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Tour of Greater Victoria 200
On the morning of the Tour of Greater Victoria (ToGV), bunking at the Croy residence, I laid in bed for a moment after shutting off the alarm, contemplating the rides I have planned for the year. A spring series with a flèche thrown in between the 300 and the 400. Then another full series, Peace to Parliament in June, a point to point hell week. All in preparation for London Edinburgh London, a 1400 km ultra during the first week of August. This will be the first ride of close to 5,000 km in brevets, not counting training rides. Or, I could just roll over. Tempting, but where would the challenge be in that. When I registered for LEL, I managed to get in through the back door and so I feel that I am destined to sweat and cycle-drag myself across the British landscape, and the only way to a accomplish that is to start with the ToGV. Let the rides begin!
I arrived early at the coffee shop on Cook St, just after 6:10 am. I was raised in a culture where timeliness was next to godliness and raised by a father who I never knew to be late, a trait I find hard to shake. Mark Ford wasn't far behind me, and Graham Fishlock not long after. Riders slowly drifted in, registration papers were filled in, tea/coffee and muffins consumed, bikes prepared, and then a mad rush just before 7:00. Mark graciously gave riders time to register and began the ride with a 7:10 am start; my father wouldn’t have approved.
With the sound of the bell, we mounted our bikes and threw in our first pedal strokes, the first of many. I started with a group of riders, an easy pace with Ken Bonner and Graham – the perfect pace. I had been off my bike for over 3 months during the winter, for many reasons, but the main one being the wet, wet, wet, Tofino winter. This ride needed to be a slow ride, an enjoyable ride, a sensible ride. We weren’t 2.0 km into the ride, winding our way along a short section of Dallas Rd, when someone said, “I'm going to jump up to the lead group.” Now reason said, stay where you are, stay with the plan, but the meme of the gladiator from the movie 300 with the quote “Make ready your bikes, for tomorrow, we ride!” flashed before my eyes, and I jumped on my pedals and raced to catch the lead group. A flawed decision, as this gladiator would be lying on the side of the road whimpering like a small child before the day was done.
The lead group had grown to 10 riders, lead by Dave White, Dan DuFeu, with Roxanne Stedman, Mark Payten, Sandi Szabo, Mikael Jansson, Luke Galley, and Josh and Steve who were riding like a couple of new recruits; one of them had a handle bar bag made of cardboard and duct tape. We wound our way through Victoria with Roxanne, who had ridden the pre-ride the week before, herding us along like a cat in charge of a group of kittens.
The group stayed very tight as we made our way through Victoria, Saanich then into Langford, with 50 turns on the route sheet before we reached the 30 km mark. We hit the first real climb of many, a steep, steep pitch up Walfred and onto Braemar Heights. With Dave and Dan off the front, we were soon spread out across the hill like bugs splattered across a windshield, being pushed to the top by the wind. We were leaving a trail of blood and viscera in our trail, but we were gladiators, and we would not be denied.
I flew down the other side of Braemar Heights and caught Roxanne, Dave and Dan, and we rode as a group of four, winding our way through Colwood and Mechosin. A light rain began to fall which would continue for the next 100 km or so. This has to be one of my favourite rides, discovering areas of Greater Victoria that few know exist, the quick transition from rural to urban to rural. It wasn’t long before we pulled into the control in Mechosin, staffed by Mark Ford. We drank, peed, ate bananas, the usual dine and dash at the local randonneur control. We remounted and headed towards the next control at Cadboro Bay, following the usual route back through Colwood, View Royal, Esquimalt, Victoria, and Oak Bay.
As our group of four rode back down Dallas Rd, now cycling towards Cadboro Bay, the error of my decision to jump to the front started to settle in. I was chasing. With every small incline I would get dropped and have to stand in my pedals and chase to catch up. I knew this feeling, I had had it before, the time Mike Croy tried to kill me on my first 600. I knew I should pull out at Cadboro Bay, back off, slow the pace. Dan, Dave and Roxanne were in fine form, I should bale. But, it would seem that I wasn’t in enough pain, yet.
We stopped at the Starbucks in Cadboro Bay and sat for a good break, espresso and sandwiches. It wasn’t long before Mikael Jansson rode up, got Dave to sign his card and rode off. Mikael was focused and riding strong, it was the last time I would see him. Mark and Sandi arrived before we got up to leave. We remounted and headed off on the usual route towards Brentwood Bay. It was as we made our way along Arbutus, Ash and through Mount Douglas Park that I knew I was cooked. Each small hill got harder to ascend, each gap took longer to close. It was on a short, steep climb on old west Saanich, 118 km in, just before it forks from Oldfield, that I unravelled. Roxanne was on my wheel, but like a slow tire puncture, I was losing air and I’d soon be riding on the rim. I told Roxanne that I was dropping back, and she sprinted off, chasing Dave and Dan. What was I thinking, a common foot soldier trying to keep up with the elites. Sure, maybe when I was in top form at the end of summer, but not now after spending 3 months in the barracks, feet up, re-watching Russell Crowe in The Gladiator.
I lost the route at Oldfield, doubled back to Old Saanich and stopped to collect my thoughts and find the right route sheet. I’d been chasing the whole way and hadn’t been following it. I got back on my bike, poked along, trying to eat, trying to drink, when Luke caught up to me along West Saanich Rd. We rode together for a while, left on Downey, right on Madronna, left on Chalet, the usual route. I wasn’t the best of company, trying to collect my thoughts, regain some energy. On Lands End it felt like I was pedalling backwards on every small hill. A small child on a tricycle could out sprint me right now. I let Luke ride off and pulled over to suck on an energy gel because there was none in my body. Head on my handlebars, slight shake in the legs. I knew this feeling, I’d been there before on another 200. I got back on my bike and was passed by Mark and Sandi, who asked if I was ok. Yes… but no, soon to be, just needed to keep peddling. It was a hard slog to Sydney, and as I pulled into the 7-11 to have my card signed, I realized I had a flat.
Card signed, I grabbed my food reserves, 2 slices of pizza from dinner the night before, and set to fixing my tire. I was down, hunched over my wheel, when I heard a rustle behind me. I turned, and a 7-11 crow was helping himself to my second piece of pizza. I informed this crow that I was really looking forward to that second piece, that I needed it to refuel my body, to which it replied: “The frost…. sometimes it makes the blade stick.” Wise words, and ones that I took to heart. My tire was bald, I should have checked it before the ride. I tried to replace the worn tire with a spare tire that I carry, but it wouldn’t fit the rim. Rather then spend the time trying to track down a new tire at a bike shop in Sydney, I decided to chance it on the worn tire.
Energy slowly working its way back into my body, I made my way back, 50 km to Cook Street; the distance I ride at home, 50 km to the Tofino/Ucluelet junction and back, which I've ridden hundreds of times. I counted down the km, hoping to get back without flatting again. It was with some relief that I made the final turn up Pendergast and saw Graham and Mark Ford sitting at the final control. Another ride completed.
As I lay in bed that night, my body aching down to the cellular level, I thought, what drives me to ride that hard. Now there are many reasons why we ride, but I have this ingrained drive to complete before time runs out, to never be late, to never disappoint, and I fell asleep with images of my father dressed as a gladiator, driving me on, “make ready your bikes, for tomorrow, we ride!”
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April 22, 2017