-29)
D (30-39)
E (40-49)
F (50-59)
G1 (60-66)

The Marmotte – getting there and where to stay (Part 1)

So you’ve entered and been given your entry number and have marked the July date in your diary. So how do you get there and where can you stay –

Travel options –
Alpe d'Huez finishing section -
21 hairpins, average 7.9% gradient
By air – forget Grenoble flights to Grenoble stop in April along with the ski season – other airports to consider are Lyon or Torino – for both there is a good drive at the end of your journey and you will need to hire a car (big enough for your bikes) Airlines will charge for your bike and you will also have to consider what to do with the bike bag when you arrive.
A number of companies offer bike transport from London. You can collect your bike at Bourg D’Oisans or Alpe D’Huez.

By train – train to London, then Eurostar to Paris then across Paris to catch the train to Grenoble – For ease you can catch a train at Milton Keynes (about 6 o’clock) get an early Eurostar and be in Grenoble by 4. Again you’ll need to hire a car as Bourg D’Oisans is about 45 minutes away or a two hour bike ride!!! This is my preferred way to travel – very easy – you can relax and have breakfast on the Eurostar, the only bad bit is you have to carry your bike across Paris on the Metro. You can get a seat and watch France pass you by as you head South. And you arrive late afternoon which means you can sign on Thursday evening (see later note on the start)
By car – drive to Ashford and use the tunnel then drive – stay to the East of Paris and it is just a long drive – if you have the time you could split the journey into two days but don’t forget you also have to do this in return on Sunday and Monday. I have done this twice – once in a Citreon C3. We left Banbury at 5 and with hardly any stops of any significance sharing the driving arrived at Bourg D’Oisan at 11 o’clock. The only advantage is that you have your own car.

In terms of cost, train is slightly cheaper and is the quickest, it is also the most relaxed.

Where to stay –

This depends what you want – the atmosphere in Alpe D’Huez is great as is Bourg D’oisans, however think about the following –
Alpe D’Huez – a non-descript ski resort – accommodation  is plentiful and varied however – mind where you keep your bike – when I stayed here I kept it in my room – the ski lockers aren’t safe and it is not uncommon for a bike or two to go on a walk – your worst nightmare at 6 o’clock in the morning on the day of the ride!! Also if you stay on the Alpe you have to go up and down it if you want to go on a ride, it can affect some people as it is at altitude and you have to ride down the mountain in the dark at 6 in the morning to the start – personally I hate the place and would never stay there. It is also noisy at night. Great on the Saturday not on the Friday!!

Bourg D’Oisans – a great little town lots of chalets and accommodation but they all get booked up quickly. There are camping sites but you have to book for a week. Easy access to start and loads of facilities. Well worth considering – there are also some chalets/lodges on the first few corners of the Alpe which are good – if you have a good size group then you could book a whole lodge – they often do food as well – really worth considering – stayed on the second corner one year and got back, showered and changed to sit and watch the tour prologue – a prefect day.
Grenoble – this is my preferred place to stay – okay it is 45 minutes from the start but it works – there is an excellent Camponile – offers simple accommodation, it is quiet the food is good, on the outskirts of town so you can go for a ride from here on the day before if you wish. If you come by train then you can be in your room by 5 in the afternoon.

When to arrive –
This will depend on how much time you’ve got – for me – travel on the Thursday – if you arrive by train you could even fit in a ride in the evening to stretch the legs. Travel on Friday what do you do if something goes wrong/ arrive earlier then there is a temptation to ride the mountains – don’t!!!

If you arrive on Thursday in good time you will be able to sign on for the Marmotte in the town – it’s normally in the bike shop in Bourg D’Oisan – saves going up the mountain. If you sign on, on Friday then you need to go to Alpe D’Huez.
If you arrive Thursday then you’ll have Friday free – some do’s and don’ts here – do go for a bike ride – but not too far and not up the Alpe – it will do two things – one it will do your legs no favours as you’ll be riding at a slow cadence and secondly it’ll play on your mind – and if you do ride the first two corners be assured this is the steepest section. If you are in Bourg then ride along the valley roads towards Grenoble or back towards Albertville. A useful ride is to ride out of Bourg and to the foot of the Glandon. Also good to ensure your bike is okay after the journey.

Should you have a problem with your bike there is a bike shop in Bourg that will fix anything – they work all night before the Marmotte if needs be so don’t worry – there are also two or three Mavic vans around as well.
When you’ve had a ride just chill out – avoid walking around too much, and drink plenty – eat what you want. Make sure you have everything ready for the ride – more of that in part 2.

And have an early night – tomorrow is the big day – but you won’t sleep well. 

