The Big Day - Saturday July 5th 2008

Updated September 25th 2008 (At foot of post)

An early start with Betty cooking my porridge at 5:30am. The village was in a lively mood from 6:00am onwards. The band was playing as 8,000 cyclists lined up in the narrow streets waiting for the 7:00am start. It was a festive occasion for the many onlookers and made me realise how special the event was, although I was feeling very apprehensive about what lay ahead.

We were soon off, the first 6 miles were flat and there was a big group of cyclists travelling down the traffic free road, cheered on by many spectators at speeds approaching 30 miles per hour, if only the whole event could be that easy!

The real cycling effort soon began as we started the 15 mile ascent of the Col de Clandon, I had decided to ride the event at my pace and not join in with the younger faster riders. I found myself in a steady group and we all climbed the mountain together at a consistent pace and I was pleased to reach the top just after 9:00am. A stop at the feeding station, taking aboard some food and drink and filling up my feeding bottles. The descent was fast but quite tricky too so I made sure I took care while other riders were whizzing by me at speeds of over 40 mph. The miles in the valley were steady but the heat was building up as we approached the Col de Telegraph. I took the climb at my speed, initially being passed by most riders but as I approached the final few kilometres I started to overtake many of the riders who had passed me earlier. A quick descent and into the foothills of the Col de Galibier and very soon another feeding station. I had now travelled over half the distance in under 4 hours, I was feeling good. A feed and more drink and I was off again to tackle the 8,600 feet summit of the mountain.

I was travelling well feeling very comfortable when suddenly I got cramp in my inside thigh muscles. I stopped a couple of times, did some stretching then continued. Then suddenly an even more violent attack and all I could do was to fall over into the side of the road just as one of the many ambulances following the route passed by. Before I knew it I had been strapped onto a stretcher and put into the ambulance with a Doctor looking over me. He seemed convinced I was having an heart attack, my french could not explain the situation but luckily the ambulance driver Helene had a good knowledge of English. I explained my cramps and as the Doctor was looking at my legs my mobile received a text. Helene found the mobile in my pocket and read the text for me. It was from Jean (Betty's friend) hoping the ride was going well. Helene obviously had learned the English sense of humour too as she offered to send a text back saying I was currently in an ambulance as she thought Jean was my wife.

The doctor advised me not to continue as cycling was not possible and offered to take me to the top of the mountain and make arrangements for me to be transported to the finish. No way would I agree, I explained my sponsorship and my personal determination to succeed and said I would have to walk the remaining 5 miles to the top. He gave me some water and off I went for over a 2 hour walk to the top with thousands of cyclists passing me by. At the top I rested for a while although it was very cold and windy. The descent from the top was difficult due to the wind and cold.

It was now a 25 mile descent on a good road to the foot of Alpe d'Huez, we were going at a fast speed even though I was still getting painful twinges in my thighs, I was feeling very apprehensive about the 9 mile climb of Alpe d'Huez. I stopped at the feeding station at the foot of the climb, had plenty to eat and drink including 3 glasses of Coke, something I never normally drink.

I got back on my bike wondering what lay ahead, I was so deeply engrossed that I failed to recognise Alan and Joan who were standing at the roadside cheering me on. The climb started, initially at a 10% gradient, I pushed hard on my pedals, I was overtaking riders and before I had reached the halfway point to the first bend I knew I was going to succeed, for a brief moment emotion took over; it's a good job no photographer was there to capture the scene. Around bend 21, soon it was bend 17 and the really steep part was over. I kept my legs going reciting the names of my grand children (sometimes out loud) "Lexie, Jack, Edward, Jess, Ben and Libby". If that got a bit monotonous then I would say the names in a different order. All the way up I was catching other riders, I kept looking up to the top and counting down the bends. Bend 3 was in sight, then 2 and finally 1, almost there, the final climb through the village through a wall of noise and encouragement under the bridge, a right turn and it was downhill to the finish. The first thing I noticed as I approached the finish was a very relieved Betty standing on the corner.

I did it, I achieved my challenge, it was much harder than I ever imagined but it was over. I did not care much about the time it had taken me and was very pleased to find later that I had achieved the Silver Standard.

A great day and made even better by the wonderful support I have received from so many people. You have all made a difference both to me and the Royal Marsden Hospital.

Sunday July 6th

Just checked the computer and some more donations, this time from former work colleague and friend Alan Molloy, Tony from Bike Eye and my cycling colleague and friend Alan and his wife Joan; many thanks to you all.

