Lisburn trio use pedal power on French charity cycle
by MARY MAGEE
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:-
https://climbeverymountain2011.blogspot.com 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
"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
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
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.