Part 2 – The start

Friday day – if you arrived yesterday then this is the day to get everything ready – if you didn’t sign on in Bourg on Thursday night then you will have to go to Alpe d’Huez to collect your race info – electronic tag and number – signing on is very well organised – you will have been asked for a medical certificate from your doctor – they are asking for this in advance now but never have I had to declare it – they simply have to request this for insurance purposes – but best to have it too hand just in case.
If you are staying in Bourg or further afield you can use the lockers at the sports palais to store some clothing i.e gilet or long sleeve top and flip flops for after the ride on Saturday – just don’t forget your key!!

I normally get up leisurely on Friday have a good breakfast and then ride for an hour and a half. If in Bourg ride along the valley floor – but avoid the mountains, they are for tomorrow, if you are staying in Alpe D’Huez you really don’t want to have to ride back up it at the end of your ride – trust me you don’t

Relax in the afternoon, sign on in the afternoon and find somewhere to eat fairly early, restaurants get very busy.
Friday night – have everything ready – bike checked – tyres pumped up – although I always do them in the morning – kit laid out – bag packed if travelling to start, I’ll cover equipment and clothing in a later post – prepare bottles and set out food for breakfast and for the ride.

I always have a spare old bottle that I carry to the start so I can drink while waiting but still have two full bottles to start. Put your electronic device on and your number on in advance.
If you are in Bourg then you can have everything ready and you just need to hop on your bike – if on the Alpe then you can have everything ready but allow time to descend – it will be dusk at best and you won’t want to take lights so be careful the bends can also be greasy at that time of day. I would wrap up for the descent, gilet and arm warmers are a must – if you take these for the descent, you don’t want to carry them with you – two options, push them between some railings and collect afterwards – yes they  will be there or use kit that has seen better days and you can afford to lose. I have actually worn arm warmers to start the ride before and then discarded them at the bottom on the Glandon – it is actually a rather funny sight – as there are armwarmers dotted along the route from the start to the Glandon. If driving to the start parking is easy up until about 6.30 – my advice is to decide where you are going to park on Friday – this saves having to worry on Saturday. The road from Grenoble is closed at 6.00 so if coming in that direction beware.

Saturday – you’ll need to be up early, those starting at 7 should be in town by 6 at the latest – the elite riders will start at 7 and the first thousand off 5 minutes later – don’t panic about being at the front of the group you are off in – in fact there is a benefit in not being – your time doesn’t start until you go over the matting – if you are delayed no problem you just join the later group but try and avoid this starting late is not good and costs you time.

So to get to the start – it is not well signed – you need to take a turning by the river which leads you through back streets to the line of riders – join your group – and wait – there is an eerie silence, as people prepare for the day ahead – a certain nervousness – try and avoid staying sat on your bike while waiting – sit to the side of the top tube – or sit on the pavement edge if there is enough room – a hum of many languages pervade the air – with the backdrop of the local brass band. Well-wishers, friends, partners and the intrigued gather in the streets – the sun will hopefully glint over the granite mass to the south – at 7 the elite riders leave – 400 selected for their previous results in their respective categories – some of these will complete the ride in 6 hours.

Five to ten minutes later, there is the sound of feet stepping into pedals, that distinct click, and gently the mass moves forward – past the barriers, the band and over the mat, a shout in the crowd offering encouragement. And you are away – your ride has commenced. The road out of Bourg is flat, a few pieces of road furniture to avoid, mainly central sections, over a roundabout – the road is gently downhill, this section of road is closed to oncoming traffic so use the whole road – ride at your own pace – but if you are fit then jump onto a train, most easily spotted by a group of riders in the same kit or a strong rider pulling a string along – but whatever your speed sit on wheels – don’t waste any energy and concentrate – this part is the most hectic and chaotic sector – you can easily be doing 30MPH in a good group – after 7 kms you turn right, the road narrows and is open to on-coming traffic – generally there are few cars coming in the opposite direction but be careful – after another 4 kilometres you reach the first incline of the day – the climb up to Lake Vaujany – this is just three hairpins with long straights taking you up the reservoir wall – about 1km in length in a normal ride you would power up it in 53 x 19, but save your legs and cruise up it – there is then a few kilometres around the lake – for an odd reason you can often end up on your own on this section but don’t worry it is only short and the real ride is just about to commence………

Part 3 – The Glandon to Saint-Martin d’Arc (foot of the Telegraphe)

