Shackleton Centenary Expedition

Etape du Tour August 03 2008

Matthew Conrad.jpg

Matthew Conrad was brave enough to ride the Etape du Tour last month and good enough to raise some money for the Shackleton Foundation in the process. Below Matthew talks us through the gruelling ride:

"It rained and rained, was 8C, not the sun we had been promised. My brother, Andrew, and I crossed the start line shortly after 7.20am. After two medium climbs and a healthy average speed we arrived in Lourdes at the first of two feed stations. "Two Conrads And A Buffet". A disaster waiting to happen? We tucked into sandwiches, cake and banana, refilled our bottles and were unaware of the time until we saw the unthinkable - the sweeper truck. Had we spent too long eating or had we simply been going slower than we thought? We were told that the race was officially over and were stripped of our timing devices and bib numbers after only 70 km. We hadn't trained for the past six months for it to be over so soon. We had come to finish the 169 km including the 17 km climb up the legendary Col de Tourmalet which was waiting, in the fog, 32 km away.

They could take away our timers, but they couldn't take away our freedom and they certainly couldn't take away our spirit. We would not be beaten. We rode on, they opened the roads to traffic, they took down the signposts along the route, it got colder and wetter, and we just kept going. We reached the Tourmalet. Andrew had a puncture but we reached the final feed station 3km from the top. We scavenged a few scraps and then, to the startled looks of the few remaining organisers, we soldiered on to the summit to complete one of the most feared climbs in cycling - and the finest piece of apple tart I have ever eaten!

We descended at almost 40mph, hairpin upon hairpin...only 40 km to go. Cold and wet we ploughed on and prepared our minds for the final 16km, the Hautacam - a steep climb at an average of 13%. A short way up, after 155 km, Andrew's cleat snapped off his shoe. After 10hours, his ride was over.

Somehow, I struggled to the top some 13 hours, 6 gels, 2 energy bars, 4 ham sandwiches, two espressos, 10 litres of water and that apple tart later. The other riders and organisers were long gone. I was greeted by a barren wasteland and some tourists enjoying the fog. It's not officially logged, I don't have a certificate and my mobile had died so no photo...but I did it. It was hell but it was worth it because with the incredible generosity of all those who have donated, I have raised nearly £15,000 for the NSPCC, Shackleton Foundation and the Parents Circle, which will help to make so many people's lives better. We will be back, faster, stronger and fitter for 2009."

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