Three days early, Erik Horsthemke sets off on Tour de France of epic proportions

Unsupported, the 20-year-old German will ride from Copenhagen to Dunkirk and then clockwise around France. All stages. All transfers.

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These days “epic” is an overused term after being flogged to death by YouTubers creating giant, mutilated lasagnes or marketing suits trying to puff up the latest regurgitated offering from the Marvel cinematic universe.

But the problem is that what Erik Horsthemke will be doing over the next month cannot be described any other way. As Horsthemke rides the entirety of the 2022 Tour de France route, including transfers, his is more along the lines of a Greek epic, a cycling odyssey of the greatest proportion. The French Grand Tour is the second of the three Grand Tours he will ride in more than their entireties this calendar year.

Three days before the professional riders set off from Copenhagen for this year’s Grande Boucle, Horsthemke, a 20-year-old amateur cyclist from Germany, exited his hotel just gone 7.30am along the road where the start will take place on Friday. For now, life passes by as usual. There are barely any signs of the Tour yet but that will change in the coming days.

“My first thought when I woke up this morning? Maybe that I don’t want to ride,” Horsthemke admitted to CyclingTips as he prepared to set off for a Grand Tour and then some.

“But it was more yesterday evening that I had this thought. Today in the morning I thought ‘ah let’s go to the start’ but in the evening I was a bit worried. The start is always the hardest and the goal is so far away. That’s the problem in my head.”

Having recently conquered the Giro d’Italia, all the way from Budapest to Sicily before working his way back up, Horsthemke was pushed to the edge. At the Tour he faces a less obnoxious route, one that flows better as he makes his way down from Denmark to Dunkirk before continuing the clockwise lap of France.

“My plan is to do a lot of kilometres in the first few days,” Horsthemke explained. “I hope when the weather is good and when I feel good to do 280km. In the following days something like that too. And then I have to ride a little bit less in the mountains. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t, let’s see.”

As far as any particular spots he’s looking forward to, it seems there are just too many kilometres ahead for the 20-year-old to think about that right now, but he will enjoy passing through home roads in Germany on his way between Denmark and the resumption of the race in France.

“Ah I don’t think so,” he said of any specific stages he was looking forward to. “I was last year here in Denmark, I rode from the south of Denmark to the top, it’s a beautiful country and I’m looking forward to it. But also I have a few friends in Germany and I am almost crossing my hometown, a few kilometres away. I think there are a lot of beautiful spots but I have not prepared the route so far that I know where they will be.”

“But the big mountains,” he says, thinking ahead to what lies on his chosen path. “I think I am riding Alpe d’Huez?” he asks.

“And the Galibier twice,” we respond.

“Twice?”

“One stage goes up past the Col du Télégraphe and over the summit and then the next day you go back the opposite way you’ve just come from.”

“Ah,” Horsthemke pauses. “Very good.”

“Sometimes I think it’s better for me when I don’t prepare the route. It’s better for my mind.”

From the gun, the race will be on. He hopes to complete the more than 1,000km from Denmark to Dunkirk before the peloton arrives for stage four on Tuesday July 5, giving him exactly a week.

“I think it could be quite tight after the transfer route [from Denmark to France] because I only have three days left [before the race starts],” Horsthemke said.

“July 5 the race is in Dunkirk, right? I have to be there before the pros. That could be quite tight and I have to be there before the peloton. Otherwise it could be a little bit stressful with all the cars and maybe the route will be closed, we saw that last year with Lachlan [Morton]’s Alt Tour. He was very tight to the peloton. At the Giro, I had a lot of space [on the road] so that was quite good.”

Horsthemke gets onto his bike, laden with neatly organised bags containing a roll mat, small tent, one change of bike clothes, some electronics and a medical kit. “Everything on here is essential he says”. In his bottle cage are two Alpecin-sponsored bidons, heavily used from his racing days as a teenager in Germany.

Does he have anything he wants to say to people before he sets off on part two of his grand adventure?

I don’t know,” he laughs. “Maybe like when you have a plan follow it, and that’s good. Something like that.”

Short and simple words for a man about to take on a long and convoluted route, only partly of his own design.

You can follow Erik on Instagram @erik_horsthemke and dot-watch his journey here.

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