Todd Mason

Tour de Rock cyclists put pedal to the metal

Fourteen police officers, one media personality, and two special guests are gearing up for the annual Tour de Rock.

While it’s impossible to live in Victoria without having heard of the Tour de Rock, it’s likely you’ve never considered the athletic dedication required by the ride’s participants unless you’re directly involved with the event

The 14 police officers, one media personality, and two special guests riding have never participated in a bike race, nor are they generally recognized as athletes in any other discipline.

“One year, we had a ride participant who hadn’t been on a bike since she was eight years old. But she was tremendous, worked hard and by the time the ride came around, she was right in there with everyone else,” said Katie Crowe, the Canadian Cancer Society’s Tour de Rock coordinator.

Most of the cyclists have not been involved in sports or athletic endeavours except at a very recreational level. They commit in early spring to a ride that will take them the length of Vancouver Island, a distance of just over 1,100 kilometres up daunting hill climbs and  long stretches of empty countryside. They average more than 90 km a day, and keep that pace up for 14 days straight.

By late September, they have to be ready. A lot of sick children are counting on them. The ride raises money for pediatric cancer research and programs for children with a history of cancer.

By way of comparison, the rides on the world famous Grand Tour of races (including the Tour de France, the Vuelta  and the Giro d’Italia) average about 140 km a day and are the sole province of professional riders who do nothing but prepare for their races.

Most of the Tour de Rock riders tend to shy away from the designation of “athlete,” despite the fact that the training they undertake and the commitment they make to the ride rivals serious athletes. Three times a week they meet to ride up impossibly steep hills and maintain speed over long distances. They learn how to ride in a pack (changing position to take advantage of drafting behind leading riders) and careen down descending slopes at speeds that can exceed 80 km/hr.

“Most of them won’t admit to being athletes, but make no mistake about it…they are. By the time the ride arrives they are all athletes,” said Rob McDonald, the team’s principle trainer.

Todd Mason, a Victoria police officer for seven years, is one such athlete, although he shies away from the designation.

“I was never a cyclist, not really. I knew how to ride a bike, but that was about it,” laughed Mason. “It’s just a great cause and something I always wanted to do.”

Andree Noye,  with the Mounted Police Unit Esquimalt, is another team member who, similarly, has trouble embracing the description of herself as an athlete.

“I suppose we’re athletes in some sense, but we’ve gotten involved to be fundraisers. I guess I’m a bit humble in that regard, it’s tough work and we’ve gotten very good at what we’re doing, but it’s hard to think of ourselves as athletes,” said Noye. “That’s particularly true when we’re screaming down a steep downhill in a tight pack. My knuckles still turn white on those runs.”

Noye concedes the difficulty of the training and the vast improvement in knowledge and cycling skill the whole team has managed to achieve, but credits the junior team members for a lot of the strength required for the ride. Each rider is paired with a young person whose life has been impacted by cancer.

“I think about the strength that these kids need to combat this disease and I know I can’t give up, no matter how hard the training is or how tough the ride might be. If they can do what they do, we can certainly do our part,” said Noye.

This year’s Tour de Rock sets out from Point Alice on Sept. 24 and will arrive in Victoria on Friday, Oct. 7.  To donate to the ride or get involved as a volunteer, go to tourderock.ca.