“We thought it would be nice to have a fondo style event to show the average person the type of experience that Ryder gets while racing in Europe,” says Seamus McGrath. McGrath is the event director of Ryder Hesjedal’s Tour de Victoria. And this August 24th, one of the most anticipated Gran Fondo style rides will return to the streets of Victoria, British Columbia.
What is the Ryder Hesjedal’s Tour de Victoria? “It is an amazingly scenic ride with a wonderful atmosphere. It is non-competitive but there are timed sections if you do want to challenge yourself,” answers McGrath. “But it is really about the sport of cycling and the camaraderie: sharing stories over a beer at the BBQ afterwards is as much part of the event as the riding is.” With three different ride distance options, it is an experience a rider of any level can enjoy.
“In 2011, the first year we had the ride, we had 1350 people attend and many of them had a chance to meet and ride with Ryder,” McGrath explains. Over the following two years, the ride increased to 1800 participants and they are expecting a similar turn out again this year. So how did this ride become so popular so quickly? “That’s the appeal of cycling on Van Island,” explains McGrath, “that, and a chance to ride with one of the best athletes in the world right now.”
The name Seamus McGrath might sound familiar to a lot of you. Yes, this is the same Seamus McGrath who was at the top of the heap when it comes to cross-country mountain bike racing. He started off racing near his hometown in Ontario in the early ‘90s, turned professional by the age of 19, and stayed competitive in the sport until he was 34 years old.
During his long career Seamus represented Canada in two Olympic Games, earned two medals in the Commonwealth Games and notched numerous podium finishes at World Cup XC races. When asked to pick a career highlight, McGrath has a hard time choosing. “Of course going to the Olympics was a pinnacle for me, but winning the Cactus Cup in ‘99 is my favourite victory, because I beat Ryder and Cadel Evans.” And who can blame him?
It was that long career as a professional XC racer and national team member that first introduced McGrath to the greater Victoria area. “I started coming to Victoria as part of the national team and was just blown away by the quality of the riding and the athletes. Allison Sydor, Rolland Green, some of the best athletes in my sport were all from here. I knew this is where I had to be and I just fell in love with the place,” claims McGrath. He is now proud to call Victoria his home.
“I met Ryder in ‘96 when he was still a Junior. We were representing Canada at the World Championships” McGrath recounts. Hesjedal is a Victoria native himself. Through long hours of training back in Victoria, Ryder and Seamus became good friends. It was only natural that the two would organize one of the largest cycling events in the country showcasing the natural beauty of their favourite training grounds.
“In late 2010, we came up with the concept,” explains McGrath. “Obviously Ryder was a big part of the formative stages, he and I were bouncing ideas back and forth. Ryder agreed to put his name on the event and the tour was born. Having the fortune to race as a pro, I wanted to share the beauty of cycling with everyone,” McGrath says of his commitment to creating the event and keeping it rolling. “I have done it my whole life and it’s near and dear to my heart.”
Key to the Ryder Hesjedal Tour de Victoria are the things that only elite athletes normally experience. The ride features full road closures and rolling support for the riders. “Most people are used to having their ride interrupted by traffic lights and stop signs. With closures, it is a totally different experience and it is surprising how much easier 150km is when you are riding with a group.”
“This year is going to be bigger and better than ever,” Seamus claims. If you are looking for a cycling vacation this year, Victoria is an amazing place to visit. The rides are a mix of scenic oceanfront roads, a few challenging climbs, rainforests, and small country roads. And his favourite part of the ride? “Seeing everyone’s smile as they cross the finish line. That’s 1800 people just enjoying the sport. It is tough to beat that.”
Interested in riding Ryder Hesjedal’s Tour de Victoria? Be sure to look out for Seamus on his S5 during the ride. Find out more information here: TourdeVictoria.com