Big thank you from

Lisburn trio use pedal power on French charity cycle


Lisburn trio use pedal power on French charity cycle

THREE Lisburn men have cycled 430 miles across France to help raise £20,000 for charity Friends of the Cancer Centre.

Mark Grattan, a medical physicist, Philip Nicolls, a finance manager and Jonathan Bunn, a surgeon were part of a group of 18 people who recently completed the gruelling Climb Every Mountain Cancer Cycle.

It involved a seven day coast to coast cycle across the Pyrenees climbing some of the highest mountains of the Tour de France.

They all finished at St Jean de Luz and completed the week's challenge with a dip in the Atlantic Ocean.

"We have been over-whelmed by the scale of interest shown in the tour (over 4,000 hits on our blog at:- and by the amount of money raised to date," explained Mark.

"The funds will greatly help our work in providing cutting-edge Cancer Care and Research for patients of the Cancer Centre. All agreed that the trip had lived up to, and indeed exceeded, our expectations.

"The group would like to sincerely thank all of our supporters who gave us encouragement and have donated money to the Friends of the Cancer Centre.

"We also thank Nathan and Alan, our tour co-ordinators from Marmot Tours. "We are extremely grateful to Greg and Gregory Hanna who drove our bikes out to France and accompanied us on the tour in the van, kindly sponsored and insured by Mourne Windows and Doors." Anyone who would like to make a donation, large or small, can still do so by calling Friends of the Cancer on 028 9069 9393, or online at

Mark kept a diary of his experience:

Day 1: We all experienced the whole gamut of feelings today, from the zenith of joy at the lunch stop to the all-time low of fatigue. We even felt at times resentment at what our wretched bikes were putting us through, but at the end of a very hard day we celebrated. We had overcome a gruelling test of a relentless head wind, a wind tunnel in the gorge and cold rain to top it off after sunshine the previous day. One of our climbs, described as a 'rolling hill, was the equivalent of climbing Slieve Donard. The real mountains, however, were yet to come.

The day got off to a rolling start out of Port Nouvelle. We negotiated a few roundabouts and made our way to some rolling hills against the ferocious head wínd. To minimise fatigue, tight team cycling was needed. We slowly battled uphill against the strong wind. Sadly, we had made a map-reading error and went a few miles the wrong way up a steep valley and over a bridge (this error was not repeated).

Day 2: Another day of dirty wet roads. The day started with a nasty climb out of Quillan which went on for 100 miles or at least felt like it. On the road, our group's Seamus McAleer emulated his hero Lance Armstrong and rolled down a bank into a field and dismounted safely in the field. This was a carbon copy of Lance's famous cross country diversion in his descent into Gap in 2001's Tour De France. Unfortunately, the first major climb of the week was not followed by a descent but a nasty push into a severe head wind and rain and leading to the next climb and then a hair raising descent. A rolling run along the Route de Corniche was just like County Down, only with great scenery yet terrible weather. The final climb of the day to the Col de Port was torture personified especially around the village of Prat Communale. All the cyclists made ít over the top to another long and twisting descent (including road works) to the hotel in the town of Massat.

Day 3: Finally,' hot weather, nice hills, no rain and no wínd. Absolute bliss.
The day dawned misty and chilly. All set out for a rolling hill downward to St. Girons. Some were more patient than others. The first climb of the day (Portet de Aspet) coincíded with hot sun and cloudless sky and all made it to the top. Lunch was a first class picnic spot at the top of the climb, after whích the cyclists descended to the memorial of Fabian Casartelli (a professíonal cyclist who was killed after crashing on that same descent during the Tour De France 16 years ago). This was followed by an important dividing of the ways. The more conservative cyclists electing to do only one col (albeít a steep testíng one) whilst the more adventurous chose to do two cols.

Day 4: All set off from Luchon and after a short circuit of the town set off straight into the Col de Peyresourde, a 14km Category 1 climb. As we entered the circle of death, six vultures circled above. The tough men (Turlough Montague, Johnny Bunn and Philip Nícolls) then diverted to the Col D'Azet while the rest of the team waited for lunch. Philip, not one to be outdone threw in an extra climb to a ski resort. Over lunch Ciaran Rafferty engineered a breakaway comprising Martín, Niel and Gerry who were first to tackle the Col D'Aspin, another Category 1 climb. There followed a beautiful descent to our hotel in Aste. David Stewart managed a personal best by overtaking his first four-wheeled vehicle, which was actually a French pensioner on a mobility scooter.

Day 5: The Toumalet was the absolute climax of the Tour.
It was the highest point at over 7,000 feet and involved a Hors Category climb of 18 steep back-breaking kilometers. The group leader had devised a plan to have every cyclist arrive at the top of the Tourmalet at the same millisecond, achieved by having the cyclists leave at very precise times and cycle at specified speeds. He had not, however, allowed for the poor time-keeping and erratic behaviour of the cyclists. All made it to the top, fighting their way through lamas, cows, cowpats and incredibly steep gradients. The most vicious section was through the ski town of La Mongie, which the group has since renamed Le Mongerel.
The day was hot and sunny and most cyclists were exhausted by the effort, but elated by the achievement. The views from the mountain and from the top were truly spectacular. A rapid descent brought the cyclists 21km to Luz St Sauver. The run finished with a rolling run into a stiff headwind down the Gorge De Luc to Argeles Gazost. Turlough Montague, Johnny Bunn, Alan Hounsell, Philip Nicolls and Niall McKíllop did a massive extra ascent of Luz Ardiden, another hors category clímb.

Day 6: Despite beíng nominally easier than the Tourmalet, today's climbs proved very challenging. The scenery was absolutely spectacular and in particular the road to the Col D'Aubisque traversed a 2,000ft cliff with alarming drops following from the side of the road. On this road, Wim van Est, while wearing the Yellow Jersey during the 1951 Tour de France, crashed and went over the side, landing on a ledge 70 metres down, with 100's of metres to the valley floor. His team managed to rescue him by knotting together their tyres and tubes and pulling him to safety. Sadly they had to retire from the Tour because their tyres and tube were hopeless stretched and they were not allowed to replace them under the existing rules.
Our group's ascent was complicated by having to negotiate several herds of cows and horses, which seemed to delight ín obstructing cars, vans and cyclists. The lunch stop on the Col' Aubísque allowed the group to taste the Aubisque omeletts, which are renowned in the region, and there was a photo opportunity not to be missed at the top of the Col with oversized bicycle sculptures.
The fast group took a short cut home over Col de Marie Blanc, a massive Tour de France classic. They still managed to arrive back at the hotel looking as fresh as daisies, albeit not smelling as fresh as roses
The overall stage with two climbs and 76 miles of cycling proved very challenging to all cyclists. The run-ín from the base of the Aubísque went through a short picturesque valley and then through a long monotonous forest full of nasty hills.

Day 7 : The last day of cycling was no dawdle. The team started in rain, which lifted just as they tackled the last Col of the tour (Col de Osquich). Although the Col had only 4km of climbing, the cyclists found it very tiring as various joints and muscles ached and throbbed from the week's exertions. A few more soul-destroying ups and downs took them into St Jean Pied de Port, which is an historic town, famous as the starting point for the Camino de Santiago, a 500 mile ancient pilgrimage route to the town of Santiago de Compestella in northern Spain.
A short detour off the main road over the final few hills was followed by a 20 mile push on gently downhill roads which brought the triumphant group to the beach in St Jean De Luz.

Ulster Star