The Chef Looking To Conquer France On His Bike

Life//People

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Hayden Groves is a chef, a very good one at that too having be crowned National Chef of the Year in 2013, but there is more to him than meets the eye.

As I sit across the table from him, talking about cycling and his upcoming challenge, more of which later, it is clear that there is a deep seated passion for the sport he contemplated giving up his chef's whites for when he was younger.

For unlike most boys growing up his sporting dreams were not of Wembley and FA Cup Finals, but instead were on the slopes of France's most famous mountains, the likes of the Col du Tourmalet, Alpe d'Huez and Mont Ventoux, and winning stages of the Tour de France.

"Most boys dream about kicking a football around at Wembley," Groves told The Essential Cyclist. "But I dreamt of riding the high mountains in the Tour de France. I wasn't much of a footballer and soon realised there wasn't much of a future in it for me, so I took up cycling when I was about ten.

"I got what I would call my first proper bike when I was twelve and just started riding. I could probably do forty, fifty miles as a twelve year old and it just built up from there really. At school back in those days, and we're talking a good twenty-five years ago, it was almost unheard of for a boy to wear cycling shorts. So much so that I got semi-bullied for it."

It would have been all too easy for Groves to have buckled to peer pressure, given up his cycling shorts, and gone back to playing football with the rest of the kids. But that would have been the easy option, and it was clear to see from my time talking with him that the easy option was never an option. You don't make it to a high level of cycling, as he went on to do, or win the National Chef of the Year for that matter, by taking the easy options in life.

"I joined North Road CC at the age of fifteen and was really inspired by the 1989 Tour de France, which which was the epic Fignon-LeMond battle," Groves continued. "That inspired me to have a go at road racing, which turned into a baptism of fire as my first race was the regional divisional championships, won by Roger Hammond."

What followed for Groves was a gradual rise through the ranks, both in cycling terms and the kitchen, where he was starting to get noticed as a talented chef, until, as he explains, he finally had to make a decision as to where his future lay.

"I had an opportunity at under-23 level to go to Belgium as an amateur," he said with an air of regret in his voice. "It was go out there, live with some local people, race and try and get enough winnings to put some bread and water on the table. It was hardly a pro deal but it was a top amateur club in Belgium.

"At the same time I had just got a very good career move at work, and as such turned the cycling deal down. You know it's one of those regrets that I didn't just go and give it a go and see what could have come of it. Even if I wasn't up to scratch, just to have tested myself."

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That he didn't head off to Belgium and give cycling a real shot clearly rankles with Groves, yet this summer he has a chance to not only live out those childhood dreams and lay that ghost to rest, but in doing so help raise over £1 million pounds for Cure Leukaemia.

Groves will be one in a team of twenty cyclists that will ride the entire 2015 Tour de France event one day ahead of the professionals, an event spearheaded by former England football Geoff Thomas. Having been diagnosed with Leukaemia shortly after retiring from football in 2003 Thomas thought his life was over.

However, having fought the battle of his life he went into remission in 2005 and that year, inspired by Lance Armstrong, took on the entire Tour de France two days ahead of the professionals. Now, ten years on, he will take on the challenge again, with Groves being one of those to ride with him.

"The Tour de France opportunity was just amazing really, and it's all thanks to the power of Twitter," Groves said. "I love a tweet and one of my colleagues had re-tweeted Geoff's tweet saying he was doing the Tour de France again.

"I knew he had done it ten years ago as I followed the coverage on ITV. I saw that tweet and thought 'wow, that's amazing'. That night I couldn't really sleep thinking about it and in the morning I tweeted Geoff and said can we talk. Pretty much three days later we were talking on the phone and I just said 'I said I'm in, what do I need to do'."

From his previous cycling days, as well as having spent time riding in the Alps before, Groves is under no illusion as to the magnitude of the task at hand. Yet he is not deterred and is ready to shun the easy option once again as he prepares for what will be the biggest challenge of his life.

"I know how hard it's going to be, I know what it's going to take out of my body just from the few days of intense training camps I've been on before," he said. "But then I've never ridden nine days in a row before, let along the sort of distances we will cover in those days, so I know it's not going to be easy at all.

"The fact that I've ridden Alpe d'Huez, and been up Col de la Croix de Fer means I know how tough the mountain stages will be. But then this isn't a race, it's about keeping us all together to ensure that, as a team, we all make it to Paris.

"There will be good times and bad times, some people will be strong on certain days and terrains, and others will struggle at times, but unlike in a proper race we won't be looking to drop anybody but work as a team to get through each day."

Hayden and everyone else involved in the One Day Ahead ride will be doing so in a bid to raise at least £1 million for Cure Leukaemia. If you want to make a donation to their cause simply click here. The Essential Cyclist will also be featuring Hayden's story as he prepares for the challenge, so you can follow all of the latest developments right here.

Photo Credits

Hayden Cycling: Tom Simpson

Hayden Chef: Adrian Franklin

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