Erik Horsthemke wanted to do something that had never been done before.
Cycling is a sport and pastime steeped in history and Horsthemke wanted to contribute, to add his own offering with the hope of “enriching or inspiring the cycling world a little bit”.
“The idea came up after Lachlan Morton had done his High Tour de France,” Horsthemke told CyclingTips. “I wanted to do something new. Something that didn’t exist before. Just to show what is possible.”
Ride all three of the 2022 Grand Tours, including the transfers.
With the help of his coach, he started to prepare his body for what he was about to do to it. Building up from 15 hours a week on the bike to 45, including some 400km rides to ready himself for such an extreme undertaking. Usually, I rode in all weather conditions but would sometimes train indoors to try and avoid getting sick.
“I think in the beginning nobody believed that I would start at all. Everyone thought it was a one-day idea,” Horsthemke explains. “But after the plan became more concrete and some sponsors were already on board, the support and interest in my project became great. Nevertheless, it was hard to explain to outsiders, people who don’t know cycling, what I was doing.”
This year, with all three Grand Tours having foreign Grand Départs, it wasn’t as ‘simple’ as riding 63 Grand Tour stages and their transfers. For the Giro, I needed to get from Budapest in Hungary to Sicily in the south of Italy. For the Tour de France, he will need to get from Denmark to Dunkirk. For the Vuelta a España, he from the Netherlands all the way down to Spain.
Such a mammoth undertaking understandably brought many emotions to the surface.
“I knew that I could do it and that it was possible,” Horsthemke says of his feeling before setting off for the 2022 Giro d’Italia.
“Nevertheless, I was nervous and sometimes a bit scared. Especially the first days were hard because the goal still seemed so far away.”
One pedal stroke after another is the name of the game, but with a mostly flat route from Budapest to the south of the boot, it wasn’t the 2,000km of riding that was the problem.
“In fact, it was quite easy from Hungary to Sicily. Or rather it was physically quite easy,” Horsthemke admits. “There were few mountains and it was mostly a tailwind. It was just extremely boring. I rode the shortest way, so I had to ride 500km along the coast of Italy. 500km of tourist-y areas. That really sucked.”
Then, after making it all the way south, it was time to come all the way back north. While the riders of the official race only had to contend with the 21 stages consisting of 3,466 kilometers, Horsthemke was riding that and the transfers in between. 156km between the finish of stage 7 in Potenza and the start of stage 8 in Napoli basically made for an extra 22nd stage, while the 332km between stages 15 and 16 in week three isn’t really worth thinking too long about. In total, I have clocked up 5,998km on Strava in May.
“At times I thought I wouldn’t make it. Sometimes I had to cry. The beginning, being alone, and the mental strain was really the worst,” Horsthemke remembers.
“I was really relieved to be through,” he continues of his Giro d’Italia. “Physically and mentally I was really tired. Just the last week has again extremely pulled on my forces. All the more I was looking forward to a decent bed and proper sleep after the finish. The best thing was to know that I didn’t have to cycle 240km the next day.”
However, after stepping off it wasn’t long before he started to look toward his next challenge, the Tour de France.
“With a few days of distance, I am nevertheless already again on to [thinking about] the next Grand Tours. The Giro was already extremely hard. In some moments you think you’re going to die and in others, you think you can fly. It is a constant up and down. It’s hard for me to put my feelings about it into a few words.”
In between the two Grand Tours he’s been resting up, gaining some weight and keeping the kilometers ticking over on the bike. “At the moment I do a lot of stretching exercises, go for walks and try to relax.”
After the opening Denmark stages at the end of June, he will pass through his native Germany and then the Netherlands and Belgium en route to Dunkirk. From there he will continue the route and transfers, back into Belgium, into Switzerland and the Alpine stages, before the Pyrenees and the slog back to Paris for the Champs-Élysées finale.
“I think and hope the transfer from Denmark to France will be as relaxed as the last long transfer,” Horsthemke says. “I hope for many companions in my home country and for good weather. The heavy part will surely come again during the many mountains in France.”
Even now, with only one Grand Tour down, it’s hard for the 20-year-old to take in what he’s doing, to isolate one moment as a stand-out favorite that sums up why he’s doing what he’s doing.
“I think to pack one month into one moment is very hard,” he explains. “There were really many nice moments. Mostly it’s the little things that really make the whole project. Small gestures and kindnesses from unknown people. There are these very short moments when everything seems perfect. You feel good, you have enough to eat and drink, the weather is good, you arrive [somewhere] in plenty of time…these are the most beautiful moments. Unfortunately, they come very rarely.”
It’s an undertaking of a lifetime, one of the most grievous challenges anyone will surely complete on a bicycle this year.
We’ll next meet up with Erik Horsthemke in Copenhagen on June 28, three days before the start of the professional race, when he sets off on his French Grand Tour. You can follow him on Instagram here: @erik_horsthemke