Fearing the broom wagon

21 08 2018

Fondos are a great excuse to get out of town to ride a bike.

So far, mass-participation rides have lured me to New York City (actually the Five-Boros ride), Santa Rosa, Calif., Penticton and Whistler.

This weekend, Princess of Pavement and I were in Victoria, so I could join the throngs in front of the BC provincial Legislature building for Ryder Hesjedal’s Tour de Victoria.


No car for this trip to Victoria. It’s transit and passenger ferry for Franco.


The weekend’s first — and only — hiccup. Our planned lunch stop is closed!


But a quick recovery two doors away reveals a pretty good Bahn Mih sandwich two doors away.


Bikes can just be rolled aboard the V2V passenger ferry. There were a few of us headed to the Tour de Victoria.


We arrive in Victoria’s inner harbour 3.5 hours later and walk five minutes to our hotel. Downtown Victoria is wonderfully compact and walkable.

The former winner of the Giro d’Italia put his name on the fondo several years ago as a way to promote and support cycling in his hometown. The event has been growing steadily, to some 1,800 riders registered for this year’s event, which included seven distances, from 160 km for the hammerheads to a 7 km ride targeted for kids or cyclists just dipping a toe in the fondo fountain.

Last Christmas Princess of Pavement presented me with various little wrapped boxes containing puzzle pieces. I had no idea what she was playing at, but when they were put together, they formed a map with the course for this year’s Tour de Victoria. She had signed me up. And, in a blind leap of faith, she went all in for the 160 km event.


My days of 7,500 kms of cycling a year are behind me. Heck, even 2,500 is proving a challenge at times.

I hung onto that goal as long as possible. But with the requirement to maintain a minimum speed of 24 kph so as not to get swept up by the broom wagon looming ever larger as ride day neared, I pulled the plug and rejigged my registration for the 140 km. Still a worthy challenge to justify a weekend away, and my longest ride in more than two years.

But doubts lingered.

Heading into August, I still had less than 2,000 km in my legs, and not many of those went uphill — no ascents of local mountains like Seymour and Cypress. There’s about 1,800 metres of climbing in the Tour de Victoria.

So boarding the passenger ferry Friday afternoon that would take us, and Franco, to Victoria’s inner harbour, there was still a kernel of worry in my belly. Four hours later, with the ride packet containing my timing card and bib number squirrelled in my backpack, there was no turning back.

I pinned my number, laid out my gear, set the alarm for 5 a.m. and then we walked into the downtown for a pasta dinner — carbo loading.


A fondo eve surprise, the Naval Reserve Band plays a concert on the Legislature steps. Franco approves.

If you haven’t heard, much of the province, including Vancouver Island, has been smothered by a haze of woody smoke from the hundreds of wildfires currently scoring the province and parts of Washington State. For the second year in a row, it’s been a bone dry summer and the trees and wild lands are like matchsticks waiting to alight.

It’s cast us in an eerie orange-yellow glow like Blade Runner 2049. Not great conditions in which to be doing strenuous physical activity, like riding a bike for 140 kms.

But Saturday — ride day — dawned clear, even a little crisp. An ocean breeze had cleared the air and would keep the temperature around 23-25 C. Perfect riding conditions.

In its eight years, the Tour de Victoria has gained a pretty solid reputation amongst fondos. Some riding buddies who’ve done it praised it for the scenery, challenging parcours with lots of little climbs and technical turns and tight organization. And it’s just far enough away to feel like an adventure, but not too far you have to pack your bike into a box and entrust it to an airline. Apparently lots of people agree; the race director told a Victoria media outlet about 60% of the 1,800 riders registered for this year’s event were from out of town.


Not a lot of miles in my legs, doubts linger.


FRF represent.


The 160 and 140 km groups were the first scheduled to start from the driveway in front of the BC Legislature building, at 7 a.m. The other groups would start later to minimize congestion on the common sections of the various routes.

Right from the get-go our pace was quick as the 600-strong peloton cruised around the inner harbour, over the new “blue bridge” and out towards Esquimalt, Colwood, Metchosin and beyond. Even as I covered 30 km in the first hour, I still felt slow as I was constantly being passed. It seemed every traffic control reopened just after I rode through. I glanced behind for the broom wagon. Fear propelled me as much as my legs.


Seaside riding. The pace was so quick, I didn’t have much of a chance to shoot photos while riding. Also, I was afraid of the broom wagon.

The course is, indeed, hilly, the climbing relentless. None of the climbs are particularly big, but they seem to come at you at a dizzying pace, with some steep pitches of 10% or more just to suck away a little more of your spirit.

And the descents are broken up by sharp, technical corners that demand a keen eye and deft finger work on the brakes.

Just after the summit of the day’s biggest climb, up Munn’s Road, a traffic sign promised nine kilometres of twisting, steep downhill, but the road seemed to go up more than it went down. So dispiriting. But I did manage to hit 85 kmh at one point.

The route wound through dense forest, past vineyards and rolling hay fields, through suburban commercial and industrial developments, along a stretch of the Galloping Goose multi-user trails, beside curving, rocky beaches.

I saw two deer, a fawn that darted quickly off the road and a big buck with an impressive rack of antlers wandering amidst the posh homes of Oak Bay.

The seven aid stations were well stocked with bananas, big plastic jugs of water and electrolyte drinks, salty chips, peanut butter sandwiches, gels, bars and Honey Stinger waffles, all being offered by legions of eager volunteers.


Replacing salts.

At 70 kms, I was passed by a police motorbike and wondered why the sudden escort. But then along came two big guys on each other’s wheel, the 160 km race leaders. I was quietly thankful I didn’t have to try to keep up with them.

My one disappointment was the relative quiet of the ride. There hardly seemed to be any conversation. At previous fondos I had always engaged with other riders as we chatted about where we were from, or our bikes, how we were feeling or wacky things we’d already experienced in the day. For most of the day, everyone who passed me or (more rarely) who I passed seemed to have their head down and their eyes set on the task at hand. It’s not a race, but sometimes it felt like one.

The ride’s last stretch, past Beacon Hill Park and around the leafy neighbourhood of James Bay, seemed interminable. I just wanted it to be over.

I triggered the timer at a tick below 5.5 hours, a little faster than I had anticipated so Princess of Pavement was still downtown shopping.


Bruce Allen’s worst nightmare.


Back in the hotel for a few moments R&R before hitting the shower. Starting to feel better about the day’s ride.


We stumble upon a heavy metal festival in a civic square. Not my music, but kinda cool that it’s happening.


Appropriate decor for dinner at Fiamo Italian Kitchen. Not the best pizza margharita, but a nice room.

And, much to my surprise, I finished solidly in the middle of the pack of 350 or so riders in the 140 km group. It turns out I wasn’t in peril of being swept up by the broom wagon after all.



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