I have just about reached my target of £20 per kilometre but I am sure the Royal Marsden would welcome and put to good use as much as possible.

My next task is to check out on the pictures taken during the ride and I will post then here later,

Again, my thanks to everyone who has supported me and made my ride possible,

Monday July 7th

A long journey home but I am still feeling elated after my ride and the miles just flew by.

It was great to receive so many messages of congratulation from many of my sponsors and also 3 further donations which have taken my total to over £3,500. Dave and Cynthia Green, my former work colleagues of the 1950's have generously doubled their previous donation while Ceri from my club and Mr A Ohry of The Cycle Store Friern Barnet have also kindly contributed. Even though the ride is over it's still a great feeling to receive a donation and I am sure that if I make it to the circuit in the morning I will be full of enthusiasm because of all the support I have received.

Tuesday July 8th

I made a late appearence at the circuit and put in 40 very easy miles. Only Jim was there, the rest of the riders are in France watching the Tour although Chris Denmam did turn up later and join us for a few laps. I did not join in any of the sprints up the hill, my legs were too tired. It's good that donations are still being received, this time from another former IAL work colleague Jenny Crowe, many thanks Jenny.

Wednesday July 9th

Too wet for cycling today, I played around with my blog and worked out how best to display the pictures from France. I now need to purchase some of the official photos taken during the ride.

More donations too from James Poole, a fellow club member and La Marmotte competitor, Rose and Ed Riches, more of Betty's friends from the Gym and another donation from Jean. It is a great feeling to be supported by so many people, my thanks to you all.

Friday July 11th

Managed to get to the circuit and joined Alan, Jim and 4 others for 30 miles or so. I competed in a few of the sprints up the hill but I think I could classify my ride as steady.

But, more donations received which has brought my total much closer to £4,000. Another of Betty's friends Shirley Mossman and two old colleagues from my former company IAL. Many thanks to George Dunford, a real stalwart who worked his way up from being an Air Traffic Controller to MD, quite an achievement. The other colleague to remember me was Mary Gosden, Mary worked in the accounts department in the Basingstoke office and set me many a brain teaser trying to sort out the problems with the Finance Computer System. Many thanks to you all.

Saturday July 12th

Spent the morning watching my grandson Ben play football, tidying up the garden in the afternoon but I did receive another donation from my neighbour Jean. Many thanks Jean.

Monday July 21st

My sponsorship has now exceeded the £4,000 mark thanks to the generosity of my club mates Peter Manley, Paul Buckland and Roy Barugh. Roy raised a considerable sum on my behalf by getting sponsorship for a ride he did on his mountain bike from Uxbridge to Dorset.

Thursday July 24th

The day after the Tour de France rode a similar course to the La Marmotte except they went round the loop in the opposite direction but still finished with the climb of Alpe d'Huez. I sure appreciated the efforts made by the leading cyclists but further down the field there were a considerable number that were not that much quicker than me.

A good day for donations too, another of Andrea's university friends, Jane Hartshorne, Andy Godley who I worked with when I was doing voluntary work for Victim Support and from two of Betty's colleagues at the Trust where she is a Trustee, Betty O'Rourke and Carol Austin. A big thankyou to you all, is is still a very motivating feeling to receive a donation and with the total now at £4.291 I have good expectations to raise £4,500.

The other highlight of today was the Welcome Home Reception organised by St George. Once again St George were fantastic hosts and all of our friends who attended had a very enjoyable time. The Mayor was there to congratulate me, I have lived in the area for the majority of my life and had never met the Mayor before, now I have met him twice in a few weeks. A big thankyou to everyone who supported me and especially to St George.

Saturday July 26th

Another good day for donations which has now taken my total to almose £4,600, an amount I am very pleased with but I guess it would be even better if I could reach a round number like £5,000! Many thanks to the Hobbs family, Nick and Lindsey and their two boys John and Jamie. Betty has known the family for many years as the two boys attended her school, they are all now keen cyclists and will no doubt be tackling the French Cols very soon. The other donation was from neighbour John Clarke, John lost his wife Eve to cancer a year ago and like him we do miss Eve a lot, she was the real character of our small close.

Monday July 28th

More publicity on the internet, this time from Simon O'Hagan who I met on a recent Audax ride. Simon writes a blog for the Independent Newspaper and you can read his article here:- Thankyou Simon for the article and it has already contributed a donation from Angus Urquhart, thankyou Angus.

