I have been sitting at my desk dreaming about my Marmotte experience last year for a while. With baby number two on the way due in mid-summer I was starting to panic about ever being able to do an event like that again.
In typical selfish man fashion (and risking a lot of upset at home) I decided that one last trip was in order before the real hard graft started and to stave off the the thought of no proper riding for a long time.
I found a trip online, tackling the Morzine Vallee d’Aulps Sportive with new cycling tour operator RPM90, which, for £550, included airport transfers to a luxury catered chalet in Morzine, two solid days riding preparation (with expert guides) and the event entry fees covered for the Sunday sportive. That looked good value to me, seeing as last year I spent more than £600 riding the Marmotte and had to drive all the way there to do the ride, then all the way home with no support – all we got was the sportive entry and a feed station.
With the baby on the way my training comprised of the odd ride to work here and there. Three days in the mountains would be just what I needed to kick start my fitness. We landed late Thursday night so Friday was a steady and slightly bumpy 80km ride with a nice coffee break and loads of long, fun descents. I’d almost forgotten how much I enjoyed them. That’s what riding in the mountains is all about; the climbs are all worth it when you point your front wheel back down hill. RPM90 guides Nick Miles and James Brickell have spent years riding this area and were very knowledgeable and took us round some lovely scenery off the normal track. The ride was fully supported with their vehicle following with spares, tools, food and water, so I didn’t have to carry a thing. (Strava day one -third place on a segment climb, get in!)
During the trip I learned a lot about myself and riding, particularly when it comes to bike fit and I need to book in for a session as soon as possible after James from RPM 90 pointed out that my position was not right; the saddle was too nose down and I was always slipping forward. First thing Saturday morning he spent a little time with me setting my position correctly. Good thing too as day two had the Col de Joux Plane climb included on a little 65km leg stretcher before Sunday’s big sportive. (Strava day two)
Ok, so straight into it then. The big sportive ride. There were two distances to choose from – 110km and 150km. I went for the 110km so I didn’t miss my flight (sorry, good excuse for being lame and not being able to handle the longer distance). If you are planning to do an event like this then don’t take it with a pinch of salt – it wasn’t easy. There were seven categorised climbs in the short distance alone, and the last climb was one of the hardest I have ever done – two thirds of the way up I wish I was back doing the Galibier!
After an 8am event start right in the middle of town, I didn’t start full of confidence as two miles in there was a downed rider on the first descent. I’m not sure what happened but he was on the deck unconscious bleeding. We later heard he cracked his skull and was in a bad way so I hope he is doing ok now.
This road led down the valley and soon hooked a right up the first climb – seven kilometres to the Col du Corbier and a little exclusive ski resort in the Portes du Soleil region. It was good to get down the other side only to hit another very picturesque three kilometre bump back up Col du Grand Taillet (Le Fion). An awesome alpine descent looped back across the Morzine valley to the main road again, then hooked left into another section of the climbs, the Cote La Vernaz (thank god for the feed station at the top), Col de Jambaz, then a smaller dig to Voie Communale – this ride just feels like it goes up and up! After another pit stop in Taninges, where I got off the bike for a stretch and some proper food, it was time for the big climb ahead, bigger than I was mentally prepared for.
The climb up from Taninges was a brute. After more than five kilometres of steep, winding roads, the most demoralising sign was ahead ’10km to summit’ – and I’m hanging in for dear life at this point. After three more kilometres the road hooks a left up a 12 degree section of Col du Ramas, and, with 34 degree heat on my back and no shade, and the ride now feels beyond fun. Three kilometres from the top a cyclist had a broken chain so I had the sense to stop and help out as I had a chain tool and it offered the opportunity to take a breather. At the top (phew, I made it), a long descent followed back into Morzine and thought I was home free only to be greeted by a marshal telling me there was another two kilometre climb up to the lakes for the finish. Thankfully I managed to drag it home and enjoyed the pasta party at the end! What a fantastic day, which exceeded my expectations – never has a relatively short sportive felt so long and hard. (Strava Morzine Vallee d’Aulps Sportive)
Having done a few trips like this, including La Marmotte last year, I urge people not to go for the mainstream events all the time. Smaller European sportives are becoming very popular now so go out there and find one a little different. From my experience you will get all the buzz from a big one like the Marmotte or Etape and, while not quite as epic, it will come with without the stress and you’ll be able to enjoy it a lot more.
Finally, a big thank you to everyone at RPM90 (James and Nick) for squeezing me in and showing me the error of my ways on the bike. I arrived home feeling the trip was excellent value for money, with airport transfers, a fully catered chalet at their Morzine base, a micro bike fit (I’ll head to the studio I think to get it totally dialled), a sports massage every day and event entry all included, plus two days of mountain acclimatisation rides that pushed me but not too far past my limit. I couldn’t have asked for better company.