The suffering

9 07 2010

There’s something sublime about 5 a.m.

It’s quiet. The light is soft. The air is fresh, clean-smelling.

I'm not the only one crazy enough to be up at 5 a.m.; Katie shot this photo for her blog when she went out for an early run before work.

And the day’s live tv coverage of the Tour is about to begin.

This year, OLN has decided to forego the repeats they used to show through the day, as well as the evening show they used to pick up from VERSUS. I suppose the ratings for Mantracker and Operation Repo are just so much greater than one of the great sporting events in the world..

It’s live or nothing.

Or sure, I could just watch the day’s stage at a more regular hour from the recording on the PVR, skip through repetitive commercials. But what would be the fun in that?

So the alarm clock has been set for five.

Although, oddly, my body seems to instinctually know it’s Tour time, and I’m usually awake before the alarm buzzes, showered and ready for the day a few minutes before the pre-race show signs on.

The smooth, mannered deliver of Phil Ligget and Paul Sherwin as they tell the story of the day has become the sound of my summer.

As we only get the live broadcast this year, our exposure to gap-toothed Bob Roll is limited to the pre-race, but I love his enthusiasm and goofy joy; I miss him. The current host, Craig Hummer, seems solid, if a little Lance-centric; he’s certainly a step up from Al Trautwig, who never seemed able to wrap his head around the nuances of bike racing. And thank god we’re rid of “the Cutters” and Kirsten Gum; that was a dark era of Tour broadcasting.

The grating familiarity of the commercials is also part of the viewing experience. So much so I don’t really bother fast forwarding through them when I rewatch the stage in the evening.

As there’s only a half dozen of them, their repetition and the cycle in which they appear is oddly comforting, like revisiting an old friend again and again: the Lexus that seems to protect its inhabitants from all the evils in the world around them; the whooping guy with sideburns bursting into the locker room as dudes in towels are shaving, lamenting all the “pulling and tugging” they have to endure; the Specialized commercials with Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador which are actually pretty entertaining, the overly-earnest snippets about Cervélo’s history; the promos for the bad OLN programming, Mantracker, Ghosthunters, and of course, Operation Repo.

Today was the last day before the mountains. Tomorrow my alarm has to be set for 4:30 a.m. Let the suffering begin!

This morning’s ride that almost didn’t happen turned into one of my best of the season.

The breakfast waffles weren’t sitting so well in my belly, and with the sudden summer heat, I contemplated just kicking back on the balcony, maybe catching a movie in a cool theater this afternoon; with a ride scheduled for tomorrow, I could afford a day off I reasoned.

But, as Katie says, this is my “game time,” so I kitted up anticipating a fairly short day, maybe 50 km or so.

Strange thing happened on my climb out of New West though; my legs felt awesome. And the heat wasn’t that bad; we’ve been waiting for summer long enough, so we’re not allowed to complain now that it’s here.

That’s how 50 km became 70 km became 103 km. In less than four hours. Which is an excellent pace for an urban ride given all the slowing down and stopping for lights, peds and stop signs.

The bane of ever cyclist's pace; stop lights.

Seems I’m not alone with my frustration with traffic lights; a guy on a Specialized S-Works with whom I’d been trading pulls for a few kms gave voice to a few choice expletives I was thinking after we hit our third straight red light, then blew through it with ferocity.

A wave by any other name

8 07 2010

Summer. Finally.

And that means our first evening trail ride in which all of us wore shorts, no tights, no knee warmers, no sleeves!

It's finally summer; our first all-shorts ride!

Perhaps glad to finally have a nice warm ride, all three of us were full of beans as we clipped through the woods at UBC at a furious pace. Great fun!

As always, our route bisects a couple of roads favored by the roadies. That always hangs me on the horns of a dilemma.

When I’m on the mountain bike and see the roadies, I feel like I want to be with them, I want to be on my road bike. Or at least wave, to acknowledge my kinship with them.

But I know the latter wouldn’t be couth.

That’s because the culture of the “cyclist’s wave” seems to have some very strict rules that aren’t really written down anywhere, yet somehow seem to be absorbed.

