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Cyclists are up to the challenge

There are long bike rides, and then there’s the Van Isle 1200.

There are long bike rides, and then there’s the Van Isle 1200.

Thirty-five cyclists recently completed the marathon cycling event hosted by the BC Randonneurs Club, riding 1,200 kilometres in less than 90 hours.

The cyclists, ranging in age from 22 to 71, took part in Van Isle 1200 from July 14 to 17. These hardy cyclists began their ride July 14 in Victoria at 3 a.m., following a pre-planned route designed so they never had to ride the same road twice in the same direction.

“Course designer Ken Bonner’s goal was to create a 1,200-kilometre route that would take riders end to end, as well as across Vancouver Island,” organizer Steve Mahovlic said in a press release. ”The course has six major climbs and is somewhat isolated north and west of Campbell River.”

The cyclists made their way through Ladysmith and the Cedar-Yellow Point area Monday, July 14.

Each Van Isle rider needed to reach designated “checkpoints” within specified time limits, and the entire ride had to be completed in less than 90 hours – a challenge since the route features 9,100 metres (30,000 feet) of total elevation gain, and there is always the risk of flat tires and “mechanicals.”

“Riders’ bicycles must be in excellent working condition since the northern 600 kilometres of the route travels through isolated wilderness,” said Mahovlic. “Self-sufficiency is a big part of randonneuring. In the same spirit, it will be the ‘Lanterne Rouge,’ the coveted last-place finisher, who will be recognized as getting the most out of the ride.”

Forty-seven cyclists started the ride, and 35 riders finished, including three women. Twelve riders officially removed themselves from the ride for various reasons.

Keith Fraser of Vancouver was the first finisher, completing the route in 56 hours and 45 minutes. Michael Bratkowski of Studio City, Calif., earned the Lanterne Rouge, finishing in 89 hours and 58 minutes.

“I think for the most part, largely everybody enjoyed themselves,” Mike Croy, the Vancouver Island route co-ordinator and a member of the BC Randonneurs Cycling Club, said in a phone interview. “They really appreciated the volunteer support. We had an amazing crew of volunteers up and down the Island who did an amazing job. I think they enjoyed the weather for the most part, although sometimes it was very hot. The route was well-received. Overall, I think it was a smashing success all across the board.”

Riders came from as far away as Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture in Japan, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, Fort Worth, Tex., and Belmont, Mass.

There were six riders from the Island, including Graham Fishlock  of Ladysmith, who completed the pre-ride. The pre-ride is when a group of cyclists goes out a week or two before the event and rides the course to ensure the route is accurate and safe, checking distances and looking for any construction issues that may have come up, explained Croy.

“They get the exact same credit as the ride participants get,” he said.

Croy says the draw of randonneuring is often the fact that it’s there for you to see if you can do it.

“It’s all about pushing your boundaries and seeing if you can,” he said. “It’s also a way to experience the camaraderie that comes from the community, both as a cyclist because there’s a whole community of people who do this who are amazing and encouraging, and going to communities you may never have been to.”

Croy was very happy with this year’s event.

“Thanks to all the communities up and down the Island for the amazing show of support they gave us and the riders,” he said. “Everyone welcomes us with exceptionally gracious open arms.”


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