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  • Writer's pictureNicola Graham

Le Cure, was it plan a, b or c?

So as I write this, I’m currently sat in bed, legs resting hoping at some point in the next few weeks the, what feels like cement will finally drain from my pins and I might feel half normal and less broken than I do now.

Why I hear you ask? Well, I thought you would never ask!

I’ve just finished Le Cure. A charity event that was created 7 years ago to raise awareness and money for the Royal Marsden Hospital.

The event held every August, is a 4-day cycling challenge, with a goal that ensures the group climb more meters than Everest. Which basically sends a bunch of passionate cyclists racing around the alps averaging approximately 100km, 3000m high uphill cycling each day (yes that’s 12 mountain peaks in 4 days with NO rest days).

Sound insane? Yep that’s a good word for it, but after doing this event, I have 2 main observations from this experience:

- Firstly, the money that this charity raises every year goes into a research fund for the Royal Marsden to use to find leading-edge medical advancement with one aim in mind – CURE CANCER. Basically, this is research that is very likely going to help save someone I will know during my life.

- Secondly, the people who attend the event are a diverse bunch in both age and ability ranging from early 20s to later 70s, and they have varying levels of bike seasoning each one with a fabulous story to tell. In other words, a lovely bunch who I felt really humbled to have met, from the support crew to the latest recruit G.I. Louise who took up cycling in January with her own mission – actually complete Le Cure and raise as much money for the charity (I believe she is currently on £17k)


So what was my experience, warts and all …

I was encouraged by my friend Helena to do this, as she took part last year and convinced me that I’d love it (note I really must question that friendship 😉 ) and I was friends with Tony Butler, the founder of the charity (more on him coming up) so thought

"Ok this will be a good excuse for a jolly holiday with a few friends, most likely more about being on the lash than actual cycling"

I was wrong.

It's an understatement to say that I was expecting a half baked event where I’d jump on a bike and cycle up some hills. I was BLOWN away by the organisation of it, mainly thanks to the super organisation powers of Tremendous Tiff. I mean proper support vans, sponsors, event areas set up the works. These guys had thought of everything. And what's more, it usually takes place in France, however thanks to the dirty C-word, we were no longer able to travel to France, so plan b was created which was Switzerland and then plan c was Switzerland and Italy (getting out of quarantine restrictions). This group of, well, superheroes organised an outstanding event, on the fly and had to make things up as they went along, but genuinely I would have been none the wiser had they not openly admitted it! And I will absolutely stress that they ensured complete COVID safety throughout the event. Temperature checks, social distancing, even labelled individual cups.

The second surprise was how determined and disciplined the group were on completing

the climbs, and whilst I had a few moments of ‘we could skip one and no one would know’ this group held true to their donation commitments and did EVERY last climb (minus a lightning storm that genuinely lost us a full morning)

pssst ...Don’t judge me, it was RAINING, cold, I was suffering insomnia (surprise surprise) and my bottom was getting sorer each second!

How does the event work?

Well, you sign up and pay your deposit. At that point, you’re giving your race nation account and that’s officially the:

"let the donations begin"

Closer to the event, Tony welcomes everyone with open arms to a nice summer BBQ so you can meet each other beforehand (COVID restricted this from happening this year). The bikes are then transported safely via trailer, by the lovely Dudley.

When you arrive at the location, a transfer awaits you and you’re encouraged to settle into the 1st hotel you are staying at.

Each night you have a group meal, where an explanation of the next day's route is given, weather warning and kit bag recommendations provided. Its also followed with a lot of funny stories and recognition for riders efforts happening during that day. Meanwhile, the bike support crew are hard at work checking and conditioning your bikes to ensure you’re in the best shape for the next day.

Every morning you are waved off by the massage ladies, who are ready to help you with your achy muscles on your return. And ALL day you are cheered, supported, encouraged, cared for and fed by the group of smiley Curista support heroes, led and organised by Tiff.

Not a Le Curista insight cycles past without a chat or an encouraging word and the stories that most of these cycling legends have are tear-jerking, inspiring, funny or well quite honestly jaw-dropping leaving you eye opened and grateful. And to top this all off, you get to meet the one and only Professor Ian Smith who can amaze you with the science of Cancer and medicines curing it, but also can humble you with his personal dedication to such an important medical challenge that sadly is likely to impact someone we know at some point during our lives.


