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BC Randonneurs Cycling Club


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Marathon cycling a trial of endurance
by Nick Lees
Journal Staff Writer, Edmonton Journal, April 21, 1989, D.8.

EDMONTON, ALTA. -- His longest single bike ride is 1,200 km. He has cycled 14,000 km during the last two summers. And he once cycled across Canada in 85 days, averaging 144 km a day. "You have to set your own goals and I know I'm a bit of an extreme case," said Jeff Shmoorkoff, a 26-year-old University of Alberta medical student. "But whatever distance you cover, the sport is packed with camaraderie and challenge. "And when you get off your bike at the finish line, there is a tremendous feeling of fulfillment. "Just don't expect applause from the crowd -- in this country there won't be any." The sport: marathon cycling, or randonneuring as they say in France, where a cycling star is ranked close to a deity. "Cyclists don't race in a randonneuring event," said Shmoorkoff. "Those finishing various distances within a time limit are awarded a medal. "Participants help one another. They stop to help each other with a flat or other trouble. "It's an endurance challenge -- and a challenge of the elements and the mind. "You are often out there, sometimes overnight, in the sun, rain, snow and wind. "And you carry your own clothing and food for each leg of a long event, as well as any tools you think you might need for repairs. "In the very long events, you might also want a sleeping bag or to grab a few hours sleep in a motel."

Randonneuring, or recreational endurance cycling, is catching on in Alberta, said Shmoorkoff. And if you are not one of the followers of a sport, you will almost certainly come across one of the events out on the highway this summer. Randonneuring comes from an old French word for "long distance walker" and has come to mean "hard-riding, super tourist," said Shmoorkoff. Events date back to 1891 when French newspaper editor Piere Giffard announced a 1,200-km cycle race from Paris to the Atlantic port of Brest and back. "The race will unveil the bicycle as a practical way to travel," said the editor. Declared the doctors: "The bicycle in such large doses will kill the rider just as surely as an overdose of arsenic." But 300 riders took part in the 10- day-limit event and the winner sped across the finish line in three days, followed by 97 other participants. "Cyclists have to qualify to take part in the P-B-P event as it is popularly called," said Shmoorkoff. "And the Randonneurs Mondiaux, the world body, has given Alberta the go-ahead to stage qualifying events for the next P-B-P, scheduled for the fall of 1991."

To qualify, cyclists must cycle 200 km in a 14-hour time limit; 300 km in 20 hours; 400 km in 27 hours and 600 km in 40 hours. "The distances seem incredible when you first hear of them," said Shmoorkoff. "But once you get into the sport, you find 50 per cent or more of the challenge is psychological. "You keep raising your own expectations. "For instance, we had a couple of guys in their late 50s from Fort McMurray and Calgary last year, who set their goals at completing 100 km. "They did that and wanted to try 200 km. And then 300 km and then 400. "They didn't finish the 400, but what a sense of accomplishment to have gone from 100 km to 400 km so quickly." BICYCLING was a lot of fun, decided Shmoorkoff, when he commuted by bicycle to the University of Victoria. When he moved to Calgary to work as a laboratory technician at the University of Calgary, he began making three-day sojourns through the Rocky Mountains. It was on such a trip the idea of staging randonneuring events was born. In 1987, the year Shmoorkoff went on to take part in the P-B-P, he helped organize a series of events.

"This year we are staging seven 200 km events; five 300s; three 400s; two 600s and one 1,000-km event," said Shmoorkoff. "Included is an inter-city Calgary- Edmonton challenge June 17 when we will find out which city can get the greatest number of cyclists to cover the 300 km." The first local ride is May 6, when riders will begin in Edmonton and travel 200 km through Lamont (via Elk Island National Park,) Mundare, Andrew, Bruderheim and return to Edmonton. In Fort McMurray, where a strong randonneuring branch has sprung up with veteran rider Bill Donner setting the pace, the first event is an 200 km out-and-back on Highway 63. Other highlights of the season:

A 300-km Jasper-Banff event July 1, which will see strong cyclists finish in 14 hours instead of the usual three days taken by most recreational cyclists. * A Golden Triangle event that will see participants cross three mountain passes as they pedal the 400 km from Canmore past Lake Louise, Golden, Radium, Banff and back to Canmore. * A 1,000-km cycle on Sept. 2-4 that begins in Cochrane and passes by Lake Louise, Jasper, Edson, Entwistle, Drayton Valley, Rocky Mountain House and Sundre before returning to Cochrane. "The Cochrane event will give people a taste of what the P-B-P is all about and has a time limit of 75 hours," said Shmoorkoff. Don't riders tend to get saddle sore?

"You would be saddle sore if you rode a racing bike with a racing saddle," said Shmoorkoff. "You should have a sports or touring bike -- and dismount regularly to stretch. "Sports and touring bikes have frames that allow for a more comfortable position. "It's amazing the distance you can cover comfortably with a little training. "The miles fly by when you are talking with fellow riders. It's a very social sport." SHMOORKOFF stresses the events aren't races and people are given medals for completing distances. Professional cyclists are forbidden from taking part in European events. "We are attracting people who want a break from the stresses of life and are looking to challenge their body and mind," he said."And we are attracting older racers and triathletes who want to try something different. "People who have taken part in the Ironman triathlon have told me we are nuts when I tell them about the distances involved.

"It's estimated that randonneurs can burn up to 10,000 calories a day, which is enough to a family of five for one day." But Shmoorkoff's moment of satisfaction came this year after his organization successfully staged a randonneur event between Fort McMurray and Fort Chipewyan. "The French couldn't believe we cycled 210-km over an ice-road in minus 30 temperatures," he said with a chuckle. "It's now known as one of the toughest events in North America. Randonneuring is putting Alberta on the map."