La Marmotte

The pan-flat roads of east anglia are not the place to train for La Marmotte. That was the most rediculously hard day I’ve had on a bike. 185 km loop with 5 massive alpine cols and 17000 feet of climbing. Sounds like the dumb sorta thing I’m all for.

I don’t remember where I first heard about the La Marmotte, someone at work perhaps, or maybe I happened across it while searching for some routes to do in France. I had looked into doing a big combo day, penciled in some possible routes, and found the one I’d dismissed as ludicrous actually matched up almost perfectly with La Marmotte. It’s almost identical to the Moarmmote except I went down Croix de Fer instead of Glandon to avoid having to ride so much in the valley below. Plus I’d heard Croix de Fer was a better descent.

“Well, if those bastards do it, I’m not gonna shy away!”

The gauntlet was thrown, or a lack of common sense prevailed… Either way it was gonna be epic. And since it was one giant loop, there was no chance for an easy bailout except for Huez at the end, but by then it was just a Thelma and Louise determination that I would rely on to push me up those final 21 switchbacks. Frankly, it’s a damn good thing I couldn’t see my car as I went through town…

But first: I can never go to a foreign country without some kind of problem, and this trip was no different. On the day before I was to leave the UK, I found out the annoying way that my credit card had been locked due to “corrupted security” and while they were happy to send me a replacement overnight, I would be cardless in France.

“Good thing I have my ATM card”

Got off the plane in Grenoble and picked up my awesome rental car. P1010369my sweet Renault Kangoo

That’s when the problems started. I had paid for everything online with my card before it was corrupted, so figured I’d be OK. But my other cards suddenly didn’t seem to be working either. I tried to log on to my account and got on just long enough to to see my home page and then my computer locked up before my account screen popped up and wouldn’t let me back on. I swear it was a conspiracy. No luk.. Without much French, it was difficult to convey my needs to the hotel staff. I was having visions of 3 days in France with 40 euro in my pocket, and France ain’t cheap. The toll road alone was 14 euro each way. I was seriously stressed about what to do and all the overdraft fees I was going to have to argue out of come Tuesday morning.

Tangent: I think this was the 3rd or 4th time I’ve had problems with my US cards in Europe. they keep getting locked down for security without warning. Something to keep in mind if you plan to stay a while. Plus I get grumpy looks from all the clerks over here because my US card doesn’t have a chip which makes more work for the clerks…


So then I remembered my emergency card in the back of my wallet. The one I hadn’t used in months and was pretty sure didn’t work, either. I nervously ordered a café from the bar to see if it would work. This transaction was going to make or break my next three days. I was really sweating…

Then, cha ching! Damn thing worked. That solved one problem. Which was good cause I was really hungry and needed some food. I was still pretty stressed about having to deal with my bank on Tuesday. I had visions of E back in the states trying to buy a cart full of groceries with S crying in her arms and then having her debit card get declined at checkout and no way to get in contact to explain the situation for the next 3 days. That would surely make for a great conversation with her later. But at least now I could eat – I was gonna need a lot of food tomorrow – I’m already kind of skinny.

Drove to the start of my ride in Le Bourg-d’Oisans, a pretty and touristy mountain town at the foot of alp d’Huez.

P1010372open market in Oisons

P1010368What to bring for 8 hours in the saddle? As much as you can…

Most of the riding along the valley is on busy roads. P1010379those hills look steep… With most of the famous cols around here, it’s not until you get into the last 10 km or so before they really get good. The views are good before, but the traffic keeps you on your toes. P1010388narrow alpine roads, anyone? I’m sure weekdays are the hot ticket for when to go. A lot like Palomar, I think. But those last 10-20 km are pretty spectacular.P1010390P1010404P1010406P1010457P1010548P1010473

Glandon was cool, P1010416
but Col de La Croix de Fer was where it was at. P1010440 Amazing and just a couple km above Glandon. Something about it, the name, the exposer, the iron cross (croix de fer) at the top. It just feels like a legend at the top. I Enjoyed the best $6 cola I’ve ever had. P1010445mmmm

And what could be better then getting to the top of a famous alpine col? Well, going down the back side at 70kph is pretty exciting. I think Croix de Fer was an amazing descent.

I’ve been on my sick new bike from B&L Bikes all summer now. P1010570 It takes a while to get comfortable with a new bike, but by now I’ve had a chance to really feel comfortable on her and didn’t hesitate to really push through those hairpins. A mix of terror and excitement got me to the bottom with a huge grin.

Rode through the valley and got to BIG DADDY, otherwise known as the double punch of Col du Telegraphe P1010448
followed by Col du Galibier. P1010467told ya I was skinny…
I let out a meniacle laugh at the start of the climb. Was it because I was about to start up the mythical Galibier, or was it because I was at the halfway point and there truly was no turning back? Who cares! Lets roll!

In reality, Telegraphe is just a part of Galibier. The profile for Galibier didn’t seem that bad. Well, profile be damned, those last couple km were tough. P1010457 The view getting up to the top is really amazing. Galibier was definitely the climax of the route. Being almost 2700m high certainly helped. The top was cold, windblown, and just rad. I took a small rock from the top. I think Galibier took a piece of me that day, so it seemed only fair.

Coming down the backside of Galibier was pretty tough. The crosswinds were strong and I was getting a lot of speed wobble down the back side at much above 50kph. Clenching my bike, I managed to keep her steady enough to get down into the trees where I could open it up again.

Then it was a long steady descent back to my starting point and soon to be ending point. Alp d’Huez. French Alpes It needs no introduction. I had done it once before and it didn’t get any easier the second time. Of course already having 175km under my belt didn’t help… I pretty much relied on brute stupidity to get me to the top. P1010487so tired
So that was it. Day one.

How about day two? So good…


3 Responses to “La Marmotte”

  1. Chris Murphy Says:

    Wow Ben.
    Great photos, epic journey, and fantastic narratives.
    Thanks for the blog action!

  2. You’re a BEAST! What a ride, Ben. Makes my meager 8900′ summit seem like a mole hole. We did Mt. Rose while at Lake Tahoe. The views were pretty cool but maybe not as cool as yours—and I forgot the camera. It’s somewhere around 100 degrees out now here in Fresno and Dave is off on a 90 mile ride…

  3. […] did it the very next day after my personal one-man version of La Marmotte, or more accurately; the wildly insane 10 hour bike ride. Needless to say, I felt a bit sluggish […]

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