So now it gets serious, you reach the foot of the Glandon a first Category climb in the tour – 24 kms long the average gradient is only 4.8% but this is due to two small descents – total height climbed 1152 m.
You may have been alone riding around the lake but you are immediately confronted as you turn around a small outcrop of rock by a wall of riders and road – the climb is not steep to begin with but you will need to use the small ring – for most this will be 34 (more about gearing later) the road climbs through a heavily wooded area – there is silence except for heavy breathing and the odd creak of a bike – try and find a comfortable rhythm you will be climbing for at least an hour if not more. Stay relaxed – sit and pedal – go at your own pace and don’t go to a level you can’t maintain.
After 7 kms the road eases as you pass through a small village – the road is flat for 2km – you can easily slip into the big ring and recover – there then follows a short descent – fast and technical – be ready when you reach the bottom the road turns sharply to the left  and kicks up for the next kilometre or so, the gradient is 10% plus – twiddle up it – once over this the upper valley opens up – the sun will be shining on the peaks above – you will see a glistening on the horizon, this is the line of cars leading up to the Croix de Fer and Glandon – don’t get too excited it is still a long way – the road hairpins up at a steady gradients and eases as it passes a reservoir to the right – you are in the sun now but it may well be before 9 in the morning – and already warm. The road flattens as you pass snow huts built for those trapped on the mountain in storms and shepherds tending their flock, the road opens out and descends gently before climbing again to the junction of the Glandon and the Croix de Fer – you turn sharp left past the cafĂ© – a great stop when on a normal ride – this isn’t normal!!
500 metres to the top – be careful, keep to the right as there will be organised groups handing up bottles and bidons on the left – watch for erratic riding. Over the timing mat and at the summit is the first feed – if you are looking for a sub 8 hour ride then you will go over the top in about 1 hour 40 minutes – a 10 hour ride will see you through in around 2 hours 20 minutes.
The feeding station is well equipped with water, menthe, and food, - I will talk about food in another part. If you are a later starter or riding 10hours plus the feed station is chaotic – if it is your first Marmotte then I would recommend you feed and fill up bottles. If however you are experienced and have over half a bottle and some food in your pocket left then go straight through the feed – my reasoning for this is twofold – if you are in a good group then don’t let them go – they can be your ticket to a fast time. Secondly you need to feed correctly and this might not be the right time – if you are lucky enough to have help then get them to pass a bottle or two up on the drag up to the summit.
Now the next important point – once you go over the timing mat at the top the clock stops and only starts again at the foot of the Glandon – this is for safety reasons as the descent is very technical and dangerous, you get two times at the finish the actual time and then the time less the descent of the Glandon – I still judge by overall time – but results are published on adjusted times.
So onto the descent – it is steep and technical at the top – be careful – you will be tired from climbing and allow yourself to adjust to the speed of going downhill – the bends are tight – and can be slippery – if you find a good descender follow their line – the valley opens out and the descent becomes less steep and the bends sweep – the bottom section is real fun – into St Etienne De Cuines – mind the speed humps – turn right and you reach the bottom timing mat – there is a water stop before the mat and also a good opportunity for a pee if you need one.
You leave the village and go onto the valley road which soon joins a bigger road – this next section is the most sole destroying part of the ride – it is a main road that drags first touching one side of the valley then sweeping to the other – with the necessity to climb over the river or railway on each occasions – you will pass the town of St Jean Du Maurienne – the whole valley appears industrial – mind the odd railway line – pretty much all disused but still exposed for a tyre to slip into.
There is a secret to riding this section – which saves huge time and energy – you need to get in a group – they will drag you along, don’t worry you will soon find yourself in one as a group will form behind you and catch you or you will be in a line that then catches others – it is not uncommon to be in a group of 100+ - you can cruise along to the foot of the Telegraphe – but once in the group do two things – stay near the front in case it splits and secondly don’t go on the front of the group – let the Belgium and Dutch do this, they’re much better than us at this type of riding.
And so you enter Saint Martin D’Arc – a small town – as you enter there is a small water station on the left – ignore this it is generally chaotic – there is an alternative coming shortly – into the town and turn right over the river and you will see a main road ahead (the one you have just left) just before you go underneath this there are three water hydrants – fill your bottles here and get ready for what comes next. It is beautiful fresh mountain water – a treat for the pain ahead!!!

Step 4 – The only way is up!!!

