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Biking to Brest; World-famous
EDMONTON, ALTA. -- They expend about 10,000 calories in 24 hours, enough to feed a family of five for one day. During the last few seasons, some have logged more than the 36,800-kilometre circumference of the globe. But their big fear at the end of August will be not making it to the next telegraph pole. "Towards the end of an endurance cycling event, you sometimes tell yourself the next telegraph pole is your goal," said fourth-year medical student Jeff Shmoorkoff. "And you worry about not making it." Shmoorkoff, president of the Rocky Mountain Randonneurs cycling club, knows all about such mind games and is prepping local cyclists for what lies ahead when they take part in one of the world's most celebrated events.
Local riders. On Aug. 25, about 15 Alberta riders will leave Paris to pedal the 1,200 km to the Atlantic town of Brest and back in an ultramarathon cycling event that this year celebrates its 100th anniversary. In 1891, French newspaper editor Pierre Giffard announced the race from Paris to Brest and back, saying: "It will unveil the bicycle as a practical way to travel." Some 300 riders were attracted to the challenge, which had a 10-day time limit. Spectators were amazed when the first man home crossed the finish line in three days and 98 fellow riders flew in behind him. "Entire families now take part in the event," said Shmoorkoff. "It's a social event. They picnic and sleep along the road and help one another if there's mechanical trouble." Between 4,000 and 5,000 participants from 20 countries are expected to take part in this year's event, held every fourth year and known as a randonneur. Taken from the old French word for "long distance walker," randonneuring is a European-style event that has come to mean "supertourist." Riders must qualify for events and then cover a preset course of a certain distance to gain a medal.
Not a race. "The rides are not races," said randonneur Bill van der Meer, a city public works supervisor. "Riders pushing the pace too much will find they have to wait at a checkpoint to open. "The theme of randonneuring is to promote individual health, goal setting and achievement, all within a non-competitive athletic environment." The French event is known to aficionados as the P-B-P and taking up its challenge this year with Shmoorkoff are locals Bob Potoniec, Gerald Viney, Pat Cooper and Ed Weymouth. Five riders from Fort McMurray have also confirmed. Shmoorkoff began cycling while at university in Victoria and then thought of the French P-B-P event while making three-day cycling sojourns into the mountains while based in Calgary.
Randonneurs Mondiaux, the sanctioning body of randonneur events, later gave the group he founded, the Rocky Mountain Randonneurs, permission to stage qualifying races. To take part in the P-B-P event, cyclists must cover 200 km in 13.5 hours; 300 km in 20 hours; 400 km in 27 hours; and 600 km in 40 hours. For cyclists keen to taste randonneuring, the Rocky Mountain Randonneurs are staging a Populaire Series for the first time June 29. Fifty and 100-km courses are being routed in both Edmonton and Calgary areas and plans are well ahead for similar events in Fort McMurray and Medicine Hat. "A true randonneur carries everything he needs with him, including tools, rain gear and food," said Shmoorkoff. "And they know the challenge is as much mental as physical. "But the rewards are worth the effort. People sitting on tractors in rural Alberta fields wave to you as you go by and there is instant rapport in gas stations and stores in small towns." It's much the same during the P-B-P when restaurants will stay open all night to support riders, the best of which are as well-known in Europe as hockey stars are in Canada, he added.
Training run. Shmoorkoff and Ed Weymouth will use the 715-km Raid on the Pyrenees run, from the Atlantic to Mediterranean coast along the Spanish-French border, as a warm up for the P-B-P. It covers 18 mountain passes and has a 100-hour time limit.But that's nothing for the Alberta randonneurs, who last year cycled the 1,310 km - and nine mountain passes - between Vancouver and Calgary in well under the 97-hour time limit they had set on the course. Prior to that, many had braved temperatures of -30 to cycle over the 210-km winter road from Fort McMurray to Fort Chipewyan. "The French had trouble believing we had done that," said Shmoorkoff. "The event is now known as one of the toughest in North America. ". . . But you understand yourself better when you take on a challenge and then meet it. That's randonneuring."