By Marie Birkbeck
You may have noticed an unbelievable number of cyclists biking through Valemount or on the highway in the rain on Monday and wondered what they were thinking to be out on such a cold wet day. They are all a part of the Rocky Mountain 1200, a 1200 km bicycle ride hosted by the British Columbia Randonneurs Cycling Club.
Initiated in 1996 and now held every 4 years, this challenging ultra distance cycling event attracts riders from around the world, eager to test themselves against the distance, the climbing and the time limit. Beginning in Kamloops, B.C. at 10:00 p.m. Sunday July 22, the ride ends at 4:00 p.m. on Thursday, back in Kamloops, giving the cyclists just 90 hours or less to complete the distance. Some of the more experienced riders who have chosen to complete the distance in 84 hours left Kamloops at 4 a.m. Monday morning. It is said that some of those riders were also competing against themselves to achieve a personal best time of as little as 55 hours!
All these riders are part of the international sport of randonneuring, started originally in France. Randonnée is a French word for ramble or tour describing a long distance cycling event where participants follow a set route within certain time limits as checked at various control points along the way. Riders cannot receive support except at designated controls so must be self sufficient. Randonneuring, sometimes called marathon cycling, is non-competitive in nature. Each cyclist who finishes the event within the time limit will receive the same finisher’s medal.
Although the marathon is open to cyclists of all ages and endurance levels, they must meet certain criteria in order to qualify. According to their rules, riders must have completed an Audax Club Parisien (ACP) sanctioned brevet series including a 200km, 300km, 400km and 600km distance within the time limits and other rules prescribed by the ACP since January 1, 2011. If they did not compete last year, or have never competed at all they must provide documentation of successful completion of a 200km, 300km, 400km and 600 km ACP sanctioned brevet series or a 1000km or longer ACP or RM sanctioned brevet by June 10.
A total of 111 ultra distance cyclists came from all over the world including Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, UK, Sweden, USA and Canada to participate in this marathon. The challenging route takes them through British Columbia and Alberta from Kamloops, through Clearwater, Blue River, Valemount, Jasper, Lake Louise, Golden, Revelstoke, Armstrong, Salmon Arm, Westwold and ending back in Kamloops. Each control point requires eight volunteers from across the province to provide food and support to the riders. In Valemount, the control point was the Lion’s Hall. Hot soup, coffee, sandwiches and other nutritious food awaited the cold, wet and hungry cyclists. BC Ambulance Valemount generously provided blankets for the riders to use to chase away some of the chills while they ate. A Massage Therapist was also on hand to massage away some of the aches. Most riders stop for an average of 45 minutes. Some dine and dash, others took a few minutes to catch a power nap!
Manfred Kuchenmuller of Richmond, B.C., who at 70 is competing in the marathon for the 8th time, is the oldest cyclist on the Rocky Mountain 1200. He did say though, that he is not the oldest to have ever competed; just the oldest to have completed the rally. Fellow cyclist, Ron Himschoot, from Seattle is also competing for the 8th time. They both agreed that the key to making it through to the end is to not drop out regardless of the conditions! Knowing that as they head into much higher altitude and rougher terrain the next two days are going to be very gruelling, they quickly stocked up on calories and headed out onto the next leg of their journey!