Bottles filled, you should have taken on a couple of gels during your journey down the valley and possibly a snack – under the road bridge and up – through the village, alpine style houses adorn the roadside – once again be careful – organised parties feed on this section – there is a sign on the right shortly after you start climbing which says Galibier 30kms – and guess what short of a 4km descent it is all uphill!!!
The Telegraphe and Galibier are just one super climb – the former a 1st category mountain the latter a super category – a mystical mountain in many ways – but more of that to come. I hate the Telegraphe – it is the easiest of the four mountains but because your legs are a little stiff from the Glandon and dulled by the valley road then it can seem difficult to climb – I have ridden it having not climbed the Glandon or the valley road and it is a climb which you can cruise up. If you can get to the bottom in good shape then it is comfortable.
The road soon leaves the village and goes into a wooded area – the road twists backwards and forwards, any steep section is short but sweet, before long you will see openings in the trees and you will be amazed as you look to the valley below and sight the town you have just left, how quickly you have climbed.  The road continues – the art to climbing this mountain is using your gears effectively and maintaining a steady cadence – before you arrive in France work out what suits you best – high cadence and smaller gear or bigger gear and grind – two useful climbs to try this on are the main road out of Long Compton – and the main road out of Broadway -  Long Compton can be ridden to the top or carry on down the other side and up the next hill to the roundabout – try it in a bigger gear – but remember you will have to ride at that level for a lot longer for the Marmotte – and then in a lower gear at a higher cadence – how do you feel after each climb – which felt most comfortable. Try one time climbing in the big gear and then repeat in the lower gear and then do it the other way around on another day – record how you feel and the times – you may be surprised!! You can easily fit it into a longer ride but do the same ride both times.
So back to the Telegraphe – don’t forget you have the monster that is the Galibier ahead so hold something back – you will be climbing for at least two hours – drink well on the climb – you reach the summit still in the trees – there is a water station on your right – it is chaos – only fill up if you are empty, you then begin to descend – into the town of Valloire – just imagine living here and being a cyclist – option one is to ride the Telegraphe on the way home and option two is to ride the Galibier on the way out!!! The descent to Valloire is short and easy – sweeping bends and fast – over the timing mat by the chemists which has a temperature sign outside – don’t be put off if it reads 35 degrees plus!!! And that could be before eleven if you are on a ride – pass through the town and up again – a gentle gradient – a big ring slope – the start of the Galibier.
The Galibier – not just any climb – it stands 2,642 metres high – only the Bonette and Iseran are higher peaks in France – it is high. Tour de France founder Henri Desgrange saw it as the ultimate mountain, his dream to simply have one finisher in Paris – the original route over the Galibier was used for smuggling, it then became the focus for botanists, in 1911 it was nothing but a track – you are blessed to have tarmac. There is no permanent resident above Bonnenuit some 12kms from the summit. Emile Georget was the first tour rider over the summit in 2 hours 38 minutes – worth noting that time as you leave St Michel!!! He maintained his humour all the way to the top commenting that if there was a tunnel why was it 1 kilometre from the top and why not at the foot of the mountain? Even today’s Tour Peleton see the northern ascent as too severe to actually launch an attack on – attack early and you will blow before the summit, attack late and you will be swept up on the descent.  Climbed 59 times to date in the tour, cast your mind back to 1952 and the moment Bartali passed his bottle to Coppi or did Fausto pass it to Gino?
Coming out of town the feed station is a good two kilometres up the road so don’t panic and think you’ve missed it – it is a well-stocked feed and I always eat some bread here and stuff some dried fruit (apricots, raisins, and jelly sweets in my pocket – and then set off with two full bottles – the road is initially wide and a gentle climb – but before long crosses a bridge and kicks hard for a short period which takes you up to the upper valley floor – you are riding on the side of the valley – continually climbing – you can get into a good rhythm, as for the next 30 minutes you are at the same gradient – a mass of scree to your right – below mountain rescue huts – cows in the field to your left, their bells chiming  - sounds like ‘Ski Sunday’ – the landscape is awesome you are in the heart of the Alps – the surroundings unforgiving – ahead are massive peaks – don’t worry you don’t have to go over them – well not quite anyway!!!
Pass a small bar on the left, and look to the right – you will see something shining all the way up the hill opposite, this you will be pleased to know is where you are heading – around a very sharp bend* and now you are on the mountain proper – the next 10 kilometres are hell – they are steep, baron, and grey – oh and horrible – average gradient it about 11% steeper in parts – I haven’t mentioned before but don’t think about riding in a group you can’t unless you are perfectly matched or are incredibly fit riding a sub 7 hour ride – if you have ridden with a group to this point, this is where it will split  - the key to the next 40 plus minutes is survival, you are riding at altitude, you must not enter the red zone – no matter what because you simply won’t recover.
First the road zig zags – then climbs around the mountain – look below and you will see where you have come from far below – there is no vegetation now just grey rock, you pass another small bar and then begin the final section of the climb, you will soon see the summit high above you – there may be late snow on the road side and where it has melted there will be a mucky grey stream – remain vigilant the flint can be sharp and you don’t want a puncture.
It takes an eternity to reach the top, everything seems to be in slow motion – the road twists and turns, if you are using a heart rate monitor – ignore it at this stage – you are at altitude, there are factors influencing your performance that you won’t have taken into account – just ride at a pace you can maintain – but keep going.
Through a cutting of granite rock and up the final 14% slope to the summit – you can for the first time think I’m going to finish, be pleased – the worst is over……
*There is a water station on this bend if you need it.