On the open road, roadies will often give a little wave, or tip of the hand, or nod, when they encounter other roadies heading the opposite way. It’s our way of acknowledging our shared passion.

A suitably subtle roadie wave.

Were that it was so simple.

Because there’s a whole subset of rules to that rule:

• The roadie wave only happens on two-lane roads. Anything wider might generate a nod across traffic, but usually little more than a glance, mostly to check out if the oncoming rider is worthy of being considered a fellow roadie.

• The roadie wave is more likely to happen out in the country than in the city.

• In the city, the roadie wave only seems to happen on unlikely roadie routes. When riding through areas that are popular with roadies, other roadies are to be ignored, or even eyed with disdain; “how dare they share my road! I thought I was the only one who knew about this route!”

• Roadies only wave to other roadies who are properly attired; that means kitted out in roadie attire and clipped into their pedals. Anything less is to be approached with suspicion and skepticism. Katie is convinced she never gets the roadie wave when she’s riding because she doesn’t have the shoes, just rides in her sneakers of flat pedals.

• Roadies do NOT wave at: mountain bikers, shuttlers, bike commuters, or any bike with a pannier or basket, cruisers, foldies, recumbents, tricycles, unicyclists, bmxers , rusty steel frames (although retrogrouches riding vintage steel in good condition should be respected) or people walking their afghan hounds.

• A roadie may wave at a triathlete out for a ride, but it won’t be acknowledged and you’ll immediately regret it.

• Roadies absolutely must NOT, under any circumstances, ever acknowledge the right to exist of fixies, although secretly we wish we could have been them before riding a fixie became trendy and de rigeur  amongst the hipster crowd.

• A proper roadie wave must be subtle, bare discernible even, a slight lift of the hand from the brake hoods, a couple of raised fingers, a slight nod of the head. Anything more is considered a rookie mistake, and nobody wants to feel like a newbie.

Speaking of newbies; here's Dan's little guy, Thomas Shay, showing off how he just learned to ride a two-wheeler!

O Canada!

6 07 2010

In honor of Ryder Hesjedal’s epic ride in today’s third stage of the Tour de France, this posting is actually a story I wrote for our newspaper, about another  heroic performance in the Tour by a Canadian rider, Alex Stieda, 14 years ago.

For those who missed it, Hesjedal was part of a seven man break that formed early in today’s 213 km stage through Belgium and northern France, which included seven sections of rough and tumble cobblestones. With 41 kms left in the stage, Hedjedal broke away on his own, and he managed to stay out front until just after the last section of pavé, when he was caught by the likes of Fabian Cancellara, Cadel Evans, Andy Schleck and Thor Hushovd.

Hedjedal didn’t give up, though. He stuck with the new leading group, and even tried to break for the win; he ended up fourth. When the dust settled from all the riders arriving, he also climbed to fourth in the GC.

More importantly, he served notice to the peloton that he’s an all-around rider to be taken seriously. With his team’s leader, Christian Vandevelde, out of the Tour after breaking ribs in Stage Two, it will be interesting if his team agrees.

When Neil Davies sits down to watch the Tour de France this month, he knows a little about what it takes to win the leader’s Yellow Jersey.

Not that he’s ever ridden Le Tour; Davies’ competitive cycling days are long behind him, and he now runs Jubilee Cycle in Burnaby. But in the late 1970s he trained and raced with a young up-and-comer from Coquitlam named Alex Stieda. In 1979, Davies beat Stieda at the BC provincial junior championships.

Seven years later, Stieda became the first North American to ever wear the coveted Yellow Jersey.

On the second day of the 1986 Tour, the riders raced two stages, an 85 km road race from Nanterre to Sceaux in the morning, followed by a 56 km team time trial later that afternoon, from Meudon to Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, just outside of Paris. Early in the morning stage Stieda, riding for the newly-minted 7-Eleven cycling team, the first American professional team invited to the Tour, told his leader, Davis Phinney, he was feeling particularly good; could he forge on ahead, maybe even go for a stage victory?

