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For 2017 the haematology clinic at Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham has been given a £2.5m government grant to double its footprint, they are a million short and that’s where we come in. Doug Mckinnon one of the crazy guys from the 2015 Tour suggested we ride all three Grand Tours, as in the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana. 6400 miles on a bike over some of the toughest roads in Europe, one day before the pro peloton. What a splendidly stupid idea! I mean only 37 pros have ever completed all three in one year and no amateur team to the best of our knowledge has.

Those of you that know me or have read my blogs, I cannot possibly turn down a challenge like that. So once again I got back in the saddle joining Geoff Thomas, James Maltin and Doug from the 2015 team.

Not just content with riding a bike I wanted to take the complexity of the challenge up to absurd by crafting a charity cookbook with recipes, stories and photos inspired by the epic journey. Fortunately, Noel my CEO and Alastair my Chairman liked the idea. My employers BaxterStorey have been super supportive allowing me time for a charity sabbatical and fully supporting the creation of a limited print run of 3500 with 100% of that sale going to the charity. “Back in the Saddle” published by Face and out at the end of November will be a collection of simple recipes aimed at the domestic cook so no expensive plates, tweezer presentations and weird ingredients.


The Italian Job

The Giro in its centenary year started for us on ‘Star-wars Day’ May the Fourth, how very apt. There was no short prologue to feel yourself in. Three lumpy and often windswept stages in Sardinia with day two over 220kms and 3700m of climbing, then on to Sicily for stage four, and a volcano summit on Mount Etna with an atmospheric twilight finish.

From the big toe of Italy, riding long stages by the sea until we reached Abruzzi in the middle and the fearsome Blochaus climb. There were three ways up this legend and they chose for the first time ever in a race to use the hardest, well I’d hate to think we were going to get it easy.

The rolling hills of Tuscany were the next major challenge in a stage of 161km. There was 68km of climbing, 4000m of elevation and not a single flat piece of road but featured some amazing Tuscan scenery, Chianti vineyards and a real sense of place in Italian cycling heritage.

Through the plains of Italy, home to Balsamic vinegar, Parma Ham and Parmesan cheese.

The climb to The Sanctuary of Oropa was next which had been given the moniker of “Montagna Pantani” for the 2017 Giro d’Italia. This recalled Marco Pantani’s great achievement during stage 15 at the 1999 Giro, where he made a breath-taking comeback after a mechanical incident at the foot of the climb, chasing all the way from the back to the front of the race and nailing an unforgettable victory. We didn’t have a mechanical incident but we were caught in a hail storm firing stones so big that even the local cars were pulling over to hide under trees for shelter.

Stage 16 and another queen stage. This Giro had more Queens than King Henry the Eighth it seemed. The iconic climbs of the Mortirolo and the 2740m Stelvio with the latter featuring not just once but twice! A stage that was 222km and 5600m of climbing. Thick banks of snow on the senior slopes and as we regrouped after the first 21km ascent a snow storm was our prize before the second dose of indigestion.

Two days later and the Queen stage of the Dolomites – 5 climbs including Passo Pordoi, Valparola and Gardena all well over 2100m. It was a stunning route with the Pordoi offering awe inspiring views, arguably the most dramatic single days riding from a landscape perspective I think I have ever completed.

Two further big stages including climbs of Paincavello and Monte Grappa then a roll into Milan, 3601km and over 50,000m of elevation. Jamie Oliver had it slightly easier when he had a camper van to write his Italian book!

Le Tour revisited

Starting in Dusseldorf five weeks later we rode through three countries, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg in one day alone. It was also the first tour that I can remember that’s encompassed all five mountain areas – Vosges, Jura, Pyrenes, Alps and the Massif Central.

As in 2015, the Tour is so much bigger. Spectators lined the roads and climbs several days before the race so we gained from their enthusiasm especially when they had been out in the sun drinking red wine and eating pate all afternoon.

Stage 9 was particularly memorable and challenging in the Jura, seven climbs, 3 of which were HC and the Mont du Chat an eye watering average of 10.3% for 8.7km. Luckily, I had good legs and took a GO Caffeine Shot before tackling this one. The descent was a dangerous sinuous tree lined affair and after watching Richie Porte come off the next day I am so thankful we all stayed upright.

As if the stage wasn’t hard enough we had a 500km transfer by vehicle to take on after, meaning that my head didn’t hit the pillow until 2.30am. At least it was a rest day to follow.

The Pyrenees were as beautiful as always and two big climbing days followed stages through the Dordogne. It was once again as in 2015 the stages through the Massif Central that hurt the legs. These roads, never flat, often on plateaus at 1200m, always badly surfaced, changing direction regularly and more often than not windy. In a peloton or large group being pulled along is challenging enough but with a small band of brothers it was difficult to make progress.

Two signature stages in the alps the first of which included the Col d’Ornon, Col de la Croix de Fer, Telegraphe and the Galibiar.

