Ultra-endurance cyclist Grant Lottering’s expectations were exceeded in every way during his first South African Im’possible Tour, which ended after a brutal 66 hours at Val de Vie Estate in the Paarl-Franschhoek Valley on Sunday.
According to Lottering, who turned to attempting near impossible cycling feats after the sport almost cost him his life in 2013, no one has attempted a single ride of this magnitude in the country.
“My first local tour was more brutal, extreme and beautiful than I expected,” said the Laureus Sport for Good ambassador, who started his vigil at dawn on Thursday in Patensie.
“I have absolutely nothing left. I had to endure levels of pain for hours on end, comparable only with my first tour in 2014 while still recovering from my near-fatal cycling accident in the Italian Alps.
“The number of people who waited for me at the finish was also a massive surprise,” Lottering said shortly after completing the 1 314km on and off-road ride from the Eastern Cape town near Port Elizabeth.
The 50-year-old, who is also a cancer survivor, climbed 17 mountains totalling 12 000m of vertical ascent and napped just under three hours to achieve an average speed of around 20km/h.
“The way I designed the route meant it was broken up into specific segments which I used as markers to tick off. For example, first the Baviaanskloof, then the Seven Passes Road, then the tar section from George to Oudtshoorn and so on.
“As with every previous tour I had scheduled 10-minute stops every four to six hours, which gave me something to look forward to,” said Lottering, who attempted his fifth international tour in September.
“It also enabled my support team and I to keep on track with my progress in terms of the time splits I had pre-calculated.”
He said the first 30 hours, which took him to the top of Swartberg Pass at 590km, were “insanely hard”.
“This entire section I had to ride almost like a time-trial as I simply had to get to the summit before sunset on day two. We made it by about 15 minutes; just enough time to get some fantastic images and footage.
“It was the mountain that almost defeated me as I suffered terribly by then.
“On day three and into the evening I had to ride on the mountain bike from Ladismith through Anysberg Nature Reserve to Ouberg Pass and on to Touws River, where I arrived just before midnight.”
On this stretch, he had to endure a cocktail of heat, rough road surfaces and corrugations.
“By then my backside had already become very bruised and chafed, so it was a truly testing and relentless section.
“Another aspect of my ride, which has always been incredibly difficult, was to stop for one hour alongside the road, sometimes in a town, other times in the middle of the Karoo at 2am, to eat, nap for 30 minutes and get back on the bike knowing I still had hundreds of kilometres to go.”
The segment between Knysna and George, which he rode between 1am and sunrise, was much harder than he had expected.
“During this section I went through a period where I had absolutely no legs and it just felt like I would never reach George.”
However, his mood improved on the stretch from George to Oudtshoorn via Robinson Pass, which he experienced as “extremely special”.
“The last time I rode up there I was an 18-year-old in the Allied Tour and I was the only amateur who managed to stay with seven of the top professionals, including Alan van Heerden, Robbie McIntosh and Willie Engelbrecht.
“I went on to finish eighth overall, first amateur and junior, so I will never forget it. This time round I went a tad slower though.”
The weather played along, apart from the last day through Ceres into Paarl where it became overcast and cooler.
“Other than that, we didn’t see a single cloud the entire ride, no rain and just the normal wind patterns one would expect in the Karoo.
“The weather was always my concern as it changes so quickly and that is often followed by strong winds, but it turned out just fine.”
Comparing his overseas Im’possible tour to this one, he felt the latter was more fulfilling and rewarding.
“There is very little that can compare to riding all the big alpine giants and famous Tour de France mountains in one ride, however, most of my followers and public in general could never relate to how it was.
“This year my route included roads used by most of the famous local mountain bike tours, so they were able to relate and appreciate how incredibly hard it was.”
Even switching between his mountain and road bikes was easier than he had expected.
“It actually assisted me to the extent that the different riding positions enabled me to get some relief.”
Lottering said he felt honoured to have been blessed with the physical and mental strength to take on extreme challenges.
“Being the first person is not important to me at all. Inspiring and challenging others to dare to dream big, believe in themselves and live large is what it is about.”