So let's meet the man who created incredible event, shall we?

Tony Butler

As modest as Tony is, and he would deflect most credit onto other people in the charity, I’m going to tell you truth. This charity would not exist without the gratitude and relief Tony felt for Prof Smith and the research the Royal Marsden had done to save one of the closest humans in his life.

It started in September 2013 when shockingly Marianne Butler was diagnosed with breast cancer. This cancer, an aggressive bugger mutated and spread to her lymph nodes. Being in stage 3, it's fair to say that it was not looking positive for Marianne. But like a miracle or as I always like to say one of those life nudges … She was put in the very best of hands with Professor Ian Smith and his team. Marianne agreed to be the first person in the UK to try a combination of Herceptin and a new drug Pertuzumab for first occurrence breast cancer

6 months later … the bullet-dodging news was delivered … that she had had a complete pathological response i.e. The DRUGS said fuck off cancer. Boom. #microphonedrop

BUT … this is the very start of the story my friends … because Tony in what I can imagine was sheer gratitude and relief celebrated with some mates over 1, 2 or maybe many glasses of wine and decided that he needed to give back.

"Nic, had it not been for the Prof and his team, there's a very real and scary chance that Marianne wouldn't have survived, I really had to give something back I wanted to help, make a difference"

So … with the support of Paddy (can you guess why he's called paddy 😉)

Le Cure was created. To Tony's honesty, his knees were … ahem challenged these days, he loves skiing i.e. downhill … didn't own a bike, but always fancied the idea ... so why not combine these combinations and create a cycling event … UPHILL (anyone seeing the logic?)

The first year, they rallied some mates together and to a draw dropping surprise they raised £133k with only 27 people taking part.

The next year … with sponsors getting involved, the event was branded, some funky kit created, a shiny website and became officially supported by the royal Marsden research fund.

It is now a regular and exciting yearly event that the Curistas and donators look forward to watching with admiration each and every year.

7 years in a row, that's quite something Tony, tell us, why do you do this every year?

"I get a sense of pride every year I do it, knowing that I’m giving something back to the Marsden that saved Marianne's life. And the research they are doing is genuinely game-changing in real-time might change the outcome of other cancer patients in our time."

What makes you proudest during the tour?

"Aside not dying on the mountains, seeing the people who physically struggle to complete such a challenge, get to the finish line. The looks on their faces, the sheer relief and determination make it worth seeing every single year. Some people over the years have taken 11 hours each day, 11 hours on a bike … and yet they never once have quit. The emotions of these people when they complete it, and the group cheering them on, is always so supportive. It’s a true family feel."

Tell us a funny story that you have from Le Cure?

"There have been several funny stories over the years, but most of the stories that stick in mind seem to be related to The Prof (Ian Smith), including the very first Le Cure event we did. On the last climb and after an amazing effort to the top, Ian came over to me and hugged me in delight, and with his soft Scottish accent said: "Tony this is truly the best day of my life" at which point I questioned in my mind how a man who has had 3 children can say that, but it made me chuckle as he seemed very genuine about it. At this point, he then walked over in elation to go and high five Debbie, and accidentally pushed her down the side of the hill!"

Note: No Debbies were harmed in the making of this moment!

So what's next for Le Cure, where do you see the event going from here?

"The event raises a reasonable amount for the charity each year, naturally, we want to see it grow to raise more, but this needs to be done sensitively so that it doesn’t damage the event atmosphere and personal feel. Making sure everyone feels part of it and that sense of togetherness is really important to maintain. It's hard to scale and maintain this.

We have a great team organising this each time now, and we really have become very good at running charity events. So the logical step is to increase the events we do each year, and these don’t have to be restricted to cycling events either. "

How can others help you and the Le Cure event in general?

"Get involved, everyone is welcome, so grab your bike and join us next year. If you aren’t able to participate, we welcome people to help with the support crew, you never can have too many supporters. Please don’t underestimate the power of word of mouth either, spread the word, share the posts, sponsor the Curistas.

We are always keen to hear from those who have been unlucky enough to be touched by cancer, so please reach out to us and let us share your story.

Finally, if you have a CSR or health and wellbeing program at work, let us know and introduce us to the right personnel so that we can organise events for you and continue to raise for the research fund."

For More information visit the website: and if you can, please donate to this wonderful cause!

pssst: always looking for more Le Curistas next year, so why not join us for 2021.

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