Brett Edbrook and Johnny Weber, two company directors from Dorset, rode the French sportive, The Gran Fondo La Marmotte, for the first time earlier this month. Both finished with gold times.
Six months of solid preparation, including three rides a week of more than 60 miles in the winter, domestic sportives in the spring, criterium racing in early summer, and a Mallorcan training camp and French recce as final preparation, saw them safely over the Glandon, Lautaret, Galibier, Telegraph, and l’Alpe d’Huez in around eight hours and thirty minutes.
If you’re one of thousands of British riders planning an attempt at La Marmotte next season, here are 10 tips from Brett and Johnny to help you on your way. Bon courage!
1) Sign up soon
La Marmotte is one of the most popular European sportives. An estimated 7,000 riders took part his year. If you’re hoping to ride the next year’s event, which takes place on July 7 2013, think about signing up now.
2) Begin training early
Brett and Johnny began training in January with 60-mile rides on a Sunday, but soon expanded their training schedule to include mid-week rides of this distance, and rides of up to 130 miles at the weekend.
3) Know thyself
The ‘slow and steady’ rides gave the pair an idea of the heart rates at which they could sustain efforts for eight or nine hours: for Johnny, no more than 160bpm; for Brett about 150bpm
4) Beat the boredom – ride a sportive
Slow and steady training rides every weekend can become dull. Brett and Johnny mixed up their training by riding events at weekends, including Wiggle’s The Long One and Jurassic Beast.
A final domestic sportive two weeks before La Marmotte proved that the hard work had paid off: “In January, doing a 60-miler seemed like hard work,” Johnny recalls. “To do a 120-miler at a decent speed, something like 18.5 mph, was pretty satisfying.”
5) Stay with a cycling tour operator
Not the cheapest option, but Brett and Johnny said staying with a cycle savvy tour operator stood them in good stead, thanks to ride-specific catering, the service of a support van, and tips for the ride from hosts who live and ride in the Alps. A lift down the mountain in the support van to the start line (at 7am), allowed the pair to keep warm in jogging bottoms and fleeces secure in the knowledge they could discard them in the van before the ride.
6) Pull to the side of the rider ahead in tunnels
Intermittent lighting in tunnels causes pile-ups as riders crash into those in front who have braked instinctively; moving to the side of the rider in front as you enter the tunnel alleviates this danger.
7) Fuel continually
Brett carried “everything I could ram in”, including five energy bars, five gels, and a bag of caffeine sweets, to carry him through to a scheduled meeting at the top of the Lautaret with a support van piloted by the tour operator carrying Coca Cola and sandwiches to supplement the usual sports nutrition products. Hydration is crucial too: Johnny drank six bottles, while Brett drank eight.
8) Don’t wear black
Brett rode La Marmotte in black and regretted it, having turned his dark kit white with the salt lost through sweat. “Wear something white, even if the shoulders are white, or the back is white.” His helmet straps were also turned a whiter shade of pale.
9) Ride similar terrain in advance
Brett booked a training camp in Mallorca to gain some experience of the type of gradients awaiting him, while Johnny performed a reconnaissance mission to the Alps. Johnny cautions against deciding to tackle La Marmotte on the evidence of completing 100km sportive in the New Forest. Even riding mountains in the UK will not prepare you fully, adds Brett. “There’s nowhere in England you can replicate it, or even in Wales.”
10) Enjoy it
Riding in silence up some of the most iconic climbs up the Alps, a 50 minute descent from the Galibier to the foot of l’Alpe d’Huez, filling bottles from mountain streams, and of course, finishing the ride (a ‘proper little hug’ concluded by ‘manning up a bit’), are all part of the La Marmotte experience.