Ex-professional cyclist Grant Lottering recently completed the “most difficult, yet most beautiful and most rewarding” of his five Im’possible Tours, which took him across vast mountainous tracts of France.
The ultra-endurance athlete, who is a cancer survivor and public speaker, cycled a distance of nearly 1 000km in just under 48 hours, stopping only long enough to enable his body to recover sufficiently to keep going.
Lottering, 50, had to halt his attempt on the same route last year after hypothermia set in. So while this latest epic journey was his hardest yet, he saw it as “payback time” following his previous disappointment.
“I learnt so much from last time and I knew this would be an attempt on another level so I prepared differently with much more strength and power work,” Lottering told In the Bunch.
“I also made sure I had clothing for any and all weather conditions. And I did experience severe heat, winds, single-figure temperatures at night, rain, wind-chill and more, so I was always adequately clothed.”
He said he reconnoitred the route twice and physically rode close to 80% of it in training, so his preparation was as detailed as possible. However there were a few unexpected surprises along the way.
“Riding across France through the Pyrenees, Provence and the Alps we faced a few major road closures, route deviations and detours. As a result this cost me over 100km in riding distance and almost nine hours in total time lost.
“This meant we had to make route changes as we progressed. I also rode up the wrong mountain in the Verdun Valley on night two and had to make a U-turn at the summit, costing over two hours.”
Lottering felt the easiest part was that all he had to do was ride as his two support teams knew exactly what he needed and when.
They also kept a record of his progress and whether or not he was on schedule. “This was vital as it enabled me to measure my effort throughout the attempt,” he said.
The hardest was at night when they would stop in the dead of night so that Lottering could nap for 30 minutes in the support car.
“We stopped at places like the bottom of the Col de la Madeleine at midnight and at Lac Annecy before climbing the Col de la Forclaz Montmin at 3am.
“To then have to wake up, get back on the bike in three-to-four-degree temperatures and start riding up the Col de la Madeleine or Col d’Izoard was so difficult.”
Lottering said on the third night, after he had been riding for over 35 hours, he scheduled a “sleep stop” at the base of the Col de la Madeleine at 11.30pm.
It was a 45-minute stop in 3C weather, which included changing in the support car into fresh clothes, eating a chicken salad and napping for 30 minutes.
“I had to then get back on the bike straight away and start climbing the 22km mountain. My legs were nowhere and I truly suffered to get to the summit.
“It was extremely tough with 824km already in my legs and still over 200km to go. I kept asking myself ‘what were you thinking?’ and ‘what the hell are you doing?’.”
Lottering said he never started this attempt to try to see how far he would get. “When I started I had already visualised my finish. To me it was a done deal.
“Also, the fact I survived death [from cancer] and since 2013 have done what no one, and I mean no one, thought possible, that made me keep going because of what I had overcome.
“When the pain threshold became unbearable, and it often did, I kept saying to myself ‘Grant, this is nothing compared to the pain you have endured since 2013 to get here’. It helped to shift the focus from how I felt to what I was thinking.”
He ended up sleeping or napping for just three hours and 40 minutes during the entire attempt, while also managing to keep his stop time in check.
“Overall, I stopped an average of one hour per seven hours riding with an average distance of around 141km per seven hours. Yes it’s tough going in the mountains.”
Lottering said on a ride this long he experienced all kinds of emotions. There were times where physically he felt strong, yet was very emotional because of the privilege of what he was experiencing and the gift of being alive.
“Being able to ride a bike just overwhelmed me. Quite a few times, like on the Col du Galibier, I was literally crying – tears of absolute joy.
“Then there were times when I just started losing it because of the sleep deprivation and exhaustion. My support teams know me, so they were able to deal with me. I became irritable, demanding, repeated myself and was just plain hard work.”
Lottering added that the tour once again made him realise how unbelievably powerful the mind and the right thought processes were, and the impact these had on one’s physical body.
“No matter how tough or hard the challenge we face, if we live in the moment and focus on the beauty and the experience itself the challenge becomes so much more manageable.”
Lottering rode across the Pyrenees, parts of Provence and through the Alps in one ride, which was a first for him and for anyone. His vision for his tours has always been to be relevant and to give people hope to keep pursuing their dreams.
“Stay committed despite setbacks. In these five years I overcame 10 surgeries and cancer. Don’t limit yourself based on what others think and push beyond what you think is not possible.”
This was Lottering’s final Im’possible Tour in the French Alps and he said he had been prepared to take it to the next level.
“I’m happy that it’s finished but I would now like to involve the public and turn it into an annual event to inspire millions and raise even more money for charity.”
Lottering’s Im’Possible Tour in numbers:
47 hours 21 minutes, 967km, 21 484m climbed.
Mountains covered, in order via the route ridden:
Col d’Aubisque – Col du Soulor – Col du Tourmalet – Haurcette d’Ancizan – Val Louran Azet – Col du Peyresourde – Col de Mente – Portet d-Aspet – Col du Bourget – Col d’Allos – Col de Vars – Col d’Izoard – Col du Lauteret – Col du Galibier-Col du Mollard – Lacets Montvernier – Col du Chaussy – Col de la Madeleine – Col de la Forclaz Montmin – Col des Glieres – Col de la Croix Fry – Col des Aravis – Col des Saisies