Mads Olivarius Laibom is a keen marathon runner that likes to challenge himself both physical and mentally. So, when the chance of riding one the toughest amateur cycling races in the World turned up together with the EnRouteLaMarmotte-group, he quickly accepted the challenge.
Mads could look forward to a great challenge; La Marmotte. 174km with around 5,000 meters of climbing on some of the most mythical mountains in the Alps: Glandon, Telegraph, Galibier and Alpe d’Huez.
Here follows Mad’s experiences from a tuff day on the bike.
Race report by Mads Olivarius Laibom
En Route Service Course
We arrive at Aple d’Huez Wednesday with the race being on Sunday. United Cycling brought the bikes down from Denmark in a van and Thursday we fix them up and get some much-needed downhill training the next couple of days.
I quickly realized that going downhill is not my strong suit, even though I practiced it at home together with former pro, Stefan Djurhuus.
> 5 Tips on How to Master the Descents
I would have to rely on the ascending and my relative low weight.
The EnRouteLaMarmotte-group consists of roughly 50/50 cyclists and runners. Coming closer to race day the runners are alarmed by the length of the rides and how hard people are training so close to Sunday. We hade several rides in the stunning Alps, and even climbing Alpe d’Huez twice before race day.
If we were preparing for a marathon we would fear going down the stairs for a cup of coffee. At the end we tell each other that we just have to trust the more seasoned riders that we will be ready instead of worn out.
Making a Plan
The evening before race day Simon, Jonas and I lined up the gear and energy. Having a predicted finish time of seven hours and forty minutes the amount of gels, bars and whatnot is alarming.
Stacking it all down my back pockets I feel like someone crossing a continent, and not someone going out for a single day, but the idea of being alone on a mountain without anything to eat makes me stick to the plan that Rune Larsen from AimHigh has made for me.
The overall plan goes like this:
- Glandon (1h50m)
- Telegraph (3h50m)
- Galibier (5h24m) and finally
- Alpe d’Huez (7h40m) – including the neutralized Glandon downhill section.
I didn’t know if it was realistic, but others have told me that the performance test by Rune Larsen from AimHigh often is close to the actual finish time.
My mate Simon and I agreed to ride together on the day and try to reach the summits at the time given.
The morning of the race we get up, get our gear, get some food and coffee and are ready outside the hotel 0615 hours.
The usual tension is in the air and you see the guys double and triple checking the gear and bikes, mostly to reassure themselves that everything is in order. We go down Alpe d’Huez slowly.
Now is not the time to mess anything up. On the road we see several people mending a flat tire. I’m told that the tubes burst if you pump too many bars in it at the top, before coming down. Yet another handy tip from the cyclist part of the group.
We get to the starting line without any fuss and the start goes off at 0730 hours.
The beginning is hectic like a marathon, too many eager men with too much adrenalin in the blood, but we get to lie in the tailwind of a huge group and we reach Glandon with a high average speed without having worked too much for it.
The climbing begins and all the riders turn quiet. I find a pace that I feel comfortable in and reach the top at 1h40m. The time is neutralized on the top to the bottom due to safety and I’m therefore able to link up with Simon that arrives a few minutes after me.
It’s getting warmer and I’m having trouble eating enough. Three hours and forty minutes after the start of the race I reach Telegraph and I’m behind on energy. I’m supposed to be on the top of Galibier approximately one and a half hour later. I have been warned that the mountain will break one’s spirit and some of the runners have tried it a few days ago. “It’s terrible” they’ve told me. I brace myself and starts climbing.
The Suffering Starts at Galibier
The scenery is beautiful as we climb up Galibier, but more and more focus is put on reaching the next turn. I haven’t been eating enough the last hour or two, and it is starting to make a mark. It seems like the top is close, but every time it we come over a bend, more of the barren mountain materializes and the summit keeps eluding me. The legs are starting to burn and when I finally go over the top I feel completely spend.
On the brighter side, I’m keeping up with Rune Larsen’s predictions, but the idea that I still have to go sixty kilometers, with Alpe d’Huez at the end, is overwhelming. I know that our friend Buch is around here somewhere with a bag, but I cannot muster the energy to look for him, so I grab some slices of orange and drink some cola before moving on.
Even with my jacket on I’m freezing, and I can’t feel my hands, so I take it easy on the descent. I get passed by a lot of riders, but I don’t really care. I just want to reach the finish line and be done with it. After an hour or so I start to feel a bit more normal again and begin to think about, how I’m supposed to get up the twenty-one hairpins at Alpe d’Huez.
The Last Climb
Teaming up with a group we reach the bottom of the climb fairly quickly and I refill my bottles. I force down a gel and move on to the first turn.
There is an air of euphoria amongst the riders. I think it is due to the fact that we are finally able to battle the last climb of the day. The feeling quickly turns into dread as it becomes clear that the steep road and the heat is making it hard to keep any kind of rhythm and the legs are completely wasted by now.
After a few kilometers I allow myself to take a break on the side of the road. I hold my head in my hands and rest my neck for sixty seconds. I know that if the breaks are any longer, I’m going waste too much time or even come to a complete stop. I can’t remember being tired like this in any marathon or ultra-run, but the feeling of not knowing how you’re going to reach the finish line is well known and in hindsight I think that might have helped to be in that situation multiple times before.
On the last couple of kilometers, I start to see familiar faces and as always you find some last hidden reserves of energy as the end closes in, so I am able to pick up the speed a bit at the end.
I cross the finish line after 7h 28m (diploma time with the Glandon descent excluded). I feel worn and tired, but also glad.
I find the other (faster) guys at a table filled with pints of lager one kilometers before the finish line and we trade war stories while we cheer the remaining people on.
To date it has been one of the toughest things I have done. It’s difficult to compare it to a fast marathon, but the sheer amount of time spent in the saddle makes it a different kind of terrible then a sub three hour marathon for instance.
When the classic thought of “I am never doing that again” has passed I will figure out what the future holds for a somewhat good/not too bad runner/cyclist.
Mads Olivarius Maibom
Photos: Private and Peter Ebro / United Cycling
Text: Mads Olivarius Maibom