Step 5 – Galibier Home - Alped'Huez

So rather I rather unkindly left you at the top of the Galibier, when I wrote last, this Saturday (18th May 2013) the Giro will ascend the mountain, in just over a month’s time it could be you. As a reminder to those watching see how the road kicks round a sharp bend, this is where it gets tough. Notice how the pros ride in a steady rhythm, it is not a mountain you can attack on.
Anyway you’ve reached the top and in front of you is a grand Smorgasbord of food, unless you have someone to pass up a bidon you should stop here, if you ride through then you have 30+ miles to the next feed and potential disaster. If you energy reserves are low at the foot of Alpe D’Huez you are in trouble.
Fill your bottles and then off you go – the early part of the descent is technical and often has nasty little streams of melting snow on the corners – you will descend quickly to the Col Du Lauteret – a much larger main road, swing right onto the fast smooth road – you will be descending for the next 25 miles. It’s not a steep descent and not that technical but it has its risks.
You’ll swoop through villages and into unlit tunnels – oh yes the tunnels, they vary in length, beware of the ones where you can’t see the other end but there is a set of headlights beaming at you – be strong stay to the right and don’t touch your brakes, the tunnels can be slippery.
You will without doubt end up in a group, stick to the wheel in front, you’ll have groups catching you and you’ll catch others as groups expand and contract, riders losing wheels and cars getting in the way – just keep your line and concentrate. You’re near the bottom when you cross over a river turning sharp left then immediately right, through a tunnel (I crashed here one year, when through tiredness I touched a wheel, but yet comforted by the fact that by the time I’d started to get up there was a motorbike escort protecting me from other road users, which then kindly towed me back into the group I was in before Alpe D’Huez – there can be no doubt that The Marmotte is a very well organised event)
After the tunnel you face a climb of about 1-2 kilometres – you can use this to your advantage – you will have become stiff having descended for 40 plus minutes, twiddle up here in a small gear to refresh tired limbs. Over the top and there is a short descent followed by a sharp right hander onto the long straight road back to Bourg D’Oisan. Don’t work along here just sit in.
As you enter Bourg D’Oisan you come to a roundabout, taking the first exit there is a feed station on the right, I’ve never used it, you should have eaten at the top of the Galibier, drunk well, and had some gels on the way down. If you’re low on liquid don’t panic as long as you have half a bottle then you’ll be fine. From the feed you soon enter a long straight and in front of you lie the ramps of the Alpe – over the timing mat, you’ve just done 100 miles, only 10 to go and 21 hairpins. In all probability you’ll start the climb in the heat of the afternoon – there is little shade. If you get here inside 7 and a half hours you are on for a Gold standard ride.
The first part of the climb is the steepest, it doesn’t matter how much you’ve trained and how much you’ve planned your ride, you are simply on your own in every sense. Just don’t try to hard early on because you’ll end up in a bad place, round the first corner and up again, the names of the greats of cycling adorn the road, hardly an inch left uncovered, you are at Mecca and I don’t means some doggy Northern Bingo Hall, some of the greatest battles in cycling have been played out on these slopes, Lemond and Hinault, Pantani, Beat Breu, Peter Winnen, Armstrong, etc, followed the earlier warriors. The bottom is steep, very steep at the second bend there is a water station, fill up here – I normally carry some Nuun tablets which I drop in the bottles – I also take a caffeine gel here as well and have dumped everything else from my pockets – and then onwards and upwards – the distance between the corners varies – this is really annoying and soul destroying. At each corner it states the distance to the top along with the name of a winner on the Alpe. (The Tour is Won on the Alpe by Jean Paul Vespini) is a great read about the history of the mountain. Every so often the valley opens up below you – you gain height quickly – just ride at your pace – well actually you don’t have a choice – the lower slopes look like a battle scene, I’ve seen riders asleep in bus shelters, one sat with his feet in the stream that runs by the road, another being sick – I still couldn’t work out what the rider going from one side of the road to the other was doing other than making it a damn sight worse. An incredibly fit young Italian who had apparently been in the lead group at the foot of the Alpe sat with his head in his hands weeping on corner three because he had blown and could not go on.
Make no mistake at best you’ll be climbing for just short of an hour – if you get inside 58 minutes let me know and if you go inside 38 then you must know Pantani’s doctor – in all probability you’ll climb for about an seventy minutes plus. Through D’Huez village and you start to see the ski station up to your right, not long now, and finally into Alpe D’Huez – through the village and between the barriers – enjoy the moment you’ve earned it.
When you finish it all feels a bit strange, chances are you’ll be with people you’ve never met before. Sit down have a drink and try to take it all in. If you’ve had a bump or graze there is an excellent temporary surgery to clean wounds and stitch you up. If you are meeting a non-rider at the top arrange in advance where – but not what time!! They should have some clothes for you – a gilet is a saviour – you may be hot but you are high up.
If you are staying in Alpe D’Huez then you could get changed and come back refreshed but there is a sense of sharing the moment by hanging around. You’ll have a ticket for a free meal, it’s okay if you are ravenous but certainly not high end cuisine.
Hand in your timing chip and collect your certificate – how did you do?
My final article will offer advice on equipment, clothing, planning the day and ten tips that can save you ten minutes on the ride.

