Victoria Cycling League enjoying rebirth

Cycling league and clubs focus on new riders

Oak Bay Bikes owner Karl Ullrich has been with the Victoria Wheelers bicycling club since 1884. Ullrich holds the Victoria Cycling League’s A Class cup. The collection of VCL trophies came under the Wheeler’s care during the league’s lean years

There was a time when the Victoria Wheelers was the only cycling club in town.

Those were the days when road racing was the only type of competitive cycling.  

After a period of low numbers in the late 1990s and early 2000s, cycling clubs in Victoria are enjoying a resurgence.

Five clubs have banded together to restore the Victoria Cycling League as a place for riders new and old to enjoy the experience of biking in a friendly, group atmosphere, said Ian Phillips of O2 Cycling Group.

“There’s a change in the air around the way road racers conduct themselves, it’s a friendlier place, a competitive but supportive environment,” Phillips said.

O2CC is one of several local groups hosting VCL races this year, including the Victoria Wheelers, Russ Hay’s, Sidney Velo and TripleShot cycling clubs. The circuit runs weekly from March 20 to Sept. 26, at locations all over the South Island.

Many of the races include the introductory ‘C’ class, less competitive than the traditional A and B levels.

“We’re refocusing our energy to the everyday rider who doesn’t realize the VCL is available to them and to junior riders especially,” Phillips said.

Until recently, the O2CC and the Victoria Wheelers were the only groups in town. The group gathered a shelf full of VCL trophies, some dating back to the ’20s and ’30s. But numbers dwindled so low, trophies stopped being awarded, Wheelers president Karl Ullrichs said.

“The trophies are coming out of the woodwork, it’s great to have the history there,” Ullrich said.

But the new VCL isn’t about producing elite cyclists like Juan de Fuca Cycling’s world champion mountain biker Roland Green, Tour de France competitor Ryder Hesjedal or 2008 Olympian Erinne Willock.

Road racing ballooned in the 1970s with the arrival of cycling-mad Roberto Segato, who added fire to the VCL.

“Back then, when Segato pushed to start a second cycling club, people thought he was going to disrupt the cycling scene,” added Ullrich, who first showed up to a Wheelers race as a 20-year-old in 1984. Segato’s passion fueled the Juan de Fuca cycling club, spurring a head-to-head rivalry with Austin Smith’s Wheelers.

It brought the level of Victoria’s cycling scene to new heights.

“Juan de Fuca sprouted Luca Segato, then Roland Green, and then Ryder Hesjedal,” Ullrich said. “Success breeds success, it goes back to Segato and Smith.”

Like running groups, there are plenty of new cycling groups around town, many attached to a local bike shop. Owner Marty Clermont of Russ Hays’ The Bicycle Shop said his cycling group is excited to become part of the VCL and credits the City of Langford for approving five races in the Latoria-Happy Valley area of the West Shore.

The majority of the season’s races feature A (elite), B (intermediate to advance) and C class categories. New, however, are five races on the track of Western Speedway geared specifically to new riders. Hosted by TripleShot, the Speedway events provide a safe venue to learn the dynamic of group riding.

Youths as young as 13 are welcome (12 if they’re strong on their bikes).

2010 award winners

Winners from the top three classes of last year’s VCL season will be awarded the trophy at this year’s first meet, March 20 at Caleb Pike (Gowland Tod Park) in the Highlands. Topping last year’s circuit were Raph Lalumiere in the A class, Adam de Vos the B Class and Shailie Sanbrooks the women’s winner.

For the race schedule, results and more information on the Victoria Cycling League go to www.duanebc.com.

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