From El Tour de Tucson to Tour de France

Local cyclist using Tucson event to train for the most challenging race of them all
Tucson resident Graham Donaldson is taking on the challenge of a lifetime by riding in The Tour 21 Challenge.
Published: Nov. 18, 2021 at 12:11 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The Tour de France is a 24-day and 2,068-mile test of determination.

For Tucson resident Graham Donaldson, it’s the challenge of a lifetime.

“It’s the pinnacle,” said Donaldson, a program manager at Raytheon. “It’s the hardest endurance sporting event in the world. There’s nothing bigger. To take that on and say ‘look at what I’ve done,’ no one can ever take that away from you. That’s awesome.”

Come June 2022, Donaldson, an amateur cyclist, won’t be riding alongside the pros.

He’ll be riding with 24 other amateurs in The Tour 21 Challenge, an event that mirrors the Tour de France mile for mile, one week before the Tour actually begins. And when Donaldson clips into his pedals, he’ll do so as the only cyclist representing America.

“Being able to tell people from the Tour and say, ‘Yeah, I’ve got the best cycling city in the country in my backyard. I can do this. Let’s go.’ And help spread awareness too of the cause and try to raise more money is awesome.”

The cause is what’s most important. Former Crystal Palace soccer star and leukemia cancer survivor Geoff Thomas started The Tour 21 Challenge as a means to raise money for leukemia research. It’s a cause that hits home for Donaldson, whose girlfriend Katelyn lost her mother Gayle to cancer, specifically melanoma, 11 years ago.

“That memory,” Donaldson said, “and trying to leverage that and do something bigger than myself and do it for people who have lost ones not just to leukemia not just to blood cancer but to every cancer ... the more we know the smarter we can be about treating it.”

It was a Tour 21 Challenge documentary, aired last July, that captured Donaldson’s attention.

“I saw it and said, ‘man here’s a pie in the sky shot. Let’s apply and see what happens.’”

After two months of applications, interviews and essays, Donaldson made the cut.

“I found out I got selected and it’s been, ‘oh boy, how do I do this thing that I signed up for?’ ever since. We start on June 24 in Copenhagen. We finish on July 17 at the Arc de Triumph in Paris. One week ahead of the pros. There are no shortcuts. If they’re going up a 20 percent grade, we’re going up a 20 percent grade. If they’re going across the cobbles of Verbier, with ruts so deep you can stack three Oreos in them, we’re going across the same cobbles. It will be the hardest thing I’ll ever do.”

It’s the hardest thing he’ll ever do yet, it’s about perspective.

“Those three weeks are hard but there’s an end and I got to sign up for it. People who are fighting cancer or fighting leukemia, they didn’t choose that. They get handed that and have to deal with it. So, it’s a bit of in honor of so you just keep pushing through, so you get it done.”

This year, The Tour 21 Challenge raised $1.5 million. Of that total, Donaldson raised $40,000.

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