While he didn’t win the stage, his time was good enough to put him in the Yellow Jersey. On the podium, he was also awarded the maillot blanc as the best young rider, and the polka dot jersey for earning the most points ascending the day’s modest climbs.

Stieda didn’t get to enjoy the maillot jaune very long; he lost it that afternoon to frenchman Thierry Marie. He also gave up the white jersey. He hung on to the polka dot jersey for five more stages.

One of them hangs on the wall of Davies’ bike shop.

One of Alex Stieda's polka-dot jersies hangs in Neil Davies bike shop.

Even as Stieda enjoyed early success in the French countryside, his thoughts were never far from his riding mates back home; Davies says he often phoned the shop after stages to hear a familiar voice and to share his stories from the road.

“It was wild to think that one of my buddies was doing the Tour,” says Davies.

Not that Davies was surprised. After he beat Stieda at the provincials, his rival seemed to kick up his training to another level, he became a more aggressive rider.

That summer Stieda dominated the track cycling nationals at the old Olympic Velodrome in Montreal. His performance caught the attention of pro teams.

“Once he reached the next step, he realized he had something special,” says Davies of Stieda’s ascension. “When you have team support, they put you on a program, they try to pull the best ability from you.”

And for one magical July day, Stieda was the absolute best.

Rod Serling’s got nothing on me

5 07 2010

You’ve got to earn it.

As this evening’s ride started a little late, I opted for a short, sharp ride up Burnaby Mountain, just over 36 kms round trip with about 450 meters of climbing. That meant I had to pass the “Shuttlers Zone.”

For anyone on two wheels mashing their way up the climb with only the power of their two legs, that’s the equivalent of going through the “smokers’ pit” that forms beside the entrances to shopping malls and office buildings. The stench of questionable health and dubious hygiene is almost as strong.

You've entered the "Shuttlers' Zone," domain of the weak.

It’s a pullout on the side of the road where mountain bikers rendezvous to pile their 40-pound dual-suspension behemoths with six-inch travel forks and their peared bodies into the back of a designated buddy’s pick up truck or onto the hitch rack at the back of their SUV to be ferried in air-conditioned, surround sound comfort to the top of the trails, so they can coast down with minimal effort and maximum air.

Some of the shuttlers are a little more environmentally conscious, or maybe just poorer; they wait at the bus stop just before the Shuttlers’ Zone, clamping their downhill steeds into the special racks at the front of every bus.

While I’ve yet to be able to wrap my head fully around the logistical arrangements of shuttling (at some point the shuttlee has to get back up to their vehicle; how does that happen), I can understand its logic on bigger mountains like Seymour, where the road up is long and hard, and the trails down are more suited to downhill thrashing.

But as mountains go, Burnaby’s is little more than a hump. The trails that crisscross its slopes are more suited to nimble cross-country rides.

Those heavy downhill rigs exact a toll. Their riders, ever in the search of the “North Shore experience” without the inconvenience of having to cross a bridge, tend to seek out stunts, creating new, rogue trails to take advantage of drops or jumps. Their heft pounds the dirt, hastening erosion, deepening natural lumps.

A couple of years ago, in an effort to distract the downhillers from their destructive ways, the city opened a skills park at the base of the mountain, with ramps, stunts, rollers and beams to test and develop their skills.

It’s a fabulous facility, and it’s mostly ignored.

I haven’t done a trail ride up there in a couple of years. Some parts of my favorite routes became more sketchy than I was confident to handle. But the ride up was always a key part of the experience, especially when I finally conquered Cardiac, the short, extremely steep side trail that vexed me for years.

Riding up always made the ride down that much sweeter.

I’m not tri (not that there’s anything wrong with that)

4 07 2010

Sunday is supposed to be a prime riding day; but I was having trouble getting motivated this morning.

Our interminable summer of grayness might have had something to do with it; it’s the first weekend in July and there’s no way I should still be wearing sleeves and knee warmers!

The only thing blue in this photo is my arm warmers! I shouldn't have to be wearing these in July!