The Marmotte – Tips and advice

You may be reading this as a first timer or having ridden the Marmotte previously but I hope that these little tips, learnt from having ridden it several times will help all of you – firstly for those who suddenly realise that it is only a few weeks away – don’t panic – cramming loads of miles in now is not going to help – if you are panicking then I suggest you look to get a good ride in each weekend up until the event and then throw in quicker hour rides in between – and accept that you need to ride steady on the day.
So for some advice -


1. Wheels – do not use carbon wheels – you may be a great descender but one, you won’t descend like a pro and two there are other riders to consider – the rims heat up and then either weaken or worse collapse - trust me I’ve seen it.
2. Tyres – don’t use tubs – firstly the glue becomes sticky from braking and secondly spare tubs are harder/heavier to carry and no one is likely to chuck you a spare one – service will let you have a spare inner tube – don’t use latex tubes – they are too fragile. Make sure your tyres are new but you have ridden them a couple of times before the event. Pressure – some say ride lower pressure due to the risk of punctures from braking and altitude – the latter is certainly not right and the former doubtful – I’ve ridden at 120psi with no problem. Carry two inner tubes – I have taken co2 cannisters as well with a small pump for back up – there are track pumps at each feed to bring you up to pressure – if you are stuck someone will help.

3. Gears – most of you will be best suited to using a compact 34/50 – if however you are a gifted climber, strong or prefer a low cadence then you can use 53/39 – preference may also be based on what you have fitted – I have ridden both when using a 34/50 I rode a 12-25 block when on a 53/39 then 12-28 – the most important thing is to make sure the bottom gear engages easily and the rear mech cage doesn’t stretch due to the ratio. First time out I would use 34/50 but again if this means changing your chainset then do so at least a week before and remember to shorten the chain accordingly.

4. The bike – make sure everything is well serviced – you don’t want to not get round because your bike fails, I always fit new bar tape!!!
5. Under seat pack – best way to carry spares – wrap inner tube in cling film to keep safe, I forgo any tools but this is your choice – don’t forget if you puncture your rims may be hot!!

Tips –
1. Take some tools and spare tyres – if you have a problem before the ride there are great bike shops in Bourg which work through the night and also Mavic service.
2. You can buy anything you want in Bourg.
3. Keep your bike locked in a car boot or your hotel room – not in the ski storage area.
4. Check your bike the night before.
5. Take some extra cable ties and scissors for the timing tag and race number- put on the day/evening before.

The journey down

However you have chosen to travel make sure that you have agreed meet times and if you are in a group then share items you are taking – you do not need four track pumps!!
Be clear where you are meeting on the day you leave – nothing worse than someone not turning up for an early start.

Be tolerant – you will be in each other’s pockets for three to four days – it can get a little lively, a deep breath and carry on – it is just wasted energy and of no benefit – be accepting of others habits – it’s only for a couple of days you aren’t married to them – you don’t have to stay together all the time but let others know what you are doing.

The day before Tips

1. Do not ride up the Alpe.
2. Do not ride down the Alpe – because guess what you will have to ride back up it.
3. Do not go for a long ride – hour and a half max with one hard effort of about 5 minutes just to open the lungs and legs – ride out to the lake – this is the beginning of the ride and will help you to know what to expect – ride around the lake until the road goes into the trees then ride back.
4. Sign on in Alpe D’Huez – or if in Bourg on the Thursday you can sign on in the bike shop in the evening – saves going to Alpe D’Huez on Friday. The sports palace in Alpe is easily found.
5. Relax eat well – but don’t walk too much – just sit around and chill out.
6. Check you have everything ready for the morning – bike ready, kit laid out, breakfast set out – items laid out for pockets.
7. Have an early night – you won’t sleep well – but make sure you rest


