From Luton to Mallorca on the Vuelta a Casa: GCN catches up with fundraising superstar Ottilie Quince

With her personal Grand Tour complete, GCN’s George Poole sat down for a catch-up with Ottilie to hear all about her adventure

Clock16:15, Monday 18th July 2022
Ottilie Quince takes a selfie whilst climbing Alpe d'Huez

© Ottilie Quince

Ottilie was fundraising and raising awareness for two charities throughout her ride, UCARE and the Urology Foundation

On July 2nd, after 21 days of riding through seven countries, Ottilie Quince arrived home in Mallorca to complete her Vuelta a Casa. It had been 2,573km since Ottilie had set off from her hometown of Luton on a journey to prove that nothing should slow you down in life, not even two bouts of cancer and a kidney transplant! Along the way, Ottilie was raising money and awareness for two charities close to her heart, UCARE and the Urology Foundation. Let's hear how she got on...

George - How are you feeling nine days on?

Ottilie - Yeah, kind of tired. I did three rides when I got back, so I had Sunday off the day after [I finished] and then I rode Monday, Wednesday and Thursday and I was gonna ride last Saturday with my neighbour and one of my friends - but I was absolutely bollocksed! I don't know, I think I was expecting too much and then I've only ridden three times now in like a week, which is not a lot at all. I mean, even before that [Vuelta a Casa] I'd be doing like four or five rides a week. Yeah, my body is just like, what are you doing?

I've been going to the sea every day as I only live like 30 min away and my family come over - I've got three older brothers - and they're all due to come over at some point in summer. My middle brother is a comedian and he's at the Fringe Festival, so he's only over for like five days. And every time my family is over I’m at the beach every day, which is good, but I’ve also got work to do. So I've just been trying to catch up with normal life and sort of get back into work. I've got three businesses! So it is quite tricky…

But it's become slightly weird because I'm walking here in Mallorca and people are saying hello to me in Spanish and saying that they followed my journey on Instagram - which is like “wow, this is really cool!”

George - Local celebrity status now, Ottilie?

Ottilie - Well, I don't know about that, but it's nice that people remember I was doing it or saw I was doing it, you know, it made them think that maybe they could do something - or maybe they just think I'm crazy!

George - You got quite the reception when you returned didn’t you?

Ottilie - Literally opposite my apartment block is this little bar and he's never open and he always charges €4 no matter what you have, like you can have 20 beers and it's €4. And we got there and it was open and we're like “what the heck is going on?” So there were like 27 people or something [to greet us] and my cat gave me a quick hello greeting and then that was it.

But if I can inspire even one or two people to ride the bike, it will have been worth it. I know that here [in Mallorca] since the lockdown, lots more locals started riding, whereas before local people didn't really ride. Now they ride because they realise how good it is!

George - How did Simon, Patty and Kate [Ottilie’s riding partners] find it and how much were they able to ride?

Ottilie - Simon and I rode all of it every day and Patty didn't feel well in the second week. I didn't initially think she was going to ride all of it because she was our mechanic, so she didn’t have to. But because she rides to work every day as a trainee bike mechanic in Bristol, 30km in the morning and 30km back, she really wanted to ride every day. But she got this cough and chest infection in the second week and by Alpe d’Huez day she wasn't feeling it and she was quite a way behind.

We had this massive storm on the day and so a couple of days later, she didn’t ride for a day. She was coughing every morning and sounded like a 40-a-day smoker! Simon’s wife kept moaning at him because he kept losing weight, but he was a trooper, he just didn't miss a beat. He's got this military mindset because he used to be in the Navy.

They were both amazing. We each had our little jobs to do, though I’m not sure what I was in charge of! I guess I was trying to cheer everybody up! I’d put the speaker on and get some music on, which consisted of plenty of Phil Collins and ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough!’ My Mum used to play that song when we were kids and she was doing her ironing on a Sunday, so we all used to sing along to it whilst it played on the record player!

George - Did you get many dot watchers to come along and ride?

Ottilie - We had one guy! It was the day after Alpe d’Huez, it looked really stormy and then all of a sudden the heavens opened and we got absolutely drenched. It got to the point where we couldn't see each other, it was that dangerous and there's a road that runs parallel to the river down to Grenoble and we couldn't see the river. You couldn’t see anything with your glasses on and then you couldn’t see anything when you took them off! We got to this little cafe and whilst it is a charity ride and a great adventure, we were 70km up on the planned route and I decided that we should drive 30km down the road to see how the weather was.

Just as we were loading the van, this guy called Steve from Bristol, who lives in Grenoble, saw Simon and said “hello.” Of course, Simon didn’t know who he was! But Steve told us that he had been following our dot and thought he might catch us on the route - but had become concerned when he saw that the dot had stopped!

Luckily he had come from the direction we were travelling and told us that it wasn’t raining further up the road. He got a couple of pictures and messaged me later on Instagram to thank me - so I thought that was really sweet!