But after getting up early to watch the first stage of the Tour de France, there’s no way I couldn’t ride. Like Katie says, I love the Tour, this is my favorite time of year, this is Game Time.

I’ve had a love affair with Le Tour since the 1980s, when I watched the weekend highlight shows on CBS Sports Spectacular, with John Tesh as host and, apparently, soundtrack composer. I was captivated by spectacle, the crashes, the beautiful French countryside and picturesque villages, and, of course, Greg LeMond’s stunning victory  over Laurent Fignon in the final stage Time Trial of the 1989 Tour.

The 1990s were kinda lean times for us Tour-o-philes as the tv coverage bounced between CBS, ABC and ESPN. We were lucky to get a half hour late night recap show.

The emergence of Lance Armstrong from cancer survivor to Tour champion sparked a renaissance of tv coverage. Upstart cable network OLN acquired the rights and started broadcasting stages live every day. It was so cool to be able to finally be able to watch the final 60 or 70 kilometers of each day’s race unfold live while eating breakfast.

But it was “The Look” that really ignited my passion for Le Tour.

As the time difference between France and the west coast meant live Tour coverage usually started at five a.m. or so, I was usually content to just catch the last hour or so, then watch the highlights in the evening. But for some reason, I’d awoken early on the morning of Stage 10 of the 2001 Tour. Lance, going for his third straight victory since coming back to the sport from his battle with cancer, was suffering as the peloton approached the legendary Alpe d’Huez for the first of that year’s Alps’ stages. His main rival, Jan Ullrich, seemed completely in control. The two of them were together as they hit the climb’s lower slopes, Armstrong laboring, sweating, bobbing up and down. Ullrich was calm, cool, pedaling a strong cadence.

Suddenly, as they came around a bend, Lance got out of the saddle and accelerated. Ullrich was glued to his seat. Armstrong glanced back over his shoulder, as if to throw his rival a challenge, “show me what you’ve got.” Ullrich had no answer. He was beaten. The glance became “The Look,” one of the most electric moments in cycling history.

That morning I couldn’t stop talking about “The Look” at work, I was so jazzed by what I’d witnessed. My co-workers must have thought I’d gone off the deep end; who the hell gets up to watch a bike race at five in the morning????

From that day on, I was hooked. I got up early every morning, even the ones when the live coverage started at four a.m. Of course, I wasn’t my best at work those days, because I was so tired. So I started setting aside a week or two of vacation to be able to watch the final week of the Tour.

While watching the ’02 Tour, I decided someday I had to go see it in person. I discovered all these tour companies that offered escorted tours to the Tour; some of them even involved cycling parts of stages ahead of the race. I signed up.

I’d be watching and riding the last 10 days of the ’03 Tour, the race’s centenary, and Lance’s stab at a fifth straight win. I blew the dust off my road bike, which had been gathering cobwebs as I had gone to the mountain bike side; if I was to ride up the Col d’Aspin and Luz Ardiden in the Pyrennés, I’d have to be in shape.

That’s been pretty much my routine every July since then. Get up for the live coverage, no matter how early it starts, book some time off for the last week or two, and then do some serious riding the rest of the day; if the riders in the Tour can suffer, then I must suffer a little as well!

When Katie and I moved into our loft last Spring, she winced at the thought of the fate which awaited her in July. You see, there are no secrets in a loft, there’s no doors to shut out the sound and light from the tv. Thank goodness for earbuds!

It's 5:30 in the morning; time for Le Tour!

It took me about a half hour to overcome my cycling ennui after this morning’s stage. After Friday’s country ride, I was back into the urban vibe, heading out on my usual route towards UBC and Jericho beach. Instead of cows and the occasional llama, I saw dude on the balcony of his first-floor apartment taking a hit on his hash pipe.

Strangely, there was a lack of fellow roadies as I approached the university grounds, which is usually a major destination for group rides. Then I saw the pylons and signage; the whole area had been co-opted by a triathlon (actually, it was a half-ironman aka aluminumman)!

Now, I have tremendous respect for the athleticism of triathletes; swimming in open water for 4 km, riding for 180 km and then topping it all off with a full-on marathon run is no easy feat. But they’re an odd lot.

