Every cyclist has been there, the painful place where ambition exceeds preparation. It can be a ride too far, a hill too steep, a pace too quick.
Sunday that place had a name: Pacific Populaire.
The Populaire is the annual season-opening ride for the BC Randonneurs, that slightly unhinged group of cyclists who think nothing of dedicating eight hours or more of a Saturday or Sunday to pedal 200, 300 or even 400 kilometres. But since this is April, this event is a more modest 100 kilometres, with lesser options for cyclists just looking to stretch their legs in the fresh air.
It’s an organized ride that’s open to anyone ready to pay the $20 registration fee. Support is limited: riders are given a map and list of directions; there’s one pit stop with water and a selection of modest snacks like banana bread, cookies, date squares and fruit.
The casual vibe and low cost of entry have made the Populaire a favoured ride for roadies testing their early-season fitness or measuring the toll exacted by winter’s sloth. For the past few years it’s been adopted by the FRF as the launch ride to our season.
Usually I miss it as I’m still playing road hockey. But a convergence of circumstances made it a possibility this spring. The only question: could my legs handle it?
The unrelenting wet, cold weather has made it difficult to put kilometres into the legs; the Populaire’s 100 km was 20 km further than my longest ride so far this year, and 20 per cent of all the riding I’ve been able to achieve. That’s a long way from the 1,600 km I’d done by this time last year., including a handful of metric centuries. But the route was flat and familiar, an amalgam of two of my regular rides, out to UBC and down through Richmond and Steveston.
So when the week’s rain dissipated to just cold gloom, I kitted up and joined about 1,000 other riders, 16 of them from the FRF.
Right from the get-go the pace was quick. Everyone was eager to stretch their legs after such a difficult winter and early spring. Pacelines powered along the wide shoulders around UBC and along River Road in Richmond; in the first hour I covered almost 30 km.
As we headed south along rural roads towards Steveston, brisk head and cross winds slowed the groups, made it imperative to seek shelter in the peloton to conserve energy.
An extra cookie at the midway snack break cost me my place in our group and a significant effort to get back on. At the Canada Line bridge back into Vancouver, the price of that cookie came due; 80 kms into the ride my legs called it a day on the span’s gentle zig-zag inclines. As my quads spasmed their protest, my group rode away. The day’s chill suddenly felt colder. A few raindrops fell from the clouds. And while stoplights and narrow city streets allowed the occasional regroupment, it quickly became apparent the day’s final 20 kms would be a lonely, grim pedal of death.
Next week the Randonneurs will be riding 200 km. No thanks, I’ll pass…