George - Where was your favourite place that you rode?

Ottilie - I would probably say the River Rhine, it's massive. I didn't quite realise how big a river could be, or how many castles you could build on a river! We did 153km on one day and 140km were along the river. I'd never really heard of the Rhine beforehand, but it had all these riverside cafes and a real cosmopolitan feel. Germany was enjoyable because there were a lot of vineyards with really nice concrete paths which made the riding feel like a dream. Belgium was fantastic because everyone loves you as a cyclist! If you're on a cycle pathway and a junction went over a road, cars stopped before you even got there and it was just super easy to navigate around.

The South of France was nice, but I think it got more disappointing when we had to be on big main roads - that was really quite scary. It was pretty emotional going over from France into Spain because my French is terrible and I know marginally a little bit more Spanish! Asking for stuff would be a little bit easier and it's my home, I feel an allegiance to Spain.

It was weird because the day after I finished, I got an email from someone about doing the Race Across America, which is one thing I would not want to ever do! It's not about being in America because you've got your head down, it's a relay and you're doing however many hours on and then however many hours off. One thing I did love about the Vuelta a Casa was we got to see stuff because we were on gravel roads, towpaths and loads of other quirky ways to see stuff as we travelled along - so I binned that email straight away!

George - Yeah, I suppose that the Vuelta a Casa is the complete opposite of the Race Across America?

Ottilie - It was really nice to see how other people reacted to you and how other people run businesses and stuff. Next time we want to do it on a gravel bike if we're to do the same thing again - or make sure it has proper roads the whole way.

As we got into the Alps, that was really cool. You see them looming in the background and I remember riding down and wanting to stop every five minutes to take a photograph!

I was annoyed because on the day of Alpe d’Huez it was raining… I was always told the first 3km are the hardest, so I sat on Simon's wheel and he sort of towed me up and then it started to rain! Anyway, for the first 12 days I kept thinking to save myself because I hate climbing. When I was up there I did the first 3km and then I saw my mate Oli and he said to me about each corner having a number with the names, which I hadn’t even noticed because of the rubbish weather! He told me that when we get between bends 4 and 3, that’s when it gets a bit steeper. At one point he said I had another half an hour’s worth of climbing and I was devastated - I wish he hadn’t have said that! [Ottilie said with a wry smile].

George - But did you find it helpful counting down the corners, or just off-putting?

Ottilie - I found it off-putting. I prefer the surprise and not knowing how many more are to come. I just prefer to tap it out and not have it in my head. After the first 3km, it started to settle a little bit and I knew I had more in my legs, so I felt good. But then it started raining more and I just had to laugh because I thought, ‘this is typical of me, I can never get it easy!’ It was just good fun, I felt really good and I knew that when I got to the top I could have a coffee at my friend's bike shop.

George - I was following your trip and you mentioned the knee injury that was reoccurring from football. Was that the toughest thing that you had to overcome?

Ottilie - So the first day I think I was fine due to adrenaline, but the second day we're going up a hill in Kent and any movement out of the saddle or any extra pressure, really caused a lot of pain. By day four we were in Belgium I think, and we stayed in a nice bed and breakfast that had a grand bath inside my room. After dinner, I had a bath and it was almost like someone had flicked the switch, whether it was more psychological and like a placebo or whether it was properly helping physiologically, the next day it felt so much easier and then it eased off and I think I rode my fitness into it.

I was pleased it didn't become a big thing because the only other issue we had was on the old undercarriage front in the rain. Thankfully my old mate Robbie McEwen had sent me some chamois cream from his own brand, which worked a charm. It was really nice for someone who has mentored me to send it to me, as people say, it’s the silly little things that mean a lot to you and can help you get through stuff - so for someone who has won so many green jerseys in the Tour de France to go out of his way for me was really kind. I also had a message from Ben Swift, who is a friend of mine, and whilst I was asking him how they coped with the undercarriage during the Grand Tours, he just told me to be proud of what I had achieved and to enjoy it.

George - Are you looking forward to watching the Tour de France now that you have finished your own Grand Tour?

Ottilie - I've been really getting into the Tour this past week. You're watching it and there are kind of heroes and villains aren't there? But it is interesting because we did just under 2600 km and they're doing like 3300km or 3400km and they're doing it at a race pace - but they're doing it in the peloton and they can sort of sit in in the group. When there are just three of you, it’s completely different.

Simon did most of it on the front, Patty doesn't ride with anyone so she was riding at the back a lot, so it was just me and Simon swapping turns. After lunch, I always get my second wind so I'd go on the front for like 10/15km. But to have just three of us, it doesn't really give you many options! And when one person is a bit low and when Patty wasn't feeling well and she was coughing a lot, I felt really bad. But then I thought, I don't want to get ill either!

