Phil Chew sees long-distancing cycling like a chess game: make subtle but strategic moves early on and you’ll start to see dividends when the board thins out.
So on Sunday, when the 61-year-old hits the first of over 1,500 metres of incline during Ryder Hesjedal’s Tour de Victoria, he’ll take advantage of his missing leg where he can.
“I’m a really good climber because I’m so light. With one leg, I’m not as fast on the flats,” Chew says from his home in Whistler. “I love ripping the face off any two-legged person out there, that’s my goal.”
Chew lost his leg to cancer in 1977 and shared the same rehabilitative ward as Terry Fox at the B.C. Cancer Control Agency in Vancouver.
While his old friend became the poster child for conquering the disease, Chew fought his own mental and physical battle to become one of the world’s top downhill skiers of the 1980s and 1990s.
More than three decades later, Chew is regularly competing in dozens of granfondo-style races, most recently pulling off a top seven per cent finish in his age group at this year’s GranFondo Whistler, a gruelling 122-kilometre ride up the Sea-to-Sky Highway with more than 1,700 metres of climbing.
“I”ve met a few guys over the years who do (one-legged cycling) … but I still don’t have a direct comparison,” he says. “I think a lot of amputees are too smart to do that long a distance.”
About 1,600 people are registered for the third annual Tour de Victoria this weekend, with about 1,000 cyclists set to ride alongside Chew and Hesjedal on the 140-km route. Shorter 100-km and 50-km routes are also available for less competitive riders.
“We do tend to get a lot of last-minute registrations,” says organizer Seamus McGrath. “We hit 1,750 last year, but it’s hard to say at this point. If it pours rain, we might stay at that. If it’s sunny, we could hit 2,000.”
McGrath says he’s been most impressed with how the community rallies behind the event, despite an organizational nightmare with six police departments through nearly every Capital Region jurisdiction.
“There’s never been anything negative, we just have to go through the right channels and everyone supports it wholeheartedly,” he says. “It’s a world-class ride.”
Chew hopes to complete this year’s Tour de Victoria in under five hours after running into mechanical problems during last year’s ride.
“I think I can do maybe under 4:50, realistically. I’m doing this is to show others that people with disabilities can achieve some unbelievable things, not just amongst disabled people, but amongst the 10-toed freaks too.”
The Ryder Hesjedeal’s Tour de Victoria begins at 7 a.m. in front of the B.C. legislature building.