Rugby players aren’t made for cycling up mountains. In fact, perhaps the last thing you’d expect a back-row colossus to do upon retirement is don lycra and saddle up for a 2,800-kilometre test.

However, that’s exactly what Lawrence Dallaglio has opted for, swapping rugby boots for cleats and lycra for a bold and innovative charity cycling challenge.

In line with the Six Nations Championship, the former England rugby captain is aiming to ride between all of the national stadia involved.

His ‘Dallaglio Cycle Slam’ is thus split into six stages over twenty-four days. The gruelling 2,800-km route starts in Rome on Friday, taking the forward on to Nice, Paris and Twickenham.

Then it’s west to Fishguard, over to the eastern coast of Ireland and another ferry back to Scotland before reaching Murrayfield on 12 March, just over four weeks after he set off.

The essence of the challenge is philanthropic rather than physical. Dallaglio is doing it all to raise money for Sport Relief and the recently-formed Dallaglio Foundation. The fundraising target is £1 million.

He’s getting a little help from his friends, too. Aside from a seven-strong core, including Dallaglio and former-pro-turned-journalist Paul Kimmage, which will cycle the entire route, two hundred-odd dedicated amateurs will be joining the 37-year-old on various sections of the route.

Celebrities and ex team-mates are also showing their support by saddling up, with the likes of Will Greenwood, Keith Wood, Gavin Hastings, Diego Dominguez, Ieuan Evans and Raphaël Ibañez lending the venture a real Six Nations feel.

Cycling Weekly caught up with the former British Lion to see how preparation is going.

CW: You leave on Friday. How are you feeling about everything?
Very excited; the training [Dallaglio can often be seen doing loops of Richmond Park] has been somewhat hampered by the bad weather but we’re doing as best we can. The amount of money coming in is growing on a daily basis.

What is the drive behind the challenge?
The idea is to harness the power of sport in a fun and active way to get lots of people engaged in something challenging in terms of physical and mental effort; the end goal being to earn huge amounts of money for incredibly worthwhile targets.

Dallaglio before his challenge
Dallaglio is saddling up for ambitious challenge.

Why did you choose cycling in particular?
Rugby has always been a tight-knit community about teamwork and shared values, but this has opened my eyes to the fact that cycling is very similar. Real values of honesty and team spirit are prevalent.

I didn’t realise quite how many people would be into cycling; the response for signing up for the Cycle Slam has been instantaneous. Obviously, taking in the Six Nations venues also had a very natural feel to it.

How did you originally get involved in the sport?
I’ve been involved since a good friend of mine, Harvey Smyth, [the CEO of Pizza Express], decided to ride across the Pyrenees last year. Finishing the ride from Biarritz to Banyuls – we raised just under £500,000 – I realised it was the kind of thing that people wait their whole lives to do.

I was talking to David Millar the other day, and he was saying he fancied doing a similar ride when he’s retired from the sport.

As an international rugby player, you are used to intense levels of competition. On a personal level, how did this appeal to you?
I’ve always been very goal-driven, and I’ve always set my goals pretty high – otherwise, they’re not worth going for. It’s not a crusade though: nothing is worth achieving on your own and I really believe in the power of working as a group.

One of the charity’s we’re raising money for is Cancer Research UK; my mother died of cancer 18 months ago. That’s where the inspiration comes from.

When you are struggling, you have to think of the people we’re doing it for to put things in perspective. We’ll be riding for twenty-four days and in that time, 18,000 people will be diagnosed with cancer. That’s a pretty scary number.

The lightest thing he's ever lifted.
The lightest thing he’s ever weight-lifted.

As an 18-stone, 6 foot 4 flanker, you aren’t exactly made for the hills. Are you expecting to find it tough?
I’m built for destroying bikes, not riding them! It’s been a real challenge for me, and being so competitive, it’s very hard for me to enter a sport where I have no chance of winning.

I’m looking forward to it but on a physical and fundraising side, it’s going to be tough. We’re going to have to push each other, there’s no falling behind schedule and no giving up. I’m hoping I’ll remember what being mentally strong is all about!

I love the challenge and the struggle; there has to be struggle without the big smile at the end of it. There’ll be some days when I think ‘what am I doing, why did I agree to do this?’ Then I’ll realise that I’m much more fortunate than the millions we’re trying to raise money for.

Which stages are you expecting to find the most difficult?
I was looking at the aerial view of stage one from Rome and that gave me a bit of a reality check. For the core riders, there’s no point getting too carried away: Twickenham is only halfway.

From a purely cycling point of view, the first half is probably marginally more challenging than the second. That said, cycling up the east coast of Ireland could be very interesting if the wind and rain get up!

What kit will you be riding?
Giant have been simply great, providing bikes for the team. They’re building a Defy for me, which I believe is for the slightly-heavier gentleman.

I got some shoes made up from the Nike factory in Italy – if they’re good enough for Lance Armstrong, they’re good enough for me. Nike are also providing kit for all of our riders.

Overall, we’ve relied on the goodwill and support of so many people, from operations and recruitment to the riders themselves.

Support Lawrence Dallaglio and his fellow cyclists as they embark on the ride by donating via www.dallagliocycleslam.com.

Net proceeds will be shared equally between Sport Relief and the Dallaglio Foundation.

  • Chris Bailey

    Good luck Lawrence. Quite a challenge to take on. I am sure many people will follow your progress and wish you success. May the weather gods be with you.

  • peter stack

    Good luck to LBND a true gladiator.