Guest author: Dave Ellis, Toronto Sun sports editor
It was cycling's version of Will and Kate meeting the common folk.
Over 100 riders rolled into Endras BMW in Ajax Sunday, August 28 for the start of La Bicicletta's Gran Fondo through the rolling hills rising up from the shores of Lake Ontario just east of Toronto. There were riders of all ages and abilities. The youngest was eight (he did 50 km), the oldest 68. And then there was cycling's power couple: Team Sky's Michael Barry and Dede Demet-Barry.
Heath Cockburn, who organized the Fondo, simply asked his friend Michael, one of the sport's hard men, if he would care to ride with us wannabes. No problem, said the 35-year-old pro. Michael's a key player in the U.K.-based Sky powerhouse team, and before that rode with Lance Armstrong and Discovery. Dede's palmares includes scores of podium finishes and an Olympic TT silver medal from the Athens games. They're as close to cycling royalty as you can get.
Just two days earlier, Michael finished a four-day stage race, Poitou-Charentes north of Bordeaux in France, hopped the TGV to Paris and flew back to his hometown, Toronto, and met Dede and their boys, Liam, 6, and Ashlin, 4. When Michael pulled into the Endras dealership, the rest of us immediately felt lumpy. He's got the perfect rider's build: whippet-thin at 6-foot-2 and 156 pounds. He was on a Pinarello Dogma with the electronic Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 gruppo that fit right in with the BMW bling in the auto showroom. Dede was riding her T-Mobile frame from her days with the former German team.
It was the fourth Gran Fondo staged by La Bicicletta. Previous editions took place in Niagara wine country and Prince Edward County. Heath's got a mad scientist's eye for detail, keeping track of the insane amount of planning that went into the Fondo on scraps of paper, in computer files and in a busy brain he should probably donate to the Smithsonian.
There was valet parking for the cars - and bikes. Each rider had a bike stand bearing their name. There were Giordana Gran Fondo jerseys with a distinct likeness to Team Sky kit, musettes, maps, a table full of breakfast goodies, coffee and drinks. BMW motorcycles led the way, followed by support cars carrying spare wheels, energy bars and more drinks.
And after the ride there was a buffet of food, a BBQ, wine and beer and then the prizes - a chance to meet and ride with SaxoBank and Astana teams at the GP Cycliste Montreal race September 10, head-to toe Assos kits and Oakley Jawbone custom sunglasses.
The forecast called for sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-20's. But Hurricane Irene had other ideas. She reached out across the continent to flick up a nasty northeast wind that dropped temperatures to the teens. At the start you were either overdressed or shivering- it seemed no one got it right. But then the ride began and things began to heat up, especially after we turned into the wind and began the long slog north up to the hamlets of Enniskillen and Raglan. Jackets came off, arm warmers were peeled away.
Heath led the 85-km Medio Fondo over what - there's a sinister side to the man - he called gently rolling terrain at a leisurely 20-to-25 km/h pace. Toward the end of the day, crawling like a lizard over the last few "gentle" hills, I confess to entertaining dark thoughts about Mr. Cockburn. Michael led the Gran Fondo 130-km ride that rolled along at 35 km/h.
Sprinkled through both groups to keep things sane were members of the Jet Fuel-La Bicicletta team. The presence of Jet Fuelers Peter Morse, Ed Veal, Kyle Rupay, Steve Meyer, Kevin Hazard, Osmond Baker and Sean Kelly - no, not that Sean Kelly - was enough to calm down anyone who was tempted to break legs.
Dede rode with us in the shorter loop. MBA studies in Barcelona and two active little guys didn't give her much time to train, she said. Trust me, she doesn't need it. She rode in the middle of the group, casual and chatty, talking about kids, school, life in Girona, Spain, and perhaps moving back to North America. But then the ride ratcheted up a notch over some steep rollers and the top pro emerged. Moving wheel to wheel, accelerating smoothly, sliding into the perfect spot, pedaling with a startling suppleness, suddenly she was gone.
The ride split into smaller groups and the gusty winds that bedeviled the first part of the ride blew us all back to the Endras dealership. Spinning out your top gear does wonders for a battered ego.
Back at the dealership, as riders grazed on the buffet and topped up their fluid levels with wine, beer - and even water! - the ever self-effacing Michael summed up the Fondo: "Just a nice day out socializing with other cyclists." Amen to that.