The Marmotte sportive has come and gone… leaving just a lingering soreness in about 26oo pairs of legs. Cycling in the Pyrenees has a different feel to cycling in the Alps, and the pyrenean cousin of the legendary Marmotte Alps sportive does too. It’s a slightly more intimate affair, with currently only about a third of the participants, but still manages to deliver a big event atmosphere. This year the event started early (of course) and the temperature in the start village of Luz St. Sauveur was quite pleasant in comparison to teeth chattering memories of early starts from Bourg d’Oisans.
As always the Marmotte organisers managed to make the lucky(!) participants feel that they were taking part in something special, with a music pumping build up to the send off watched over by the great Miguel Indurain himself (he also rode the course…. in a very good time…), a lap of honour round the town allowed all friends and family to get a good look in and give the participants a good cheer before they got stuck in to the first crossing of the Col du Tourmalet, trying to keep a lid on the adrenaline and keep the second crossing (much later) in mind.
The Marmotte serves up the giant of the Pyrenees as its appetiser, and coming right at the start, the sight of a snake of more than 2000 cyclists winding up it together is inspirational, and it needs to be, because in another few hours you will be coming back the other way with two more stiff climbs in the legs.
This year the weather was definitely in the “Goldilocks” zone, not too hot and not too cold; the preceding few weeks had seen a range from mid 30s (definitely too hot) to freezing mist and rain on the col. Just prior to the event, the finish area had been knocked about by inclement weather, which kindly held off for the big day, a light drizzle appeared later in the day, but not enough to cause too much discomfort.
Dropping down from the Tourmalet, the race headed up the valley to the fantastic wild scenery around Payolle (perfect spot for our much appreciated AYP pitstop site) before climbing and crossing the beautiful notched pass of the Hourquette d’Ancizan, and plunging down to the pretty village of Arreau at the foot of the Col d’ Aspin. On the Aspin legs were already noticeably slower as the elongated stream of cyclists plodded their way up, the thought of the second ascent of the Tourmalet becoming less appealing with each pedal rev… but it was coming in any case. The descent on the Aspin back to Payolle was enjoyable as always – fast sweeping bends on a good road – but after that (and the second AYP pitstop) enjoyment in all honesty started to give out, and give way to grim determination. Tourmalet 2 from the East side.. a big ascent on any day, was a slog, each section taken on its own merit to block out the prospect of the length of the whole climb, time elongated and kilometres stretched, being passed by others no longer mattered, passing others no longer mattered. No one was giving anyone else a second glance as they concentrated on their own private suffering, it was all getting very antisocial…. And finally the summit.. elation through the fatigue, the highest point crossed again, and done with for the day – all down hill from here, just a fast flowing descent from the Col and a rapid coast down the valley to the finish. At Hautacam.
Hautacam is an evil climb whenever you tackle it (in my opinion) and to put it at the end of the Marmotte is just sadistic – I would have traded Alpe d’huez for this any day. The climb never lets you find a rhythm, it changes gradient, twists, turns kicks and mounts – the road under your legs never seems to bear any relation to the treacherous km gradient signs. The best that can be said about this ascent was that it finished… eventually… and – perhaps – it made the finish feeling that much better, some energy returned from who knows where to drive the legs up from 40 rpm to a blistering 60… and even a smile was raised in the last straight.
Verdict: The Look Marmotte Alps is rightly one of the most famous amateur cycling events in the world, the Pyrenees edition deserves to join it and grow in popularity and reputation… and you need to do it. Because its harder…..