1. Check you have all your clothing the day before.
2. Helmet – make sure it is adjusted correctly – obvious but after 7 hours it’s amazing what can annoy you!!
Cap or under helmet cover – useful if you sweat a lot.
Glasses – unless they are good quality they will fog up on the climbs – if you take them take a cleaning cloth.
Jersey – make sure it is a tight but comfortable fit – pockets need to sit well when full – I prefer a full zip. Obviously short sleeve.
Under vest – my first rule – wear one – it can be light but it will wick away sweat but most importantly it offers protection in a fall – also jerseys can be irritating when sweaty after 6 hours and cause sore patches.
Shorts – your favourite – not a new pair but ones that are known to be comfortable.
Socks – new socks – fresh out of the packet – for two reasons – one new socks make you feel good and two there is no risk of any bacteria.
Shoes – ensure they are comfortable, cleats are not worn and the shoes are not too old – one of the biggest problem for many riders is ‘hot feet’ it is hard to explain the feeling – it won’t stop you riding but it is uncomfortable when climbing – can be avoided by having fairly new shoes or in soles and new socks – once it starts you will have it for the rest of the ride – It comes from climbing for a long time and the position of your foot or toes.
Gloves – even if you don’t normally wear track mitts – your hands will get sweaty and they are insurance for a fall.
Gilet – some take one for the descents – I wouldn’t bother – something else to carry and actually it is normally so warm the chill factor is not a factor – you may see the pros use them – they are firstly descending faster, finely tuned and concerned about the days ahead – you don’t need to worry. If however you are staying in Alpe D’Huez and have to descend the mountain before the start then wear a gilet on the way down and also……
Arm warmers – I always wear a pair at the start, I normally wear an old pair – if it is warm when you roll away then with the gilet poke them into some railings or a hedge in the village – they will be there when you get back!! – or discard your arm warmers during the ride – one year there was this odd moment about two kilometres into the Glandon climb when everyone in the group just removed and dumped their arm warmers onto the verge!!
If it is wet – then consider a rain jacket – it will keep you warm if not dry. I hope it is dry!! But check the weather the day before to see.

The big day

So this is what you have been waiting and preparing for – I know many of you have start numbers in the 7,000’s and I will give you some tips on this start as well.
The first riders start at 7 in the square, riders start arriving from before 6 – if you are in the first 2,000 then be in the village by 6.30 or if driving and needing to unpack bike etc then 6 o’clock. Plan to get to the start 30 minutes before you are due to go – it doesn’t matter where you are in the line – your time won’t start until you go over the mat – what you don’t want to do is sit astride your bike for an hour. Sit to the side or on the road/ pavement a wall, keep stretching and focus.

Before you leave your accommodation have breakfast – find out what is best for you – not too heavy but eat something – also I take something to eat before the start – maybe a banana – and a spare bottle which you can sip while waiting and then throw away before the start.
Wear sun cream it will be hot later – I always put some embrocation on just to warm the legs.

The start is not easy to get to – follow other riders through the back streets of Bourg and the various pens are labelled.

Tips for riding

  • Don’t start too fast – there is a temptation to get drawn along – ride comfortably and adjust to the pace.
  • Don’t ride up the reservoir wall in the big ring – pedal up it in a comfortable pace – this sets you up for what lies ahead.
  • Do ride within yourself – you will climb faster by going easier- I have just come back from the Southern alps and for the first time tested this on the Col duTurini – you climb quicker by a substantial amount by riding in a comfortable gear irrespective of your preferred cadence rather than seeking to ride harder – you are in control and relax into the climb – trust me it works –if not blame Simon Gerrans.
  • Do not ride with anyone on the mountains – groups don’t work – due to the climbs, you have to be selfish – enjoy your own experiences afterwards and agree where to meet. If you want to go on do or also don’t try to keep up.
  • Descend with caution but also let your bike flow.
  • Do get in a group between the bottom of the Glandon and the Telegraphe and don’t do any work – mind the tram lines and stay near the front end of the group.
  • Get in a rhythm on the Telegraphe – see tip 3 – the first two times I rode I rode the Telegraph poorly – due to trying too hard on the Glandon and working too hard in the valley and then pushing on the Telegraphe– at my third attempt and I rode the Telegraphe 12 minutes quicker by relaxing on the Glandon – 2 minutes slower than best – using a lower gear in the valley and the riding steady at the foot of the Telegraphe – this also helps with the Galibier.
  • Be careful on the Galibier descent – the top is technically difficult and gravel covered on the corners, you will be tired, once onto the main road then just let it go – get in a group and fly – beware the tunnels – unlit, slippery and lorries approaching!!
  • The Alpe – I offer no advice here – you will get up it!! You will not be able to try hard, you will have been riding for at least 6 hours – if you haven’t then you will know more than me!! Just remember the bottom is the worst – after the first two corners it gets easier.

