Members of Dartford and White Oak Triathlon club, Paul Atkinson, Gel Utting and Kevin Perkins, have completed the cycling behemoth that is La Marmotte – a classic cyclo sportive event based in the French Alps. Held over a classic Alpine route, it climbs more than 5,180m (that’s more than 3 miles straight up) over its 174km length.
Starting in Bourg d’Oisans, the route traverses the Col de la Croix de Fer, Col du Telegraphe, Col du Galibier before returning to Bourg d’Oisans and finishes up the 21-hairpin bend climb to the ski station of L’Alpe d’Huez.
Approximately 7,000 riders from all over the world take on this awesome annual challenge, setting off in groups from 7am in the morning. Commenting after the ride, Perkins said, “If there was ever a biking equivalent of an Ironman then this was it. Despite being battered and bruised from our encounter, (we all had moments when we thought we might not be able to complete the course), we were relieved and proud to have finished.
Here, he recalls the route:
"Added to the arduous climbing is the weather – being swelteringly hot before 9am. [But] the upper slopes of the climb are spectacular, snow-capped mountains all around, a huge emerald lake with a dam at one end that you climb up and over and a huge meadowed valley with the road disappearing away into the distance. The French don’t do crash barriers on mountain roads, well not these, so the descent down the Col de Glandon was extremely hairy, but after 45 minutes of descending and 20plus miles of relative flat valley floor, we reached St Jean De Maurienne and the bottom of the Telegraph.
"The Galibier is one monster of a climb. The outskirts of Valloire are high enough to ensure that most of the trees have already disappeared. Then, as if announcing the gateway to hell, thunder and lightning shook the valley and the heavens opened! Those who didn’t have waterproofs sought any shelter available while the rest just had to plod on up the valley. At certain points you could peer over the unprotected edge to see hundreds cyclists climbing the steep winding hairpins below and the same hundreds of meters above.
"Another hairy, switch back descent down to the Col du Lautaret and it was downhill all the way to Bourg for an hour and half! Unfortunately Alp d’Huez, a favourite from the tour de France, and its legendary 21 hairpins was still to come.
"On Saturday 4 July, after 11:34hrs of cycling, we crossed the finish line. We’d knocked Alp d’Huez off in a creditable 1:27hr and in doing so had completed La Marmotte ’09. What a ride and what a day!"
Not to be outdone Kevin’s partner, Karen Xander, took on “La Mini Marmotte” – a not-so-small 50-mile ride with over 2,300m of climbing. She too successfully managed the ride, despite a horrendous accident three years ago which saw her in a leg brace for eight months and which still requires her to use a crutch support for walking today.