The Royal Marsden cancer charity cares for 50,000 patients each year and when Marianne Butler became one of them, her friends knew they had to do something to help. What they couldn’t have known was that a night of red wine would result in them undertaking “a full Mount Everest of vertical climbing“. Dan Shute tells us how it all came about;
“There was no way I was going to make it up Ditchling Beacon. I knew that before I started trying, and I REALLY knew it about 100m up. So I stopped. I’d dug deep into my well of stubborn reserve, and been found well-wanting. As I slowly started to trudge up the hill, a queue of impatient, and – frankly – unsupportive cars forming behind me, the enormity of what we’d taken on sank in for the first time. Exhausted as I was, I still had the energy to be terrified.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
In September 2013, Marianne Butler, or Manny, as we’d always known her, had been diagnosed with breast cancer. This was the first time cancer had struck this close to home for most of us, and it hurt. We cried, we laughed, we told dark jokes; we did all the things that we assumed you did when you were faced with something like this. And, as Manny bravely – and without once hesitating – started to undergo treatment, we started to think about how we could help: how we could show how much we loved her, and how angry we were that cancer had tried to take her away from us.
So four of us got together, over some heartening red meat and some confidence-inducing red wine, to agree a plan. As a bunch of people the wrong side of 30, and with our bodies (particularly the knees – oh, the knees) in various states of disrepair, our options were somewhat limited. Running was out (remember the knees), and swimming just wasn’t going to happen… We’d all met in the mountains, so some kind of endurance-skiing seemed like a lovely idea – but ‘lovely’ wasn’t really what we were looking for. And then someone mentioned the Tour de France. Cycling. Cycling in the mountains…
And Le Cure de France was born (ah, shoot us, we love a pun). To ensure our confidence hadn’t dissipated by morning, we announced our intentions on Facebook; the next day, hungover, delicate, and slightly less confident, we were locked in. Over the next few days and weeks, the details of the challenge took shape: five days, 500 kilometres, Mont Ventoux, the Galibier, Alpe d’Huez, the Col d’Izoard and the Col d’Ornon; or, to put it another way, a full Mount Everest of vertical climbing. And so the pain began: we were definitely going to need better bikes…
Manny, incredibly, received the all clear in March of this year, thanks in no small part to the treatment she received at the Royal Marsden, thanks to Professor Ian Smith (who, astonishingly, is joining us on the ride) and his team (who, equally astonishingly, aren’t – lazy bloody scientists). And so in September, 28 of us will be hitting the Alps. We’ll be pedalling for them, our legs will be burning for them and our lungs will be bursting for them: to say thank you for beating the cancer that tried to take Manny away, and to ensure that when cancer comes at you, or someone you love, they will be there to beat it again.
Right. Time to get back on the sodding bike. If I can’t even handle Ditchling…”