You should plan for a target time – if you have ridden before then you will have an idea of what you can do but even if not then split the ride into sectors – I use the top of the Glandon, foot of the Telegraphe, top of the Galibier, foot of AlpeD’Huez and finish time – write times on a piece of paper and tape to top tube – a useful prompt – for a guide base on:
1.40 to the Glandon,
2.35 to Telegraphe,
5.15 to Galibier
6.30 to foot of Alpe..... will give you a 7.30 ride.

What to eat and drink

  • I spoke of breakfast and the need to eat well the night before – test to see what works best for you – it’s not too late – even if it isn’t the day of a training ride you’ll sense what makes you feel better.
  • Take two bottles with you – both full to start – I use SIS but that is up to you – and then carry energy gels – again try in advance – which do you prefer and sit well in your stomach.
  • I generally take about 8 gels – seven isotonic and one with caffeine for use at the foot of the Alpe.
  • And for food I take one fruit bar or rice cakes and some jelly babies or jelly beans.
  • Have one bottle by the summit of the Glandon and a gel, if you stop at the feed at the top then fill up a bottle – they do a menthe drink which is pleasant and have some dried apricots and dates, and a banana – if you are starting late then the feed will be very busy – but don’t forgo feeding if you need it. Personally I ride straight through here and use my second bottle plus a gel and a fruit bar to take me to the foot of the Telegraphe – there are water stops at the foot of the Glandon as you leave the town – remember the descent of the Glandon is not timed for safety reasons so you can fill bottles at the bottom with no time loss.
  • Before you start the Telegraphe and before you go under the motorway there is a water pump – fresh spring water – top up bottles here – I also take either Hifive or Nuun tablets and drop one in each bottle – this is my first stop.
  • Drink on the Telegraphe and then feed at Valloire (on the way out of town so don’t panic that you’ve missed it) before the Galibier – you have a gentle drag before the mountain proper to digest food – I usually have dates and something savoury here and fill bottles with Menthe.
  • Over the Galibier (Top) and feed and fill bottles here – you can eat well here – jellied sweets, some cheese and stick a banana in your back pocket – you’ll have three gels pus the caffeine left.
  • Remember to eat and drink on the way down the Galibier – straight through the Bourg feed unless you are in a mess or are actually eating your way around the event!!
There is a water stop at corner two – fill bottles here and that will see you through. 

How to save 20 minutes on your ride

  • Do not go for a ride in the mountains the day before.
  • Do not walk around much the day before
  • Don’t let anything stress you out – wasted energy
  • Ride through feed one at the top of the Glandon
  • Ride within yourself on the Glandon.
  • Do not do any work in the valley before the Telegraphe.
  • Get in a group in the valley.
  • Ride the section from Valloire to the sharp bend which takes you to the higher reaches of the Galibier slightly under geared - you have to trust me on this – you can cruise up it trying but then your cadence is affected when the real climb starts.
  • Ride around the outside of the bends on climbs and then cut back in – it is steeper on the inside!!
  • Split your ride into sections and then it becomes more manageable and achievable
  • And most importantly do not go into the red zone whatever you do other than into the finish – you will never recover properly. Listen to your body – efforts on the mountains are for an hour plus not a few minutes.

Most of all enjoy it and make sure you finish, don’t worry about what your time, getting round is a feat, don’t think about quitting or worry about not having ridden for such a long time – I have never ridden for more than 6 hours prior to a Marmotte and the length of time on the bike on the day has never been an issue.

Don’t think of the what if’s once you’ve started – there is nothing you can do but you will be fine – have a great time and you’ll be desperate to do it again!!!!

Footnote - Compare Dragon Ride to taking on the Marmotte.
Marmotte compared to Dragon Ride feedback.... The Marmotte although not as far is hard due to the length of the climbs and the gradient being more around 7 to 8%.

Firstly you all felt that you had held back early on this is good and you really should do this – a steady effort throughout is better than a fluctuating one. Great to use the flat roads to recover and almost feel it is too easy, Stuart I know that Stephen may tell me differently from  medical perspective but you whilst I know we are all different pushing 160 in the mountains is not sustainable – but firstly don’t get hung up on your heart rate especially on the Galibier – altitude will play its part.  

You have spoken about a different type of effort on the climbs – you are all at a level of fitness where you should fine a rhythm that can be maintained for over thirty forty minutes without discomfort – that will be a combination of heart and cadence – for me on slopes of up to 5% that is around about 88 to 94 RPM in 53x21 or 23 and between 70 and 80 in 39x21 and below on the steeper ramps – try and stay fluid.

Were you all happy with how you fed and drank, sounds Stuart like you drank well – little and often is important. Stephen sounds like you  had time to roast a Welsh lamb at one of your feeds!!! Feeds should really be a stop to take on board some food for your pockets a bottle fill and something to eat quickly – unless there is a queue you should be going through a feed in two to three minutes max.

Good luck!

Peter Robinson