I was very excited about my first Tour de l'Ile. Over the years I had vaguely heard about this event. I believe that one year it actually went down Mclynn Street. I had never really paid the event much attention until the year before, in 1992. At that point, it was too late to register, so I made a point of sure of a place for 1993. It would be a fine and exciting day, despite the weather!
I made sure that I knew, through Velo-Québec, the organizers of the Tour, exactly when registration was to begin. I was there at their offices, then in a large, old factory/office building on St. Lawrence Boulevard, when they opened on the first day of registration. I had driven over with my truck, and had Alex with me. At the same time as I registered, I also joined Velo-Québec, which would give me priority registration in years to come.
About a week before the event, my materials arrived in a brown envelope: My guidebook, containing my pass and starting time on the last page, and the identifying jersey I was to wear. My starting time was 11:30. At the time, I naively believed this. (Despite my early-bird registration, I was to learn that members also got the earliest starting times.)
I got up early and had a quiet morning getting ready to go. It a cool, overcast and misty morning when I set out from my apartment on Grand Boulevard. The race was to start at Park Avenue, with approaches from the south along Hutchison and Bleury. I rode east along Sherbrooke, as if I were going to work. As I rode along, I began to see more and more cyclists collecting alongside, also in Tour jerseys.
I saw Hutchison was blocked off to traffic, and a lot of cyclists were heading that way, past the gates. I decided to head up Bleury. Bleury was closed off to cars north of Sherbrooke, so we had the whole street to ourselves. As we approached the Park/Pine interchange, I began to see more and more gateways and Tour personnel, who were directing people.
I felt free as a bird and truly excited as I rounded the curve and descended into the underpass... Only then to see a sea of bodies on bikes, all stopped. The road was jammed from side to side with cyclists, all stradling their seats like I was. It was about 11:00. I was a bit early for my starting time.
|Near the top of the line|
I would end up being in the crowded line for over two hours! This was a regular feature of the Tour that I had never heard about. Everyone has to funnel through a very narrow opening, in order to control the volume of cyclists. At first, being at the bottom of the interchange, I could see nothing and had no idea how long the line was or how long the wait would be. Of course, I was still excited and took it in stride, but was mildly frustrated.
|Looking ahead to the starting line|
Everyone around me was in good spirits, despite the light rain which had begun to fall. And we did slowly inch forward. Volunteers provided entertainment for the crowd, in terms of jokes and music. I bought myself a Tour t-shirt. I felt a bit better once I had risen to the top of the hill and could see ahead. I saw that I would have to inch my way all the way up to Mount Royal Avenue, where they had a bit tent covering the starting point.
|Finally on my way...|
After hours of waiting and slowly shuffling forward, it was a shock how quickly things happened once I got to the starting point. We were nearly under the huge air-filled roof which had been our beacon. The crowd was slowly being constricted by narrowing steel gates, from street width down to that of just five or six riders. There had been no way to truly see ahead, so I did not know what was coming. All of a sudden, excitement ran through the crowd nearest me. People were mounting their bikes and beginning to ride. Volunteers were shouting, "Okay, allons-y! Lâche pas!"
I mounted up along with those around me and tentatively started to ride in the crowded space. And then suddenly I was through! We had the whole width of Park Avenue to ourselves and were riding quickly along. I stopped only briefly to get a photo of what I had left behind.
It was a great thrill having the whole street to ride on. Despite the flow control at the outset, though, there was still a lot of bicycle traffic, and one had to be careful. Everyone was moving a different speeds, although the general pace was pretty fast. Many groups included entire families, with smaller children riding their own bikes. All along the route, the sidelines would be manned with volunteers encouraging us on. Every cross street was blocked off by steel gates and manned by volunteers. Some took care of pedestrian street crossings, holding up Stop signs like school crossing guards and escorting convoys across. At every kilometre would be someone holding a big sign indicating how much distance was left to cover.
|A Beardless Roger dressed for the Tour|
Each year the Tour de l'Ile alternates between western and eastern circuits. In this first year that I was doing the Tour, we were on the western circuit, and would ride as far west as Pointe Claire.
As we rode rapidly up Park Avenue, I was too excited by the novelty of it all to notice much else. As we neared the top of Park Avenue, gates set in the middle of the street split the cyclist stream into two. The left-most stream was shunted off on Beaumont towards L'Acadie. The rest of us followed Jean-Talon west. We then all collected again on the wide boulevard of L'Acadie. Soon we were riding around the L'Acadie Circle, over the Metropolitan Expressway, and up through the industrial park into Ville St. Laurent.
I was surprised to come to the first relais or rest stop. The large city park was thick with cyclists like an ant hill. All around were tents dispensing various things, and the crowds around them were not too bad. Bottles of spring water were given out for free. Our guide book contained a coupon for each relais, which could be exchanged for something. At the first one, it was a package of suntan lotion. Before leaving, I managed to pick up a detailed map of the circuit. I stayed only long enough to look around, as I was really not tired yet.
We set out along with wide expanses of Boulevard Henri-Bourassa, soon going by Laurentian Boulevard (Marcel Laurin) and alongside the air field at Cartierville and into more open countryside. We crossed over Hwy 40 again at Hymus Boulevard, and went along this industrial route until we were suddenly shunted up a small street to the South Service Road of the 40.
At every turn, there was no doubt as to which way to go. Signs and volunteers would announce every turn well in advance, and gates were set up to prevent anyone going in any other direction. There was no need for anyone to really have any idea where they were, though I knew the area fairly well from earlier cycling.