The opening climb, the 2nd cat Col d’Ornon was the very first mountain that I ever climbed back in 1999, my first visit to the alps. Good friends Phil, Peter & myself camped at the foot of Alp d’huez and took on the mountains (loosely speaking) as there is only one winner, as we know – the mountains!

The Col de la Croix de Fer is an almighty testing HC ascent. Back 18 years ago, it almost broke me. I had to try and readdress the balance and had the chance two years ago, although we had to climb it in a thunderstorm. Luckily this time around the sky was blue and it was mid-30s. The climb is a tough one and requires a disciplined tempo as there are lots of changes of gradients including a big downhill in amongst its 24km length.

In ‘99 we also climbed the Galibier but from the easier (if there is an easier) side. Today we had to take on the 1st cat Col du Telegraphe as the stepping stone, topping out at 2642m and 35km in length. It’s a real monster, 2 hours of suffering, 5 gels and a single shot of Caffeine were willingly consumed to help!

I would have found it hard to imagine that these 3 climbs that I took on in isolation would make up just one day on the bike many years later and that is after over 2500km of tough riding beforehand.

The second Alpine test was the 2017 ‘Etape stage’ taking in the Col de Vars and the Izoard. When I explained to some people that I was going to ride the Tour back in 2015 ‘ahh the Etape’ was often their response, ‘I’d love to do that’. So you can imagine their surprise when I corrected them and said not just one stage but all 21! Fast forward two years and Its all three so 63 stages in total.

The longest stage of the tour was 221km with the first two hours in torrential rain and a short time trial in Marseille before the final big transfer. Luckily, this time by plane to Paris and two thirds of the big three were complete.


Vuelta – Missing in action

Only 26 days since we rolled into Paris and we were off again. During this time I’d had a 2 week family holiday, so managed just 4 training days before we were on the start line at Nimes.

We arrived but unfortunately my kit bag didn’t – Jerseys, shorts, leg, arm, knee warmers and personal effects, you know all the essential things to get you through 3 weeks of riding around a Grand Tour.

Science in Sport had kindly arranged for me to go on the Cycling Podcast and I was interviewed by Richard Moore. We agreed shortly after riding the first stage as if taking on all three wasn’t tough enough, doing it in one pair of borrowed shorts and jersey that was to be washed after each stage took it up a notch for sure. It sparked so much interest that for several stages our exploits and me with one set of kit was mentioned several times throughout their nightly shows.
Andorra on stage 3 saw our first foray into the mountains with just under 3500m of climbing. Stage 5 was the first of what would be many steep climbs on La Vuelta with gradients reaching 20% plus on the finishing climb.

On stage 6 to Sagunt, 5 climbs stood in our way including the ascent of the Puerto del Garbi, known well to the locals as a leg breaker. We received a message of encouragement on twitter from Chris Froome which was a great morale booster.

The longest stage of the Vuelta 207km to Cuenca followed. 41˚C and for the majority of which on the la Mancha plateau over 1000m up.

The following days finish climb to another place that I can’t pronounce Xorret de Cati was an equally tongue twisting affair less than 4km in length but with gradients of 15 – 22% it’s almost as if they were saving on tarmac by going straight up the side of the hill, El Bastardo as I named it would just be another one ticked off a long list, so much so that I struggled to create enough names as the Vuelta finished.

Stage 9 saw us following the Costa Blanca coast through Alicante, Benidorm and Calp. The pros would rush through under escort but for us it was painful stopping at every red light and junction. The first half was flat by Vuelta standards but after 100km it changed to rolling terrain. The wind got up off the sea and of course it was hot, this is mainstream package holiday central Spain after all. Past endless Irish bars, fast food restaurants and tacky faux tapas joints with pictorial menu boards, it was like my worst nightmare!

The first categorised climb at La Cumbre del Sol the Puig Llorença climb afforded some of Costa Blanca’s best views. At 4 kilometres with an average gradient of 9.2% and some slopes that exceed 20%. This wall was conquered by Tom Dumoulin in 2015 taking the red jersey.

Once was enough, however the organisers arranged a great spectacle by taking it on a second time after a 40km loop and to up the ante added a further 1km of steep climbing as we had to summit the very top. There was solace however, Rachel and James from RJ cycle camps based in the area were there to greet us and Rachel had been baking; a selection of 5 cakes for the riders & crew. Amazingly tasty and a super gesture, they’ve followed us closely on twitter since day one in Sardinia. Thanks again to both, I’ve already offered Rachel a job on the strength of her carrot cake alone.

It was a much needed rest day and a care package from Seb at Science in Sport HQ arrived for the team at the hotel, the brand new REGO Rapid Recovery Plus.

The first dull day saw us ride in and out of rain showers all day. The second day in a row stage 11 was less forgiving, 4 hours of biblical style rain. It hadn’t rained for a long time around this area and so a copious mix of road filth was a challenge, even greater than the two big climbs, to remove from the skin let alone from the jersey and shorts. Velefique is referred to as the Alp d’huez of Almeria, 14km long with an average of 6.5% and a max of 15.8% . It’s popular with cyclists however, aside from us I saw no one else on this day.

