2,300 cyclists turn out for Ryder Hesjedal’s Tour de Victoria

The lawn in front of Victoria’s legislature building was covered in bikes on Saturday after cyclists rode across the finish line in Ryder Hesjedal’s Tour de Victoria cycling event.

“That’s what it’s about. The capital city taken over by bikes,” said Les Bronee, a volunteer ambassador rider for the event. “I even said at the beginning: ‘Surrender Victoria. Here come the bikes.’ We had some good laughs at the start line over that.”

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The ninth annual event offered a challenge for all ages and abilities with distances of 160, 140, 100, 60, 30, and 15 kilometres, as well as a free kids ride around a 400-metre course. More than 2,300 cyclists from across North America and as far away as Australia flocked to Victoria to take part.

Bronee has cycled in the event every year since it began in 2011. This year, he rode the 160-kilometre route for the first time. As an ambassador rider, Bronee is one of a handful of cyclists on each route who help riders with any mechanical issues, like flat tires or problems with brakes and chains.

“It’s just a matter of being there and making sure everybody is getting to the finish line with their best day in the saddle,” he said.

Ryder Hesjedal, a Victoria native and a former professional racing cyclist, founded the festival as a way to introduce more people to cycling.

Tour director Seamus McGrath, who rode the 160-kilometre route, said the event is about providing cyclists of all levels an opportunity to challenge themselves in a world-class setting.

“The concept is to bring a Tour de France-level cycling experience to the average cyclist,” he said. “So you don’t have to wear spandex. You don’t have to have a road bike. It’s not a race, but we offer traffic-controlled intersections. We try to remove as many cars from the equation as possible. We fully support the riders along [the] route.”

Hesjedal cycled the 160-kilometre route Saturday, and even he felt the challenge of the course’s difficult terrain.

“It was good. I mean, I had fun. I struggled. It’s not easy,” Hesjedal said. “It’s still 160 kilometres. It doesn’t just happen.”

Les Bronee said those words coming from the 2012 Giro d’Italia champion say a lot about how difficult the course is because of the elevation gain. Cyclists riding 160 kilometres also climbed 2,200 metres of elevation.

Howard Ryujin came over from North Vancouver to ride the 140-kilometre course for a second year. He praised the festival’s organizers on a well-run event and an interesting course with challenging hills.

His wife, Elena Verescu, participated for the first time, cycling 100 kilometres. Verescu said the couple will definitely return to enjoy the ride next year.

“I’ve seen some parts of Victoria or Saanich that we never see. There are some beautiful places,” she said.

Five-year-old Elisabeth cycled in the ride for the first time this year, completing the 15-kilometre course with her mother, Valerie Duncan. Elisabeth’s older brothers, Caleb, 9, and Thomas, 8, rode 30 kilometres, while their dad Kris completed the longest distance. The family travelled from Squamish.

“Of all the events, this is our favourite one,” Duncan said, adding that the festival is kid-friendly.

Elisabeth cycled with her two stuffed-animal puppies in her bike’s basket and crossed the finish line to many cheers from spectators and other riders.

“The adults coming across cheering her on, and all the people on the side just gave her an extra boost to go faster,” Duncan said.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

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