Last week I was riding in the middle of the island and this one guy who never really says hello to me actually said “hey Ottie! How are you? I saw your Grand Tour, it was amazing, it was all over GCN!” So that was really nice, so maybe it's kind of added validity to what I've done. And I've had a lot of people contact me who have got chronic illnesses and said ‘I didn't think I could do this.’ Or some people have been asking me questions and one guy was like, “I've had a kidney transplant as well, do you feel any pressure or pain over your transplant?” I was explaining how I feel and he said he felt the same and he didn't know it was normal!

George - Yes, reaching out to people must be a nice thing to be able to do, I suppose?

Ottilie - Yes totally, if it means then that more people will think they might have a chronic illness or problem, but it's not really a barrier. It will always take up all of your life, but you can add in nicer bits and bits that make you stronger and fitter.

But that's why I love cycling though, because it just brings a lot of people together and it makes you realise what you can do. And now, even for me, I've not ridden my bike since Thursday and I'm thinking I've enjoyed having the rest, but I want to ride it again soon! So I'm looking forward to getting on my bike and training because next month I have the European Championships in Oxford.

George - Are the European Championships the next big thing then?

Ottilie - Yeah, so that's the 24th and 25th of August. They're all really short sprint events, so it's completely the opposite to what I've done!

George - So you're about to hit your fundraising target of £20,000, how does that feel?

Ottilie - Yes, I haven't thought about it too much actually. But it’s nice to show the two charities that’s what we can do. But because I'm really competitive, I'm feeling quite - not disappointed - but a bit annoyed because I guess you get these kids that have slept in a tent in the back garden and raised a million pounds. But yes, you’ve got to be happy with what you've done and I'm hoping to be in Oxford next month and meet up with one of my doctors and thank them for all that they have done. On day one when I saw my original cancer surgeon, he wrote a nice little post about what I've done and that means a lot!

George - You met one of your doctors at the top of Alpe d’Huez, didn’t you?

Ottilie - Yes, so that was Chris Lawrence. He was my regional doctor when I first had pain in my kidney and other doctors were saying that I had to wait nine months in oncology to see what happens. He was saying “this girl can't wait nine months, she's a fit, strong athlete and if she waits, she will lose her kidney.” So he pushed to find David Cranston, my first cancer doctor who I met up with on day one of the Vuelta a Casa. Chris flew in from America and I saw him for literally just half an hour, that was it, but that was really cool of him.

It was pretty special, you see your doctors in a hospital setting and they’re trying to really help you and then you see them at the top of the mountain and they're saying “wow, look what you've done!” and even now it doesn't compute. Although it's amazing, it just makes you think, how many doctors would do that?

I think it all goes back to when I had my transplant, I was in hospital and I read Lance’s [Armstrong] books and whilst I'm not a fan of his anymore, he really inspired me to start cycling. When he talks about doctors - well, his cancer doctors - he speaks of how they helped him. And I kind of thought, I wonder if people in real life have a relationship like that with their doctors… and I do, that's really cool because these people are so important. But they just think it's their job, they often don't think of the aftermath of their good work.

It just brings people closer together and I think that's the thing with cycling and sport in general. In my shop, I've got cycling memorabilia, but I've also got a few Luton Town football shirts and people are often saying things like, “oh I’m a Scunthorpe fan and I remember playing you in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy Final” and it’s amazing, you wouldn't have that conversation normally in your bike shop! Sport is an amazing medium in that way, that it brings people together and with cycling, anyone that's put themselves on the edge of feeling like crap, but at the end of it has felt really happy - that's why we do it, right!

It definitely makes me think, what next? I love my racing, but that only happens once a year. I'm not gonna do a Grand Tour every year, but it does make me think…

George - So… a part two of the Vuelta a Casa at some point?

Ottilie - I’d definitely love to do something similar because I don't do holidays, I don’t have much money, I don't have many things, I don't need many things! But the more people go through life, the more experiences they want, they don't want to have stuff… When I was younger, people wanted the next car, the next holiday, the next dog, the next whatever, whereas now it's about experiencing something. All of these memories and all of these experiences, it builds people.

I have been thinking about the Vuelta a Amigo’s Casas, thinking about people I know and then cycling to their houses. So whilst this time it was travelling through countries to my own house, I was thinking the three professional Grand Tours often have Grand Départs in other countries, so why can’t we? We could start somewhere else and then finish somewhere else and just make sure it's friends’ houses along the way. It would be nice to take in Italy and maybe a few more Eastern European countries. So you never know…

At the time of writing, Ottilie has raised a whopping £20,000 on her GoFundMe page! She has now reached her target and will close the page down later this week - so act fast if you want to donate - but more than anything she is keen to support UCARE and the Urology Foundation in any way she can. “The money [I raise] is amazing, but to just get those names out there - if that is all we do - to raise awareness for UCARE and the Urology Foundation will be amazing in itself.”
Before the Vuelta a Casa, we spoke with Ottilie to discover the full story behind Ottilie’s love for cycling and her battles with cancer, which you can read here. Don’t forget to check out our exclusive GCN+ film, ‘Cycling Changed My Life: Ottilie Quince.’

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