Play with the Pros: Cycling

Black Press reporter Kyle Slavin takes blood, sweat and gears on two-wheels

Black Press writer Kyle Slavin, left, and cyclist Seamus McGrath prepare to ride along Dallas Road in Victoria.



Seamus McGrath and I make our way along Dallas Road, cycling side-by-side at a steady pace. As we approach the base of the steep King George Terrace I start getting nervous.

I’m no professional cyclist – but I can bike. I’m clearly not a soccer player, dragon boater or golfer, but I thought if there’s one sport I should be able to do a passable job at, it’s cycling. So why the nerves?

Last year I put in some 5,500 kilometres in the saddle, training for and riding in the Canadian Cancer Society Cops for Cancer Tour de Rock. But I realize, as my lungs begin gasping for air the moment the King George Terrace incline begins, that when you really pull back on your training regimen, your skill level plummets.

McGrath keeps his bike in its highest gear – he makes it look effortless – as he pulls ahead of me and shoots up to the parking lot at Trafalgar Park.

I, on the other hand, smoothly gear down into my granny gears (OK, not that low, but close) and slowly ascend the hill lagging some 30 seconds behind him. My heart is about to burst from my chest.

I’m nowhere near the athletic level of McGrath, but the beauty of cycling is you can really push yourself to your own limits without being competitive. You can ride for fun, without being timed or keeping score.

“At the heart of cycling, for me, is the adventure. Any ride I’ve ever been on I never know where I’m going, where I’m going to end up,” McGrath says of his passion for the sport. “It’s always just hop on the bike and go explore. I like to explore and see new places.”

McGrath, director of Ryder Hesjedal’s Tour de Victoria, had a 15-year professional cycling career that took him all around the world, competing in cross country cycling at the 2004 Athens and 2008 Beijing Olympics, and competing on the national road bike team in Europe and Asia.

This year’s Tour de Victoria (Sept. 22) offers three distances (50km, 100km, 140 km) for different cycling skill sets.

I don’t think I can do the 140 this year, but I could probably make it through the 100 if I pace myself.

McGrath tells me, as I catch my breath atop King George Terrace, that had we been racing in a contest up that hill, against 10 cyclists of varying abilities, I likely would’ve come in seventh. Hey, that’s a win for me – I wouldn’t be last!

At least the Tour de Victoria is a non-competitive biking experience, and cyclists taking part in any of the distances won’t have to deal with the nerves that come with racing McGrath.

“We’re trying to offer a cycling experience Ryder would get when he’s racing in the Tour de France. We’re not an elitist event, we’re welcoming people on any bike. We want to show people the beauty of cycling and the beauty of the area we live in. It’s all about cycling for us.”

For more information on Ryder Hesjedal’s Tour de Victoria, visit tourdevictoria.com.

 

By Kyle Slavin

kslavin@saanichnews.com

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