The final day in France had been looming on the horizon for a while, both in a figurative and a literal sense. There was to be little to no time for cheese - rather the whole day would be consumed by La Marmotte, which is the French word for groundhog or marmot.
It is also the name of one of the toughest amateur road bicycle races in the world.
The mountains which make the area so beautiful, make the course brutal. They had been staring ominously in silence throughout the week, and now it was time to get over them - mentally and physically.
Saturday night, there were cracking thunderstorms, warm rain, and sizzling lightening, which seemed to stop me from sleeping entirely, so that 'breakfast' at 5.30 am, felt more like a dream. But, this was a better dream than the nightmares I had had, of descending the narrow mountain passes in the forecasted thunderstorms for the day.
What a way to end the trip to France, with bike and all flying off the edge of a sinuous road into a deep valley.
But, after making my way to Bourg d'Oisans, at the base of the Alp d'Huez, and the starting point for the race, the sky cleared, and we lucked out for the day - clear skies and a beating sun were to be our traveling companions.
La Marmotte contains 5 major climbs, which in order were: Col de la croix der fer (1500 ft of climbing), Col du Glandon (2100 ft), Col du Télégraphe (2400 ft), Col du Galibier (3600 ft), and Alpe d'Huez (3000 ft). In total, 110 miles, and 16000 ft of climbing, with the hardest, and most famous at the end: Alpe d'Huez, where so many Tour de France had been decided, so many legs had been destroyed, and so many memories made. Racing up this final climb was a very special feeling — even if I was completely empty at the top of the 3000 ft of climbing.
Legit bike races are driven by teams, working to a plan. There a few to no teams in the Marmotte, and so it's basically go-go-go from the beginning. But if you're smart you'll pace yourself, and still have something left for the final climb. Run out of energy at the top, not at the bottom...
Beautiful weather, beautiful scenery, and a day out with a few thousand like minded people. After the finish, we managed to find a perfect post-ride dinner: a crêpe filled with mushrooms, prosciutto cotto, tomatoes, gruyère and a fried egg in the middle. Greasy but perfect.
I'll let the photos speak for themselves.
The finish at Alpe d'Huez