So the Big Day of the Marmotte Pyrenees finally came on Sunday, after much fretting and little to no dieting. I should have known it was going to be like this, but I'm the eternal optimist and, as usual, I just figured 'it'd work out somehow'. More on that naivety later.
First some good news. It was gloriously sunny the whole weekend and Shoko and I did some reconnaissance on a small part of the route to get some views. This is what the view from Tourmalet looks like, for those too busy pedalling to have seen it:
We also drove up the combined climb of Soulor and Aubisque, which my friend Pierre and I have also climbed and never seen. All the cols in this area are designated pastoral lands, so you have a high chance of running into (possibly literally) sheep, big cows and even bigger horses.
On registration day Shoko and I arrived early to an eerily quiet little square in the middle of Argelès-Gazost, the start town. The Marmotte site gave no indication of how many riders there'd be, so I was a bit worried I wouldn't be able to hide, like during the Alps version (max 7500). There were no vendors' tents and very little 'animation', but it was a friendly enough atmosphere and this was, after all, the first Marmotte Pyrenees.
At night I drank three glasses of wine. I wasn't planning on it, but I finally got a chance to meet the guy in the photo below over dinner, and there was an already-ordered bottle of wine (truth be told, I actually ordered it) to get through.
This is 'Rich Velo', an American rider living in France who has been reading my blog since my first Haute Route. This 'pushing 50' North Carolinian is something of an anomaly, at least to me. He picked up cycling in his thirties and has racked up some very impressive stats from then to now, including top ten results in Haute Route Alps and the Etape du Tour and top 100 in the Marmotte Alps (possibly better, Richard correct me).
Shoko and I had a lovely dinner with Rich and his family and I met him in the front pen (don't ask me how I got chucked in there) in the morning.
Rich and I rode together for the first 20km, until the terrain began to go up. All this while Rich was joking at how he thought we would at least finish in the first 1000 (around how many started) and how those extra 5kg he had put on this year were going to slow him down. And then he was gone; not too fast, but steady, as we saw the front of the race pull ahead at the beginning of the Tourmalet. And that was the last I saw of Rich.
Me, I just rode as hard as I could on that first climb, trying to pace myself as well I could without a power meter or a HR monitor. I did a respectable climb of 1:27, given I had four more to get over that day. At the top I ate salami and crackers, filled up my bidons, and descended the other side in brilliant sunshine (Good News: I never got passed on any descent on Sunday...that's all for the good news, I'm afraid).
At Sainte-Marie-de-Campan we turned right and began the climb to the Col d'Aspin, except we didn't because a few km up the road we were waved off to the right towards La Hourquette d'Ancizan, a forgotten col that has been used only twice in the Tour de France (2011 and 2013). It was a nice, green climb, where I bonked a km from the summit. This was my first 'personal moment' of the race, but I got over it quickly because I could even see the food tent as I was running out of steam.
After another fun descent I did actually attack (in very slow mo) the Col d'Aspin, but from the other side. The legs were turning in the first half of the climb, but refused to cooperate for the rest and I was starting to get concerned. At this point I was only at about half the day's climbing metres and it was really getting hard to get any momentum. All I could see were the number of riders passing me and all I could feel was my confidence losing points each time.
At the next food station I starting sucking back Cokes, a sure sign that I was in dire need of something unnatural. I heard one Spanish guy asking for EPO and I'm sure I would have followed him into that tent if he'd gotten a positive response.
After the Col d'Aspin I knew the world was going to get dark because we had to climb back up the Col du Tourmalet again. I'll skip right to the crunch - at around 6km to go I had to stop and have a conversation with my soul on the side of the road. I was 100% positive that I would find a way to get to the top of the climb, then descend right past Luz Saint Sauveur and back to our Airbnb near Argelès, skipping the last ascent. I just couldn't go on. I can't say I was 'pedalling squares' because that would be doing a disservice to squares. The thought of having to climb another 15km after this just made me want to curl up in a Marmotte hole, preferably with an ice cream.
But again, the ravito was my friend, and I found courage through the orange slices, banana pieces and gumdrops of those magical tents. I decided to do the descent and see how I felt at the bottom. At the bottom there was a man gesturing me to the left, whom I listened to of course, only to find myself on the way to the 1000 metre, 7% climb of Luz Ardiden. I made a mini comeback on Luz, actually passing a few riders who'd flown by me a couple of cols back. I even started thinking that a 'gold brevet' was still possible, but the 8% and 9% km signs never seemed to stop, so I didn't get my speed up enough to crack that (again - I have missed it by minutes two years in a row now).
I finished the day in 208th place overall (68th in our age group), probably out of 900 riders who started (500+ finished), so I'm not devastated by the results considering how I thought I was riding. Of course, if I wanted to make myself feel bad I could compare my day to Rich, who finished 38th overall and 12th in our age group.
But I'm the eternal optimist, so I won't be doing that.
Strava, if this didn't tell the tale well enough.