After two Grand Tours, injury threatens 20-year-old amateur’s Vuelta quest

Erik Horsthemke has cycled the entire Giro and Tour routes so far in 2022 (including transfers). The Vuelta could be three weeks too far.

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Erik Horsthemke arrived on the Champs-Élysées 18 hours before the men’s Tour de France peloton, but more crucially, an hour before organisers started erecting the finish line and blocking access to the famous boulevard at 3am. In the nick of time he had completed the 2022 Tour de France, including transfers.

Having first journeyed down from the Giro d’Italia’s Grande Partenza in Budapest to complete a lap of Italy, Erik then undertook the second of the three 2022 Grand Tours he planned to complete this year as he rode off from Copenhagen down through Germany for a clockwise ride around France.

Up the Galibier he saw some of the only signs on his mammoth ride of the most famous bike race in the world he was shadowing, with fans already camped out and cheering him up the steep gradients. But mostly it was one 20-year-old German against the clock for three weeks. Three weeks that nearly came to disaster after three days of 5,000 metres of elevation in 45 degree celsius temperatures in the Pyrenees.

“I needed a lot of water to cool down my body,” Erik tells CyclingTips. “Like 20 to 30 litres a day and 5 litres drinking a day. But after that, the mountains over, it was chill and I only had two days until Paris left but then I felt quite bad, I had a heat stroke.

This, Erik says, was the hardest part of his whole Tour.

“I was lying there in the grass between Paris and the Pyreness and no village was there, I didn’t know what to do. Nobody was there and I wanted to call the ambulance but there was no chance.”

“They were very worried,” Erik says of his family’s reaction back at home. “Because I called them and said I didn’t know what to do and ‘can you please call the taxi or the ambulance?’ They were looking for for a taxi but there was no chance because there was nothing. My family was very worried and they were very happy when I arrived at small village in this small hotel.”

An old man made him some food and he stayed the night. The next day he called an ambulance. After being pumped full of the electrolytes that Erik had sweated out, he felt much better and could continue.

“I think the Giro was much harder,” Erik admitted, despite the trip to A&E, making the point that while the Tour had 65,000 metres of elevation, the Giro had 80,000. “I had five days in a row where I had rain and I was freezing all the time in the mountains and was cold. Also, it was the first Grand Tour and maybe my body was not so much prepared.”

Ailments aside, the Tour, with all its fans and also the home support as he made his way through Germany on the opening transfer, was as fun as riding a Grand Tour solo can probably get. Recovery was easier too, his body now more used to being put through three weeks of relentless riding.

But now comes the Vuelta. Monster transfers and monster heat.

“Maybe it’s the smallest race of all three but it will be big,” Erik says as he looks to complete his challenge of three Grand Tours, including transfers, in one calendar year.

“The transfer route from Utrecht to Spain will be very long, I think 1500 kilometres, and then in Spain they will fly another time too from north to south of Spain. 900 more kilometres…because of that I have I think 3500 kilometres of transfers.

“Also the Vuelta is known for the heat,” Erik says, the Tour heatstroke not far from his mind. “I think maybe it could be harder than the Giro.”

You can tell how serious of a challenge the Vuelta will be by the fact Erik has accepted it will be almost impossible to beat the peloton to Madrid.

“We made the plan that I will start around the 17th, a bit earlier than the pros who will start on 19th. We think that it’s not possible to finish the race before the pros, which I would like to do but I would have to start even earlier. We think it’s a better plan to recover a bit more and finish a bit later. That’s the plan at the moment.”

Plans for these sorts of challenges are always subject to change.

“The leg problem continued today,” Erik posted on Instagram, having been suffering from pain as he began his ride from the Netherlands. “Due to the raised seat post, some of my muscles are very overstretched. I had a lot of pain in my right leg today and therefore couldn’t do any kilometres. I hope it will get better tomorrow.”

The next day, a further update.

“The condition of my leg has worsened. I really can’t ride at all, it really hurts a lot. I’ll try to get everything checked over the next few days and hope to be able to make a restart. I am very sorry but I am really not able at the moment to ride my bike but for sure I will finish the project.”

Grand Tours aren’t easy, for pros and amateurs alike.

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