O Canada! O my tired legs!

1 07 2016

Next year, I may enter the Czech Republic Day Populaire.

That portion of the former eastern block country Czechoslovakia has only been around since 1993. So riding one kilometre for every year of its independence would make for a very leisurely 24 km roll.

But alas, this is Canada, which turned 149 today. Still an adolescent by global geo-political standards. But a hefty number when you’re riding a kilometre for every one of those years since Confederation.

That’s the premise of the annual Canada Day Populaire, an event that will only get longer and harder as the years pass.

The Populaire is kind of a populist fondo.

Checking in at the Canada Day Populaire. It's a modest affair without the hullabaloo and expense of fondo.

Checking in at the Canada Day Populaire. It’s a modest affair without the hullabaloo and expense of fondo.

It’s put on by the BC Randonneurs, those crazy cyclists who think nothing of getting on their bikes at the crack of dawn and then not getting off until they’ve got 300 km or more in their legs. Sometimes they even keep riding through the night.

The Populaire shares many of the characteristics of the big money fondos. There’s a mass start of cyclists of varying ability. The route is long, punctuated by rest stops stocked with smiling volunteers, fruit, biscuits, banana bread and fresh water. Your finish time is recorded, and you’re rewarded with a special little lapel pin.

There's no traffic control, no course markers. We're given a time card and a map with instructions.

There’s no traffic control, no course markers. We’re given a time card and a map with instructions.

What it doesn’t share with the fondos is the hefty cost of entry.

Riding a fondo these days can cost $200-300. That’s not even including the expense of getting to the event, staying in a hotel and eating out if it’s out of town; you can crack $1,000 pretty quickly.

Pre-registration entry fee for the Canada Day Populaire? 25 buck.

Flying Oakes and I are ready to ride!

Flying Oakes and I are ready to ride!

This was my first Populaire. Truthfully, I expected more riders with beards and bandanas astride vintage steel-framed bikes adorned with all manner of panniers, saddle bags, bento boxes, lights, reflectors, maybe even a horn. Heck, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a recumbent or two.

But the majority of the riders seemed to be the same crowd that signs up for fondos; guys and women tricked out in club kit riding carbon fibre Pinarellos, Cervelos and even a Canyon, a German brand that is currently unobtainable in North America. I saw two other Lapierres within five minutes of arriving at the check-in; that’s more than I’ve seen on the road in five years!

Everyone was keen for a big day out to celebrate Canada’s birthday.

Unlike the hullabaloo starts at fondos, with excited speeches, the national anthem a countdown and even a starting gun, everyone just rolled out in groups at the time chosen at check-in. The route itself isn’t marked; we’re given a map and a sheet of instructions. There’s no traffic control.

Yes, there was gravel!

Yes, there was gravel!

At each of the designated rest stops we lined up to get our time cards stamped and our arrival recorded. A full time card was rewarded at the end of the ride with a special pin

It was all very casual, laid back.

Until we hit the long, flat roads of the Sumas Prairie. Then it was on.

Flying Oakes and I, along with a couple of part-time FRFers latched onto a fast group being propelled by club riders out of South Delta. We quickly got organized into a two-by-two pace line and the speed of the peloton increased. Pull. Peel off. Work back up through the line to pull again. Repeat.

The first rest stop. Appropriately, it was at the summit of the day's only major climb. So, well earned.

The first rest stop. Appropriately, it was at the summit of the day’s only major climb. So, well earned.

We’re not pros. But it sure felt pro. Especially as the Garmin kissed 40 kmh and didn’t dip.

We ripped past a large group from Gastown that had been driving the ride’s pace from the get-go. Left them in our wake. Not gonna lie; it felt good.

But the effort took a toll.

Well, of course we're going to get lost at some point!

Well, of course we’re going to get lost at some point!

By the last 20 kilometres of the ride, riding the rollers of Princess of Pavement’s old familial ‘hood, my legs felt like lead pipes, hamstrings cried out, “enough already!” Thoughts of moving to the Czech Republic danced in my head.

The reward for a big day out!

The reward for a big day out!

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