Tuesday July 29th

Betty's birthday today so we had a day in London and finished off by seeing the musical Spamalot which is really worth seeing if you still have a Monty Python sense of humour. A good day for donations, thankyou to Scotty who I presume read the Independent blog and to an old friend Peter Ryerson. I also received another donation from my mother in law, this time it was in memory of her long time friend Myna Thick who recently died at the age of 94. The total is slowly creeping upwards and I am hoping I will finally raise £5,000, a nice round number.

Friday August 1st

Two more donations today, the first a further contribution from Lance who is a cycling colleague at the Hillingdon Circuit and the second from a former work colleague at both IAL and BT, Alan Underwood. Many thanks to you both and I have now raised over £4,700. Only £264 to go.

Wednesday August 13th

A very good day for donations, three received raising my total to over £4,800. Thankyou to the riders at the Tuesday Night Racing at the circuit for your contributions, R. M. Starkey and Mark Taylor. You sure brightened up my day and got me even closer to my target of £5,000.

Friday August 13th

Andrea's university friends have supported me well and today I received another donation from one of her housemates Helen. I also found out that Mark Taylor who donated earlier this week is also a friend from university. Many thanks to you all.

Sunday September 7th

Very pleased tonight, thanks to donations from John Piggin, a schoolfriend from the 1950's, Peter White who was my Boss for a few years when I worked at IAL, cycling colleagues Rocco Richardson and Liz Creese and another Old Actonian Allan Lawrence I have made my target of £5,000. I am sure smiling right now and all the effort expounded in the training and the riding of La Marmotte was sure worthwhile. Rocco made an interesting comment on the event, he reckons the cycling part was easy and in fact I raised £1,000 for every mile I walked up the Col de Galibier!

Monday September 15th

Donations from former Uxbridge Wheelers clubmates, Mick and Rose Mahon and Barry Eastwood plus one from our neighbour Edna Hodgson has made my final total £5,091, a total I could never have imagined when I started on this challenge over 11 months ago. My thanks to you all, it sure has been a wonderful experience for me to achieve one of my dreams in riding up the French Cols made even more memorable by your generosity.

Thursday September 25th

More support from former Uxbridge Wheelers, many thanks to Dave and Stephanie Horton for your generosity. Also many thanks to another of Betty's Gym colleagues Indra Big and added to a couple of anonymous donations has raised my total to over £5,200.

Today I plan to send all the cheques to The Royal Marsden and so close the challenge.


lancewrite said...

Congratulations John.


Anonymous said...

Great result John, glad you made it through alive!

You'll have to start training for the next one!

Paul Crowe

Anonymous said...

Lazarus has nothing on you John!!

Just goes to show that you can do all the training you like, but when it comes down to it, its all about blood, guts and dertermination, and you certainly stpped up to that plate on that one.

In many ways, if you'd cruised through it, it wouldnt have been the epic that you'd hoped for.......but it was.

Chapeaux indeed.

Simon said...

Well done, a stirling effort you should be very proud of what you've achieved.

Si (West Drayton MBC)

Sue and Ken said...

Just read the blog John. We just knew you wouldn't chicken out however painful it got. Ken was very impressed at you getting the silver standard. Me, I would have loved to have seen Betty's face as you approached the finishing line. Have a safe journey back, and well done again. Ken & Sue x

Dave and Cynthy said...

Many many congratulations on achieving such a feat. Particularly
coupled with such high drama! Your 'guts' and determination
undoubtedly got you through and there was obviously no doubt in you
mind at any time that you were going to finish the task. We are
really pleased for you and once again our heartiest congratulations.

We are going to double up our donation and will give Betty the
balance when I see her.

In the meantime, presumably you will be taking time out to recover
and may be have a few days rest.

Cynthy suggests that the graphic detail in your bulletins lends
itself to the writing of a book!!

Our very best wishes

Cynthy and Dave

Alan said...

Just read your blog. A great achievement.

Simon - St George said...

Everyone at St George would like to congratulate you on a magnificent effort in La Marmotte. I sent round your latest blog entry today and everyone agreed at just how well you did, especially under the circumstances of the severe cramp you experienced.

Anonymous said...


You are a true hero. When I came upon you on Galibier, cramped up and only able to walk, I never thought you would make it. To find you were only one hour behind me at the finish when I have 15 years on you fills me with awe.

You are living proof that almost anything is achievable if you have the guts and determination to fight on.

Chapeau, mon ami!


Norman said...

Well done John. You have every right to be proud of your achievment.!!