26 Nov, 2015

He smashed it!

Grant Lottering attacking another Alpine hill under the watchful eye of his support crew in the support vehicles. Photograph by TrimaXhebdo.
Grant Lottering’s 2015 Im’possible Tour took him over 10 major Alpine mountains, four of which are “out of category” with the rest classified as category one. Photograph by TrimaXhebdo.
With his nephew Sean jogging behind him, Grant rides the 1350 metre high Col du Chaussy. Photograph by TrimaXhebdo.
Grant is now a Laureus Sport for Good Foundation ambassador. Photograph by TrimaXhebdo.
The 2015 Im’possible Tour route profile.
Descending a steep Alpine road at night can be challenging too! Photograph by TrimaXhebdo.

Grant Lottering smashed his goal of conquering 10 mountains in the Alps in less than 24 hours. In fact, he climbed 9864 metres of ascent during his 418 kilometre ride in under 20 hours! We spoke to him soon after the ride.

“It was, without a doubt, the hardest thing I’ve ever done on a bike.”

So says former Springbok cyclist Grant Lottering, who started what he calls the 2015 Im’possible Tour at 17:30 in the afternoon of Monday 3 August.

“We actually started earlier than originally planned because rain was expected the next day,” he told Modern Cyclist shortly after his return from Europe. “My goal was to average 20 kilometres per hour which meant it would take 21 hours.”

Grant’s amazing story actually began on 21 July 2013 while he rode the 140-kilometre Leggendaria Charly Gaul in Trento, Italy as preparation for that year’s world championships. He crashed into a rock embankment after entering a wet corner at over 60 kilometres per hour. His heart stopped beating and he was unconscious when the medical team arrived on the scene and fought for his life.

After he was airlifted to hospital, doctors continued to work on him, not only bringing him back to life but starting the healing process that continues to this day. Doctors naturally told him he would never ride a bicycle again in his life.

While lying in hospital, Grant vowed that he would not only ride a bike again, but that he’d return and ride the same race the very next year. He rode his first Im’possible Tour in July 2014, which included finishing the Leggendaria Charly Gaul and riding the even longer 174-kilometre La Marmotte, titling the tour: “From Death to the Top of the Alps in One Year”. This first tour raised over R150 000 for the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation.

After completing that, Grant started thinking up ways in which he could improve on that performance.

“I was told that I’d never get back on my bike. But I wanted to live my life without limits. I wanted to see how far I could push myself, so the second Im’possible Tour became ‘Taking a Second Chance of Life to the Limit and Beyond’ so that’s what I set out to do this year,” Grant commented.

He reached the highest point of the ride, the Col du L’iseran (2770 metres) at 01:00 in the morning of Tuesday 4 August after climbing continuously from St Maurice, a distance of around 50 kilometres. At this point, Grant wasn’t only “on target” but was an hour and a half ahead of schedule!

“So we had to stop at the top of L’iseran and put on winter clothing and lights on the bike and that sort of thing and then descend for 30 kilometres, in the middle of the night. I effectively started the L’Etape du Tour route from that point on and followed that for about 140 kilometres,” Grant explained.

The L’Etape du Tour is a ride for amateur cyclists and follows the same route as that particular year’s Tour de France.

After that, Grant would need to climb the Col du Mollard (1630 metres), which was one of the impressive climbs in this year’s Tour de France at 03:00 in the morning with the aim of conquering the 2060 metre Col du Croix de Fer at sunrise, which in itself is a continuous climb of 22 kilometres.

“That climb was relentless at night because you don’t know when it’s going to end. You can’t see anything. It just keeps going on and on and you lose sense of how far you’ve climbed and how far you still have to go. It is something else to climb a mountain and you see the lights way down in the valley and you realize how high you are.

“Because I was a little ahead of schedule, and because of the dangers, I took it easy on the descent. So, after an extremely hard climb, I got to the top of the Col du Croix de Fer just after 05:00 and just as the sky turned red. It was absolutely beautiful,” Grant explained.

After stopping for a quick bite to eat, Grant then descended the Col du Glandon which is so dangerous that it is often “neutralised” during road races. He then hit the Lacets de Montvernier, also in the Tour de France, which is a combination of tight hairpin turns up a three kilometre mountain slope. And after that, Grant hit the 1530 metre Col du Chaussy.

“This is where my legs just fell off. I just went through that bad patch in my ride where I had no legs and I really just died going up there. At times, I was going so slow you could’ve walked next to me. I knew I mustn’t stop, not even for one minute, so I just kept turning the pedals and literally forgot about the rest of the ride because I still had to do 180 kilometres and three major climbs,” he reminisced.

This was one of two “dark places” during the ride where Grant really had to dig deep. His brother Glen would come up beside him in one of the support vehicles and urge him on. And Sean, Grant’s nephew, would run next to him, encouraging him and he describes that support as “incredible”.

“By the time I got to the top of the Col du Chaussy, I’d been riding for 13 hours already, through the night. But when I got there I knew I’d feel better down the other side. So then I descended and then hit the Col de la Madeleine,” Grant said.

The 2000 metre Col de la Madeleine also featured in the Tour de France this year and, fortunately for Grant, a light rain fell which helped to keep him cool during that summer’s morning, although he still describes it as a “hard climb”.

“I then descended into the valley and rode up the 1527 metre Col de la Forclaz, followed by the last climb, a 16 kilometre long climb up to the 1657 metre Col Les Saisies,” he said.

This last climb was another one of the “dark places” which Grant went to during the ride. With about 10 kilometres to the end of the ride, Grant was hitting a 10 – 12% gradient and because he already had over 400 kilometres in his legs, it was very tough. But he finished the ride, almost two hours quicker than originally planned.

“So much planning went into it. I calculated the ride in so much detail so that I would know when I was going either too hard or too slow. And what also made it easier was that I had the two support cars and the motorbike. It was an incredible team effort. And I think the beauty for me with this whole thing; yes, I did it but I would never have done it alone. You can’t ride through the Alps on your own at night,” he explained.

In total, Grant rode for 171 kilometres or around 14 hours uphill during the 2015 Im’possible Tour. He also descended just over 180 kilometres and climbed more than 200 hairpin bends. Now that is definitely a pretty hard thing to do on a bicycle.

“When I suffered, I kept reminding myself that this was nothing compared to the pain I went through after the accident. I also kept going because of the motivation of raising funds for the Laureus Sport for Foundation where I believe I’m really making an impact, a difference in children’s lives,” he concluded.

So, for next year’s yet-to-be-named Im’possible Tour, Grant is thinking of doubling up. How’s that for his “no limits on life” motto?

Raymond Travers

Raymond Travers

Modern Cyclist Editor |