It was less than interesting going along the Service Road as we did, and for a fair distance. I was very happy when we were turned off onto the residential side streets of Pointe Claire. We went through a quick succession of these streets, through neighbourhoods I was unfamiliar with.
On nearly every lawn were spectators, watching the cyclists and urging us on. Some had participated in a parallel contest to decorate their houses for the Tour, and many of these decorations were quite elaborate.
We all came to the second relais. At each one the traffic is split. One must decide in advance if one wishes to stop or not. Those going through are shunted aside, and it would be impossible to return against the flow. I stopped for a brief rest and some food at the second relais, which was in another park I had never seen before. While there, I noticed for the first time the autobus d'abondon, a school bus for those giving up the ride. It would take them and their bikes back to the starting/ending point.
Leaving the second relais, we were soon out onto Cardinal and headed back east alongside the airport. As we turned onto Cardinal, I how dangerous the Tour can be. Although the organizers had done their best to alleviate danger, accidents were inevitable when 45,000 cyclists were involved. We were all moving at a pretty fast clip when, rounding the corner, this elderly gentleman went too close to the curb and caught his pedal. He went sprawling out on the sidewalk and quite a number of other bikes wiped out in the wreckage. I could not see more, as we were all speeding away. Nearby volunteers were already converging, but it looked like the man was seriously injured.
At the eastern end of Cardinal, we were shunted through a complicated array of unfamiliar tiny streets, in order to get past the Dorval Circle. At one point there was a level railway crossing and I was amused to see they can covered it over with carpeting. I guess the potential for accidents was just too great.
I suddenly found myself crossing over the Hwy 20 expressway on the 55th Avenue Bridge. The way was tight, and soon they had split us into two streams. We came out onto Lakeshore Boulevard and headed east to come to the third relais at Stoney Point Park.
Although I really did not have to stop, I went off, just to walk my bike through, see what was there, and feel the vibes. Of course, this was a park I knew well, but it had been totally transformed. Tents and trucks were everywhere and many were resting alongside the river, sprawled out on the grass next to their bikes. Families had laid out blankets and were holding picnics.
|Alongside the River in LaSalle|
We rode through old Lachine along narrow St. Joseph Boulevard. The traffic was very dense. None used the bike paths, which were fenced off as being outside the circuit.
Then we were over the Canal and into LaSalle, descending along the river's edge on LaSalle Boulevard. I stopped briefly near the historic windmill to get a photo.
I did not stop at the fourth relais, which was set up in the park near the Lachine Rapids. I was on a roll and felt like continuing.
We followed a complicated set of streets as we entered Point St. Charles, streets which were completely unknown to me at the time. We were shunted north to pass under the Champlain Bridge approach and then came down Butler to Wellington, where the fifth and last relais was set up in a large park I had never seen before.
The park was large and sheltered by the overhand of many large, mature trees. All around were the two and three storey duplexes and triplexes of the working class neighbourhood. This being the last relais, many others had had the same idea as I, and thus the park was very crowded. For the first time, the tents and kiosks were unapproachable.
The exit from the relais was along a tiny, narrow Point St. Charles street, bounded on both sides by three story houses built right to the sidewalk. The residents had decorated their houses for the Tour as nowhere before. The sidewalks were packed with well-wishers and sight-seers, sitting in their lawn chairs and on balconies, with their beers in hand. It was a giant festival.
I, of course, had no idea where I was as we were shunted to and fro through the narrow streets. Only after we got to Wellington, Bridge, and then Mill Streets did I again find my sense of direction. We rode past the beginning of the Old Port, up McGill Street, through a bit of Old Montreal, up through Chinatown on St. Lawrence, and then along Ste. Catherine East to Berri. Berri was chosen as the route north for it allowed the cyclists to pass underneath Sherbrooke Street, which hence did not have to be closed.
The hill at Berri was a killer for many, however, coming as it did near the end of the long ride. Many were flagging out and walking their bikes up the hill. Once we were north enough to be even with Jeanne Mance Park, we were divided and shunted west along a number of side streets, to climb the last few blocks to the finish line.
Park Jeanne Mance was set up with refreshment tents and with entertainment. We all had coupons for a free milk and slab of cheese. For those wishing more, numerous hot dog vendors were around with their carts. We could line up and get our "certificate" of completion.
Generally, everything was organized to give cyclist a cooling down period and some refreshment, but not to invite them to stay for too long, as hundreds more were pouring in constantly.
I was probably not alone in experiencing a certain "let down" feeling. It had been so much fun. Was it all over already? I almost wished I could do it again. Many of the others standing around wondering what to do next seemed to be feeling the same way.
(Of course, for those wishing to do it twice, there is the early morning run. To sign up for this, cyclist must be able to maintain a speed of 25km/hr. They race around the course, finishing it in a couple of hours. Some of these then get back in line and ride it again, at a slower pace, with everyone else.)
Once I had satisfied myself that I had seen everything there was to see, I climbed up to Park Avenue, which was now empty of the crowds, but still closed off to traffic. I raced down the hill through the Pine/Park interchange and out to Sherbrooke. It was a shock to suddenly find myself riding in traffic again! The traffic had to contend with huge flocks of cyclists, most still proudly sporting their jerseys.
Slowly, as I headed west, the number of cyclists dwindled. I was nearly alone by the time I reached NDG and rode up Grand towards my apartment building.
It had been a good day!
I thank the Lord for the opportunity and the experience, and for giving me the ability and for keeping me safe. I pray that those involved in the accident I witnessed were able to recover.Top