Victoria’s biggest summer event is rolling in on two wheels.
Upwards of 40,000 people - a rare site on the streets of old Victoria - are expected to pass through the Inner Harbour during the final weekend of the Victoria International Cycling Festival, which runs June 1 to 24.
Hanging high are two of the festival’s bigger events, Jumpship (June 22 to 24) and Ryder Hesjedal’s Tour de Victoria (June 24), which will bring viewers and riders alike to a bottle neck of beer gardens, big air jumps and music in front of the Fairmont Empress hotel and parliament buildings.
It’s all part of a festival that’s growing rapidly in just its second year, said executive director Rob Fawcett.
“We have over a dozen individual events spread out over the month, each are their own entity with individual sponsors all coming under the festival’s umbrella.”
Fawcett, a mountain biker by passion, came here eight years ago and clicked into Victoria’s cycling scene. Whether it’s the stream of commuters along the Galloping Goose, or the smaller but cultish Thursday night mountain bike ride that’s gone over 1,200 straight weeks dating back to the 1980s, Fawcett saw a lifeblood of cycling that needed to be celebrated.
“We’re just tapping into the love of cycling here and bringing it out. I think what makes Victoria the cycling capital of Canada is its diversity, with so many different styles and events like this.”
Fawcett approached Tourism Victoria two years ago and credits Helen Welch, the vice president of visitor services and market development for her response.
“She was very receptive. It hasn’t been an accident that this is so popular. A lot of the powers that be on various committees around town have been supportive from the start.”
The biggest change on the downtown front is the continued emphasis on making the final weekend a festival atmosphere that balances beers with gears.
The lawn of the Empress will have a beer garden, and so will Jumpship.
“Most everything about the festival will be bigger and better,” said course designer Jordie Lunn, who had it approved by the Freeride Mountain Bike World Tour association.
The Parksville turned North Vancouver resident leaned on his experience as a pro downhiller before studying at Camosun College. During his college time he lived in the backwoods of Langford and focused on freeriding.
Jumpship will feature 30 of the top-ranked freeride cyclists in the world, with contests running the weekend of June 22 to 24, with the Camp of Champions airbag on hand for practice.
“The plan was to have (Jumpship) completely bigger in every way. This year’s will start on the terrace at road level and connect with a ramp to a much bigger barge, with a couple of features in the parking lot."
Lunn is part of the Dockside Mountain Biking Society, an eight person board created to handle Jumpship, and with a Vancouver Island focus should it expand to other events moving forward.
Easily the biggest spectator draw of the festival, Jumpship’s freeriding glamour will have company with the introduction of the Roller Jam Dual Slalom course on Belleville Street.
On Saturday (June 23), trial bikes will race a different style of man-made course. Roller Jam is an observed trial competition. Cyclists can’t touch the ground while conquering a series of challenging obstacles.
“It’s the first observed trial competition in Victoria. By turning it into a race is an added element for onlookers,” said organizer Jason Nickels.
The 23-day festival revs up with the 20th anniversary of the Bastion Grand Prix on Sunday, June 3. Cyclists will zip around the 900 metre Bastion criterium race at speeds near 65 kilometres per hour. The Bastion crit is the third and final part of the Robert Cameron Law series, which starts with the Russ Hays time trial on Dallas Road on June 1, and the Metchosin Road Race on June 2, which double this year as the 2012 B.C. Road Cycling Championships.