They doggedly stick to their individualism despite competing in a sport that screams for team dynamics; imagine having a team of swimmers breaking the waves for their leader, or teammates setting the pace during the run or ride portions.

Their fashion sense leaves a lot to be desired and little to the imagination; I mean, shorty-shorts and tight tank tops wouldn’t be a bad choice if this was the Sports Illustrated swimsuit model triathlon, but not so much on super lean sinewy triathletes.

No swimsuit models in this lot. Why do triathletes always look so dour?

Their bikes are weird. And they can’t be much fun to ride, as triathletes seldom seem to smile when they’re on them, and they NEVER wave to other cyclists.

A whole cattle pen of carbon fiber weirdness.

Anyhow, as the cycling leg of the event seemed to be concluded, and the roads were still closed, I decided to go with the flow and take advantage, as did a couple of other roadies I encountered. The course marshalls and traffic control people must have thought we were triathlon laggards, as they clapped and shouted encouragement as we passed. I resisted the urge to shout out,” good god, I’m not one of the THEM…”

A bridge too confusing

3 07 2010

For the urban roadie,  a ride in the country can be good for the soul.

The air is cleaner, though not necessarily better smelling especially in the spring when farmers are fertilizing their fields.

There’s new things to see, like billy goats and giant marshmallow farms and mailboxes disguised as livestock.

There's all kinds of livestock to be seen in the country, including cows and pigs.

Traffic is lighter. There’s no peds who activate the walk button at crossings then jaywalk anyway, leaving you stopped at the light for no apparent reason. There’s minimal lights and four-way stops to disrupt your pace.

But to ride in the country, first you have to get to the country.

And around here, that means crossing a bridge. Or two.

I’m not keen on bridges.

I’ve no problem driving over them. Traversing a bridge on foot can make me a bit uneasy. But going over a big bridge on the bike can freak me out.

Maybe it’s the cars and trucks zooming right past your ears because the lanes are so narrow. Maybe it’s the sense of being confined, hemmed in on both sides with no margin for escape. Maybe it’s the irrational fear of losing traction and slipping out through that gap between the lowest railing and bridge deck.

Or maybe it’s the mysterious and confusing labyrinthian route cyclists are often forced to take to access a crossing designed, engineered and built for motor vehicles.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m riding on the road, I expect to be able to follow the road to reach my destination. But throw a bridge into the route, and the rules change.

Sometimes we’re instructed to use the sidewalk, contrary to our cyclist’s instincts.

Sometimes we’re directed to dedicated bike lanes which don’t necessarily access the bridge right beside the road.

Sometimes we’re sent to the opposite side of the road, forced to ride against the flow of traffic for a stretch.

Friday I decided to ride out to Fort Langley, in the Fraser Valley, where Katie would meet me in the car, we’d have lunch in the pretty little town, then check out a new bike shop that recently opened there as we’re both mulling the notion of new bikes.

But to get there, I’d need to cross two bridges, both of them new, both of them allegedly designed to accommodate cyclists.

The Pitt River Bridge is a six-lane cable-stayed span that connects Port Coquitlam with Pitt Meadows, the gateway to the northwest corner of the Fraser Valley. When it opened last October, it replaced a four-lane swing bridge that was too old and too narrow for the ever-increasing traffic volumes.

If a boat was chugging up or down the Pitt River below, the bridge would have to close to swing aside, backing up traffic. Sometimes the bridge stuck open, creating chaos.

As the suburbs sprawled east, a bandaid solution to ease traffic pressure at rush hours by alternating one lane in each direction created a confusing array of lane markings and signage at each end, and didn’t have much of an effect for very long anyway.

Crossing the old swing bridge was heart-gripping at the best of times, downright terrifying most of the time.

The steel joints where the bridge would swing could wreak havoc on your wheels if you didn’t hit them right. The shoulder was narrow and strewn with rocks, glass and other tire-shredding debris. And the pylons between the already-narrow lanes erected to accommodate the alternating travel meant cars and trucks couldn’t drift aside to give cyclists breathing room.

