Interview: Lawrence Dallaglio, rugby star turned charity cyclist

Rugby, retirement and the Six Nations Cycle Slam

In a few weeks' time, ex-England rugby skipper and scrummaging powerhouse Lawrence Dallaglio will set off on an epic 3,000km ride between the Six Nations stadiums. Cycling Plus’s Kate Hodgins talks to the big man about rugby, retirement and riding for charity…

So, not long to go until the start date then...

No, we're fast approaching the start of the Six Nations Championship, and the start of the Cycle Slam on 12 February. Rugby is the usual sport for this time of year but we thought we’d come up with a different way of raising funds for some amazing causes by cycling around all the Six Nations venues – nearly 3,000km in total.

We start in Rome and finish in Edinburgh. We're raising money for Sport Relief and for the Dallaglio Foundation, which I set up after my mum died of cancer, and we’ve set a target of £1 million to raise for those charities.

What’s it all about?

It’s about a hard challenge, and raising as much money as possible for some seriously worthwhile, relevant causes. For example, Help for Heroes. With everything that's going on in Afghanistan at the moment, this is really at the forefront of our minds.

The ride will also raise money for Cancer Research; over the 24 days we'll be cycling, 17,000 people will be diagnosed with cancer in the UK and 9,000 people will actually die of it. It's important to remember that we're raising money for very serious causes, as these are issues that will affect us all at some point in our lives, either directly or indirectly. We're going to remember that while we are cycling. We'll be holding a memorial service at the Somme for Help for Heroes.

How's the fundraising going?

Well, we have seven core riders who are doing the whole thing and, in keeping with the teamwork ethic of rugby, we have 230 or so riders doing at least one stage each, and all of them have been fundraising over the past few weeks. We're fundraising for all the charities in the Dallaglio foundation, like Cancer Research UK, Help for Heroes, the RPA Benevolent Fund, Leukaemia Research and DebRA.

The idea is that Sports Relief will get £500,000 and the other charities will get the other £500,000. There are also a number of other initiatives on the go. For example, the spicy Dallaglio Diablo Pizza is going on sale at Pizza Expresses across the UK and 25p from each pizza will go to those charities. We're relying on the generosity of the great British public to help out.

How can the public help?

They can go to the Dallaglio Cycle Slam website, and also the Just Giving site, to make donations. Also, they can also go to the Sports Relief website which runs the whole time we're cycling.

Who's cycling with you?

A number of sportsmen and women, including a lot of rugby players – after all it is the Six Nations so I thought I’d call on the help of some of my former colleagues! There's Diego Domínguez in Italy, Raphael Ibanez in France, Keith Wood in Ireland, Kenny Logan in Scotland, Jonathan Davies in Wales and Will Greenwood from England, among others.

But it isn’t just the rugby lot. With it being Sport Relief we have a number of other athletes, such as Lee Dixon, Sir Les Ferdinand, Michael Vaughan, James Cracknell and Sir Ian Botham. I’m sure we’ll see a lot of other celebrities from the world of entertainment too.

What's going to be the hardest part?

Probably the first two legs – Italy to Nice, and Nice to Paris. These are serious cycling, as Rome to Nice is nearly 680km in six days, and Nice to Paris is 686km in five days. But when you're cycling to raise money for charity it has to be tough and it has to be a challenge, and this is a challenge on many levels!

Have any of your skills from rugby been transferable to cycling?

The best one is that I'm very used to pain! And I'm not used to giving up. My rugby career was all about achieving goals and targets, and doing that in a group with a huge sense of fun. That's something I can bring to this. This isn't something I'm doing alone; this isn't a one man crusade.

The strapline of the Dallaglio Foundation has always been Powerful Together, and that's what this is about. We're achieving a pretty satisfying objective through a group, and raising some much-needed funds for some incredibly worthwhile causes.

Speaking of pain, have you suffered any injuries through training?

Not yet – the weather hasn’t been hugely helpful for training though! We haven’t managed to train an enormous amount over the past few weeks. We've put together a great support team to help us, though. I’ve already had about nine operations through rugby so I don’t intend on having any more! Of course, safety is paramount for myself and all the riders. But I’m thinking more about sitting in the saddle for 24 days – I reckon that might be quite painful.

I see from your blog that you were in Italy this week getting your shoes fitted for the ride. Do you have any other specialist gear to help you out on the ride?

Yes, we have Nike on board and they've kindly kitted out all the riders, which is great. They’ve kitted out the likes of Lance Armstrong before, so I’m sure us amateur cyclists will be fine.

From my ride in the Pyrenees last year I've realised that there are one or two items you really can’t do without. Like the right type of shorts, for example, certainly after 24 days. And the right type of shoes, as I don’t have the smallest of feet and can’t really go into shops and buy them off the peg.

The weather could be a factor as riding in winter conditions is quite different from cycling the Pyrenees in September. It was great to be back in the motherland of Italy though, and I’ll look forward to being back there in a couple of weeks when we start off in Rome.

Are there any other things that as a larger gentleman you've found difficult with cycling?

Giant are supporting us on the bike front and clearly they have huge experience and expertise. Their technical support is invaluable to our trip. I’ll be riding their Tour de France bike from last year, a TCR. It’s suited to a larger man so it’s perfect for my stability.

Of course, with the backing from Pizza Express and their Dallaglio Diablo tempting our riders across the UK, this could be the first cycle that we end up heavier when we get back than when we left!

Support Lawrence Dallaglio and his fellow cyclists as they embark on this mammoth ride by donating via www.dallagliocycleslam.com. Net proceeds will be shared equally between Sport Relief and the Dallaglio Foundation.

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