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Keith Tuffley, a giant for a good cause



Keith Tuffley was not alongside Merckx, Hinault and Indurain in the stand reserved for the giants of the Tour de France on Sunday evening in the Champs-Elysées. But in the wake of Christopher Froome’s triumph, the Australian is nevertheless on the way to a very considerable achievement. His objective is to ride the 10,253 km and 63 stages of this year’s three Grand Tours as part of the Grand Tours Project (GTP). "In contrast to the 32 riders who have previously achieved this historic cycling triple, I am travelling alone without the assistance of the peloton," he says. On Sunday, the former Goldman Sachs banker, settled for some years now in Switzerland, close to UCI headquarters in Aigle, had to pick himself up off the road and get back in the saddle without assistance after misjudging a barrier at the start of the stage from Versailles to Paris.

The 48-year-old has had to delve deep into his reserves of mental strength after starting his incredible challenge in May this year at the Giro. He set out on the morning of the 19th stage at dawn as usual only to be battered by snow, wind and cold on the Passo del Tonale. It was only when he stopped for a coffee at 9 a.m. that our hermit of the road learned that the terrible weather had led the organisers to cancel the stage. But GTP has also offered our intrepid Aussie some pleasant surprises. Tuffley had the pleasure of riding the second stage of the Tour, from Bastia to Ajaccio, in the company of Mario Cipollini. The two men had met a few weeks earlier in Brescia and Cipollini was inspired by the project. "Riding with Mario was an extraordinary experience. He was constantly surrounded by photographers."
This was a welcome publicity coup for GTP which resulted in good media coverage in Italy and France. The organisers have been accommodating and Tuffley, averaging 28 km/h, has been able to cross the finish line of most stages. The fans have come to recognise this amazing morning rider, forging on at a time when most of the peloton were enjoying their morning massages. "I started my days in silence and solitude but would finish in an incredible atmosphere, particularly high up on Ventoux and Alpe d’Huez. It was electric up there." 

"We can't continue to use up the earth's resources as we have been doing for 200 years."

Tuffley's exploits have been reported every day on the GTP blog (http://grandtoursproject.com/). The Australian has surrounded himself with a fine team. Martine is a self-confessed Norwegian "adrenaline junkie" who is responsible for making the project "buzz" and who had already supported Tuffley on his first attempt at the Giro in 2012. Also in the team are two photographers, a friend who acts as webmaster and driver, and his sons who have accompanied him on some days, including the Mont-Saint-Michel stage. The blog presents articles, photos and videos following Tuffley on his route, but mainly it is a vehicle for promoting the Australian's environmental concerns. "We can't continue to use up the earth's resources as we have been doing for 200 years," he says. Last year Tuffley raised 28,000 Swiss francs for conservation projects in Oceania. "This year, the objective is to raise public awareness. Cycling dovetails perfectly with an environmental approach," comments the Australian. Tuffley’s next challenge is the Vuelta with its 11 summit finishes. But before that he will enjoy two weeks with his family in the Mediterranean before getting back on the bike.  "I'm scared of the heat," he confesses.
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