Riding over it meant long frequent shoulder checks as you approached it to gauge the traffic coming up behind you, and when it looked like no big trucks were coming, booking it over as fast as possible hoping you survive.

The new bridge is supposed to be easier and safer for cyclists, with a dedicated lane for bikes and peds, protected from the passing cars and trucks by a barrier. But that lane is on the westbound side, and the signage directing eastbound cyclists to it is sadly lacking, and what does exist is confusing.

About a kilometer before the bridge, a small sign alongside the highway seemed to indicate I had to take a side road to get to the bridge. But that sign doesn’t appear until after I can get to the separated left turn lane to get to that side road. So I was forced to use the pedestrian crossing, which, as any self-respecting roadie will attest, is demeaning and humiliating. Plus, the only crossing option spit me out into oncoming traffic.

Having launched a few choice expletives, none of which used the words “delightful” or “joyous” and overcome my humiliation to get to the other side of the road, I was then left hanging. No more signs telling me where to go next.

Eventually I found a marked bike lane. And while it seemed to head in the same direction I needed to go, it was taking me ever-further away from the bridge. The lane led to a gravel trail. I wasn’t about to go all Paris-Roubaix on my 23c tires to get to this bridge.

So I doubled back; screw this, I’m sticking with the car route.

Not the best idea. Before I could access the bridge, the shoulder spit me out into a no-man’s land from which I had to cross two lanes of non-stop traffic. The shoulder of the actual bridge was strewn with debris, the expansion joints were massive, and trucks and cars whizzed by a good 40 kmh over the posted 60 kmh speed limit. The experience was just as stressful as the old bridge, and only slightly less dangerous.

I'm not sure what this sign is warning me about, but it doesn't look pleasant.

But I survived.

My next bridge, the Golden Ears, was only slightly less harrowing.

A sprawling structure that crosses the Fraser River, the Golden Ears is a toll highway for which motorists are billed automatically when they drive through cameras at each end that record license plates. The roadway is flanked on each side by wide enclosed sidewalks that are shared by cyclists and pedestrians, who cross for free. So the bridge itself is safe, and friendly to use.

Safely protected in the bike lane of the Golden Ears Bridge.

But again, the problem is the approaches, especially from the north end, which aren’t obviously marked, and send you on a couple of dead-end runs to no-go zones before you have to figure things out for yourself to find the access path.

The path to the Golden Ears Bridge is paved with good intentions, but the execution is lacking.

The frustration is rewarded, though, with expansive views up and down the Fraser River, eye-level looks at circling eagles and herons, and a fun spiral egressoff the bridge.

The view down the Fraser River.

The roads to these bridges are paved with good intentions, the execution is wanting. Maybe the engineers need to spend a little time on bikes to better understand how cyclists think when approaching these structures.

A dog in a hay bale

2 07 2010

I don’t imagine it’s very easy being a bike racer in North America.

The training is hard and arduous. The prize money is paltry, pro contracts usually amount to little more than free or discounted equipment, entry fees and maybe transportation costs. And because many North Americans can’t appreciate the all-day commitment it takes to watch a peloton whiz by in mere seconds at a Grand Tour or Classic race in Europe, many of the races are the two-wheeled equivalent of Nascar, criteriums in which the riders hurtle themselves around and around tight little courses that are fast, crowded and dangerous.

How dangerous?

Just as Katie and I arrived at yesterday’s Yaletown Grand Prix, four riders piled into the hay bales in the corner right where we were standing, two of them flying over their handlebars and into the barriers; they actually had to stop the race for a time to allow an ambulance onto the course to cart the injured riders off to hospital. Fortunately their wounds weren’t serious.

This was the seventh Canada Day a bike race has been held in Yaletown, a former gritty industrial area near downtown Vancouver that has been gentrified into a mix of expensive loft condos, pricey boutiques and high-end restaurants and bars. It used to share the Vancouver bike racing spotlight with the Gastown Grand Prix, which was held in late July as part of the BC Super Week, a busy seven-day stretch of races around the Lower Mainland that regularly attracted top racers from around North America. Even Lance raced in Gastown back in the early 1990s.

