Vancouver’s inaugural gran fondo promises to be an, er, epic affair with 4,000 riders and a suitably challenging course that features 2,400 metres of climbing (although this is not immediately apparent from the route map) over 120 kilometres.
One concern, however, is whether this route is actually hard enough. For the last four years here, your author has been building a tradition of The Long Ride (not an ‘epic’ ride mind you, given the overuse of this adjective): a once-a-season outing that involves a distance that is significant relative to typical rides and usually features as much climbing as possible within reason.
The difficulty of these rides has been decreasing in recent years, following the first Long Ride of 200 kilometres including ascents of Mounts Seymour and Cypress and a lot of flat riding in Delta in the lead up. The distance then dropped to 180 kms and last year to 150 kms.
This latter route will again feature in 2010 and has been dubbed le parcours de Virenque. The course includes the major climbs in the Vancouver area: Burnaby, Seymour and Cypress mountains, with an excursion up into the British Properties area between Grouse mountain (inaccessible by road bike) and Cypress. Naturally, it is a dedication to the escapes of polka-dot and climbing hero Richard Virenque; and given the somewhat arbitrary purpose of The Long Ride, it is also a dedication to his futile escapes.
The 2004 Tour
The terrific yet tawdry career of Virenque has been documented on this blog in some detail. He retired from racing at the end of 2004, adding a final meilleur grimpeur Tour title to take his total to seven – a record. His ride in the 2004 Tour, on the Quickstep team, featured two escapes: one successful and the other unsuccessful.
Seemingly the master at choosing the appropriate climbs to score points for the KOM competition, Virenque chose stage 10, 237 kilometres through the Massif Central with a series of shortish but challenging climbs: one cat.1, two cat.2 and five cat.3 efforts. Perhaps, though, it was not so much of the right choice but appropriateness, with the stage run on July 14 – Bastille Day – almost an invitation from the organizers for Virenque to secure glory.
Axel Merckx and Virenque were the only survivors of an early ten-man break and Virenque grabbed nine sets of KOM points (not high scoring mountains, but sufficient to take the jersey at the end of the stage) with Paolo Bettini playing loyal teammate and sprinting in the group behind to prevent riders from competing teams securing the lesser points.
Virenque powered away from Merckx on the cat.1 climb, the Col de Pas de Peyrol, some 60-odd kilometres from the finish, leading to some controversy for the stage. “On the first category climb, Richard went stronger,” Merckx was reported saying. “We had agreed that he was going to take all the points for the mountains jersey then afterwards we would fight for the finish here and not before. But I guess he has a hard time keeping his word.”
“I was really just hanging on at the end of the stage today, so to win was really nice for me and the team,” Virenque said.
For his second effort, Virenque looked for glory on the 204.5-kilometre stage 17 between Bourg d’Oisans to Le Grand Bornard – the toughest mountains stage of the Tour, and the stage after the Alpe d’Huez ITT where Lance Armstrong cemented his dominance by winning the stage and actually passing second-placed Ivan Basso in the process.
On stage 17, in super-hot summer alpine conditions, a five-man break including Gilberto Simoni went clear on the first climb, the Col du Glandon. Mikel Astarloza tried to bridge, but it was ultimately Virenque and Christophe Moreau that managed to catch the breakaway on the Col de la Madeleine. Virenque tried to sprint for the Souvenir Henri Desgrange prize at the top the Madeleine – the highest climb in the Tour that year – but was pipped by Simoni.
The break looked strong over the Madeleine but there were still three climbs to go and 125.5 kms to hold off the chasing peloton. Virenque, Simoni, and Moreau held on until after the Col de la Forclaz with just the Col de la Croix-Fry to go before the finish. But Armstrong’s team were setting the tempo, led by Floyd Landis, which set up the memorable ‘no gifts’ stage win by Armstrong over the T-Mobile duo of Andreas Kloden and Jan Ullrich (one of Armstrong’s tally of five stage wins).
Virenque scored additional KOM points on the stage, but his title was never in serious danger having continued to gain points through the Pyrenees and the Massif de Vercors (although Armstrong placed second overall, highlighting the difficulty that pure climbers can have competing against a dominant GC rider); he was able to spend the latter part of the stage enjoying the attention of his fans – although another stage win would surely have been the perfect end to a fine career in the mountains.
Le parcours de Virenque
After some frustration with the fork sensor mount of his cycling computer, your author recently dispensed with said computer entirely, forgoing all distance, speed and cadence information. The absence of any feedback can be disconcerting when one is not used to it, but riding is certainly refreshingly free from distraction. Given the current proliferation of GPS units power meters at all levels of riding these days, getting rid of even a basic cycling computer seems somewhat unconventional.
Given the recurring ride route in this case, however, computing the distance is not so difficult. The amount of climbing is approximate, based on a rough route sketch (see below) but is certainly at least a little north of 2,400 metres.
The main challenge of the parcours ride is securing enough good espresso along the way, and fighting off the cramps on the final major climb, Cypress. Virenque dedicated his win on stage 10 in 2004 to former Festina manager Joel Chabiron and to his grandmother: “I was cramping all over in the final today but I thought of both of them a lot and I wanted to win for them.”
There will be no winners on this ride, however; just the satisfaction of a tough day on the bike and completing The Long Ride for another year. Your author, though, will be wearing his Virenque-style Domo-FarmFrites ‘Ventoux’ jersey…