Chris and the Marmotte of Alpe d’Huez

Alpe d’Huez L distance Triathlon 2016 – 28 July 2016

chris bike alpe dhuez

Grin or grimace?

By Chris Jamieson (and his Marmot)

A Beauty AND a Beast!

Triathlon took over what is normally the summer cycling mecca of Alpe D’Huez for the last week of July with around 4000 competitors descending on the town for the various events and arriving up the famous 21 virages by car on Monday already started to get the adrenaline going…”This is what we’ll be racing up in a couple of days” going through my head.

A quick check in and then out on the bike to test ride the Alpe. Riding it any closer to race day would impact the legs. A fast descent overtaking cars on the way then back up a little more slowly! (14k averaging 8%) in 1:09 vs. 0:42 the pros do, my excuse is this was a “taper” ride after all 😉

Tuesday: I caught up with Martin, who’d already been preparing in the Alps for 2 weeks, for a swim in the beautiful Lac Laffrey and balmy at around 20°C…maybe the race swim would be warmer than the usual 13-14°C?

Then a driving recce of the course primarily to see the descents first hand. A short run to round off the day back in Alpe D’Huez (nothing flat around here!) and get a feel of what pace I might be able to hold at 1900m of altitude.

Wednesday: A test descent of Col D’Ornon to check the turns and then a final spin along the valley floor to turn over the legs then back up the Alpe (by car this time) to register and prepare all the kit & nutrition for race day.

Thursday: RACE DAY! Up at 6am to cram in some final carbs then over to T2 (in Alpe D’Huez) to drop off my running shoes and then rode down the stunning views on an alternative descent from the Alpe to Lac du Verney (I’d been pre-warned to wear extra layers as the air was still cold). En route trouble as Martin punctured and couldn’t get the sealant to go in the tubular tyre so I had to leave him while another friend (who wasn’t racing) rode back up half the route to get spare repair kit. Set up in T1. Great to see Martin had made it in time and to hear the water was officially 15.9°C, not quite 20°C but definitely warmer than previous years.

With 1,200 competitors getting in from 9:15 I swam to the start line with about 30 secs to spare before the 9:30 horn and we were off. 2 x 1.1k laps in some of the freshest water you can swim in and milky blue from the minerals. A bit of congestion around the turns but otherwise a steady swim although it never felt settled (I think just being in colder water than I’d been able to practise in) then out through T1 and onto the road.

25k downhill at speed to the foot of Col de la Morte and the first aid station. Not good! they only had water in plastic bottles not the energy drink in bidons I was expecting, so I passed…onto the first big climb Col de la Morte (13.1k at 7%) a steady gradient the whole way starting to pass those people who can swim, keeping the effort paced remembering this was just the start of the bike leg. Still Not Good! The second aid was chaos with riders stopped everywhere trying to get drinks and not wanting to waste time trying to find isotonic I grabbed a bidon of coke so I at least had something. Fast down through the hairpins then a long gradual descent to a short version of Col de Malissol (3.2k at 6%) added because of road closures on the normal route. Finally some Iso at the aid station! and then a rolling 20k with spreading the field out to the penultimate climb Col D’Ornon (14.4k at 4%). It was hot climbing with little breeze in the sheltered valley but still felt good. Very happy I’d recce’d the descent as it’s beautiful but has a few hairy bends as you ride along with the 200m drop down into the gorge at your side. Now onto the main event…the final climb up Alpe D’Huez. The first 5k were fine but then I started going backwards through the field and wasn’t able to hold the power I’d planned as dehydration was taking its toll. Now it was just a case of having to grind out the last 8k with what I could find (1:19 for the climb this time). Very relieved to get to T2 and then out onto the run.

The run course is brutal! 3 times round a 7k loop, part trail part road with 100m of climbing on each lap and all at 1900m of altitude. The first lap was OK at 5:17 per k (a “little” slower than my 4:20 pace at Luxembourg) but cramping on the second & third laps reduced me to a walk/run to finish in 1:57 for the run and 8:16 overall, about 20-30 minutes behind plan (and 2 hours behind Martin’s impressive 6:15 finish!).

It’s a stunning course (Beauty) and VERY testing (Beast) with over 3000m of climbing on the 120k bike leg and a brutal run to finish it/you off. Frustrating that the aid stations were poorly managed impacting my race but definitely an iconic race!

“Who needs a medal? when you get an Alpe D’Huez Finishers Marmot!”

Chris Alpe d'Huez 2016