But the race became a victim of escalating costs and declining sponsorship a couple of years ago.

That seems to be the fate of too many races in North America. Well-intentioned organizers are quickly overwhelmed by the huge fees for extra policing, traffic management, liability insurance, staging and safety equipment, and all but a hardy few sponsors just can’t wrap their heads around the benefits of aligning themselves with an exciting sport to which almost everyone can relate at some level. And then there are the complaints, from businesses griping about losing their customers because a race course has cut them off from their regulars to residents complaining about being trapped in their homes or unable to leave their driveways while a race is on.

Such a contrast to Europe, where organizers are wined and dined to lure them to bring their race to a town or village, businesses decorate their windows to celebrate the passing of the race, and residents consider it a great honor to have a race pass by their front gardens.

There was a touch of Euro racing in this year’s edition of the Yaletown event; a couple of Canadians, Svein Tuft and Christian Meier, who’ve been racing in Europe for bigtime ProTour team Garmin-Slipstream, found themselves with a little time to kill when they weren’t picked to ride the Tour de France; so they returned home to compete in the Nationals and keep their legs limber by barnstorming various local events.

Svein Tuft was riding so fast at the Yaletown Grand Prix, he almost lapped the field twice.

Tuft is a bit of a legend in these parts. He didn’t start racing until he was in his twenties, after riding up and down the West Coast on a touring bike, pulling his dog in a trailer. He hooked up with a couple of minor North American pro teams, but the regimented lifestyle and meager rewards didn’t mesh well with his independent spirit.

Eventually he wound up with all-Canadian superteam Symmetrics, who lived and trained out of a trailer compound on the team owner’s farm in Langley.

Symmetrics riders like Tuft, Meier, Zach Bell, and Andrew Pinfold won almost every race the team entered; they were a machine.

Tuft’s big breakout came a couple of years ago, when he finished seventh in the Time Trial at the Beijing Olympics and then second in the World Championships.

That fall, the Symmetics cycling team disbanded, out of sponsorship money. Tuft and Meier joined another Canadian, Ryder Hesjedal, at Garmin.

At Yaletown yesterday, he showed just how much more he had developed after a couple of seasons in the rigorous world of Euro racing, as he easily lapped a field of top Northwest riders, then almost lapped them again, much to the delight of the fixie hipsters who lined the loading docks and perched upon the dumpsters.

Another day, another Grind

1 07 2010

It’s not supposed to be cold and showery on Canada Day.

But in this, our summer of discomfit, in which our plans for outdoor activities are frequently frustrated by the absence of summer weather, that’s exactly what we woke up to this holiday morning.

So, eager to get out, and work off our decadent breakfast of waffles and fresh strawberries and raspberries, Katie and I headed for the Grind.

My second ascent of Grouse Mountain this week, Katie’s first of the season.

Five years after her first Grind, Katie has become mean, pink climbing machine.

The Grind holds a special place in our relationship. It’s what we did for our first date-non-date, five years + 1 day ago.

She’d been hinting around the office for some time that she’d always wanted to try to the climb, but alas, she could never find anyone to go with. So, gallant gentleman that I am, I offered to take her, the day after Canada Day.

It was just going to be a casual climb by friends, but apparently Katie spent quite an amount of time primping and prepping herself before I picked her up. Her sister-in-law teased her she was going on a date.

Once we were on the climb, I was impressed by her plucky determination to forge ahead; she’d spent quite a lot of time in the previous year on the stairmaster at her gym, but nature’s stairmaster was something quite different, and considerably more difficult. On the way up we chatted about Hollywood gossip and made fun of the getups of some of the other climbers we passed – er, rather, who passed us.

I think that climb took us about 1 hour, 20 minutes.

I guess she was glad I didn’t manage to kill her, as we’ve been together pretty much since then.

Together at the top, forever.

Today Katie smoked that ascent in 57 minutes and I reprised the 50 minutes I did on Sunday.