Sportive.com publisher Joe Saumarez Smith made some notes to himself the day before riding his first Marmotte...
1. Keep calm
When I rode the Etape in 2011 it was the first major sportive I had ridden in. I was nervous and so was the guy I was riding with, who was also doing it for the first time. Our nerves were infectious and we wasted a lot of energy winding ourselves up with 'what ifs' about how if we punctured early we could be swept up by the broom wagon or what would happen if the feed stations had run out of water (as they had the previous year when it was baking hot).
All that nervous energy would have been better spent pushing myself up the Alpine slopes. It is only natural to be nervous about riding something like La Marmotte but only worry about the things that you can control.
That said, I still woke up at 4.30am on Thursday night and had to read my book for 30 minutes before going back to sleep, so obviously there are limits to how calm I can be.
God only knows how much sleep I will get on the night before but go to bed early and try and get as much sleep as humanly possible.
2. Be prepared
To fail to prepare is to prepare to fail, as one of my old school teachers used to say.
In other words, check your bike thoroughly the day before rather than on the morning of La Marmotte. Make sure everything is mechnically sound, especially if you have had a long journey to get to Bourg d'Oisans. Planes, trains and automobiles are not kind to bikes and its easy for saddle height to slip or for screws to loosen.
Check the weather forecast and work out what you are likely to need. Do not rely on the weather forecast you looked at on Wednesday. Alpine weather changes rapidly and you need to take that into account.
Good weather forecasts for La Marmotte include:
Get all your kit out the afternoon before and have it ready to go in the morning. Take the weather into account. Remember that the tops of mountains are cold and descending when you are sweaty and it is cold can be very unpleasant if you don't have the right kit.
Be sensible about your food and drink. Only take what you can actually consume but don't run out. Don't try anything for the first time, however tempting it feels. Stick with what you know.
Remember to take cash, a debit or credit card and your identity documents (for La Marmotte there is a form to fill in that you should carry in your pocket but I will also take a drivers licence too).
Suncream is vital.
3. Remember to eat and drink
I am not very good at remembering to eat and drink on a ride. I find the first three hours okay but then I don't feel hungry (not another fruit bar!) and I stop eating. This is not a viable means of survival on La Marmotte. I need to remember to eat a Torq bar an hour and to drink roughly a bidon an hour, more if it is hot. The plan is to take a selection of different Nuun electrolyte pills to add to my water to give a bit of variety to taste.
This is all about discipline. Stop looking at the beautiful views and start eating and drinking!
4. Have a plan (and stick to it)
Know the route. Have some ideas of what times you need to be in certain locations if you want to get a silver or gold time. Know where the feed and water stations are. I pasted a small ride plan with the Marmotte broken down into sections on my top tube. This shows the distances to each of the major climbs (Glandon, Telegraphe, Galibier, Alpe d'Huez and the distance and average slope of each climb) and the silver time, on the off chance I am going to be anywhere near it. From looking at other rider's previous timings of the course I reckon the top of the Telegraphe is the half way point of the course in terms of time (it is slightly futher than half in distance), which should give me an indication of what pace I should be aiming for in the second half of La Marmotte.
5. It is not a race
Okay, La Marmotte is a race. For some people. If you're an elite athlete it's a race. But I am not and for many of us it is a great achievement just to finish without being swept up by the broom wagon.
Don't get swept up in the enthusiasm of the peloton sailing along at 50 kp/h for the first 12 kilometres if this is not a pace you normally ride at. Ride your own race (this is especially true for me as I have been allocated a start number of 463, which is about five thousand places higher than I should be). Don't push yourself into the red if you can possibly avoid it, especially not before Alpe d'Huez. On the climbs set yourself your own steady pace and keep going at that pace, slowly eating up the kilometres rather than killing yourself to keep up with people who are fitter and faster than you. You will see plenty of people doing this and blowing up in the later stages of the race; don't be one of them.
6. Have fun
You're doing this voluntarily. You've driven 10 hours across Europe to get here. It is meant to be a fun day out on the bike. Take in the experience. Look at the spectacular views. Don't take stupid risks on the descents. Enjoy yourself!