The rain stopped for the climbs but the descent was still wet so had to be taken cautiously rather than the usual knee out fun that I like. The finish at 2100m to Cala Alto observatory was a chilly 7˚c

Over half way now and luckily the dry weather returned as we tackled two stages in Andalucía. The city of Seville, home of the breakfast orange marmalade and we saw the mercury hit a new PB of 42˚c.

Stage 14 saw the first of four super category ‘ESP’ climbs on La Vuelta. The climb to Sierra de la Pandera, at 1830m the highest point of the Sur de Jaén Mountain Range offering exceptional panoramic views and landscapes. It also provided sections with long steep slopes with average inclinations of more than 16% so another afternoon of gurning was de-rigour.

Week 2 was completed with a short yet mountainous stage with a finish at 2510m, La Vuelta high point at Sierra Nevada. This climb was long but generally a draggy affair on main roads.

It was the first climb of the Alto de Hazallanas that was tricky, on the parcour it was listed as 16.3k at 5.5% average but in truth the first 8km was easy including a 2km sinuous descent over a narrow bridge a sharp right then the pain came; 7 km with the first 3km with pitches of 17 – 22%.

The following day was a time trial stage of 40km which we treated as an active recovery spin. Stage 17 and the much talked about ESP climb of  ‘Los Machucos’ or ‘Muchos Steepos’ as its been referred to since. A morning of riding above the fog and a 10km climb to soften up the legs, a steep climb with pitches of 28% on little more than a goat track. These signature corners weren’t nearly as bad as a 400m dead straight 20% pitch of rutted road near the bottom. For all the Tours I have been riding a 34 x 28 as my bottom gear, for La Vuelta I should really have taken the pro’s lead of a 32 sprocket but stubbornly I managed to turn it over, just! It wasn’t until the bone shaking descent back down the same way that you truly appreciated the gradients.

The 18th was one of the toughest days, not for the climbs, heat or length but for the rain right from the off. It took all of six minutes to be soaking wet through and at 11˚C that was me shivering for the majority of the stage until we descended down into a valley and sun finally shone for the last 30km.
‘Angry Lu’ was the last major obstacle on stage 20, before another long transfer to Madrid.

Two first category climbs through some beautiful scenic countryside to soften us up and then the killer blow, L’Angliru, one of the hardest climbs in any of the three Grand Tours. 12.5kms with an average gradient of 10.13%, this was the last climb of the challenge so I wanted to give it the respect it deserved and take it on full gas. The first 6km were an ‘easy’ 7-10%, it seems almost flippant to say that, but after riding 10,400km through Italy and France the body had been conditioned to just accept what was thrown at it. I was able to get on top of my gear 34×28 comfortably.
When during the second half the gradients approached 13%, the steep climbs that we had ridden in La Vuelta had prepared me for the worst and I continued on, super motivated to put a time on the board. This is where the pros would have one more gear to choose at the final 3kms at the infamous Cueña les Cabres (Cradle of the goats). The slopes were so steep reaching just under 24% or in layman terms 1 in 4 for a long stretch, it was like wrestling a bear rather than riding a bike. As I struggled with these steep ramps, I was cursing that I didn’t have that 32 sprocket.

Lungs and legs were burning but the pain would disappear as I reached the top. The patients and yet to be diagnosed future cancer sufferers don’t have the luxury of getting off the bike and recovering after a few minutes.  I reflected on this very fact and the reason why we put ourselves through such torture every day to help find a cure.
I’m a bike rider, always have been however, it’s still far from easy. After a climb like today I look at my team mates, Doug, Geoff and James not only how they have grown stronger but what they have put their bodies through, alongside myself over the last three Tours, it’s slight lunacy.

The road was closed to vehicles in preparation for tomorrow so I summited alone. At the top there was a mixture of relief and emotion that it was almost over. This was the last big test and I had its measure and with the fatigue of 20 stages, I’d still managed a more than acceptable 200th all time best on Strava and that was after the pros knocked me down more than a few spots the following day. Not too shabby for a Faux pro turned Grand Tourist!


We’ve had huge support from our headline sponsor Farr Vintners so heartfelt thanks to them, the PMR support crew, the Physios who put us back together in the evening and the mechanics cleaning our bikes, a Doctor and Digi Dave Hayward whose images are on this piece.

And goes without saying Science in Sport who kept us hydrated and refuelled with their excellent nutrition products, if it’s good enough for Froomey and Co then it certainly made the difference for me.

NB- The Charity book is due out at the end of November and in essence in return for a charity donation you receive a beautiful 288 page coffee table book with over 70 recipes, some Epic pictures of the three tours, including contributions by Michel Roux Jnr, Phil Liggett, Laura Kenny, Professor Craddock and our Chairman. for more details follow me on


Twitter @hayden1974


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Science in Sport