Couche-Tard – A 200 km Brevet in Montreal

Ride Report by Bill Pye:

I walked into the Couche-Tard (a corner store chain in Quebec), at 8:00 PM May 25th. I never ever thought I’d take 13 hours to do a 200. I am in line with a chocolate milk ahead of me is a guy about 6’6″ in front of him is a white haired woman with a file of lottery tickets getting a bunch checked by the clerk arguing that some more should be winners and then buying more. I am beginning to panic. The clerk is very patient and seems to know the woman from previous visits.

I’ve got lots of time to think about the ride. How Teena (my wife) and I left Ottawa at 4 am. She drove and I dozed in the car. We got to St Lambert near the Victoria Bridge at 6 glad Teena had checked the map and we’d taken the Champlain Bridge instead of going for the Victoria because the Victoria was closed for long overdue repairs. I had dozed until about 6:20 started to take the bike off the back of the car when other cars with riders arrived. Jean Robert the organizer had said there would be 15 riders but when I got my brevet card he said that 5 had cancelled.

It was raining and not warm. I rode most of the way to the first checkpoint with Jean Robert. I got the feeling he was lagging back with me. He laughed at the old steel Lemond Tourmalet I was riding (its first brevet despite its age, and last brevet).

“I rode a 15 year old Marinonni for years, got tired of people losing me in the hills. Bought this (referring to a Titanium Marinonni Piuma) and I can stay with anyone.” He implied I should switch to something lighter and newer.

His words were prophetic because after the first checkpoint I lost him and although I tried I could not keep up with a couple from Maine and Rando Montreal rider who despite long conversations mixed with English and French I never got his name. The terrain was rolling and the wind and rain were in our faces. The weather report had said it was going to be light rain all day but I remember only short periods with light rain. Mostly it rained and blew. The wind seemed to change directions to never be at my back except after the leaving the third checkpoint when I missed a turn and had to backtrack 3 km to get back on the route. For those 3 km the wind pushed me, sailing along, it was hard get back on the route with the wind and the rain in my face.

Sometimes the rain seemed to come in sheets. Towards Havelock and then near Lacolle it seemed like the rain had become sleet tapping off my jacket and bike as I rode.

I had the route sheet and a GPS no track but the GPS mapping helped. The only problem was the rain was so bad I could not see the route or GPS. I would stop clean my glasses and double check. After the third checkpoint, I missed the turn because I could not believe I had gotten to the turn so quickly. May be the wind had let up enabling to go faster or I just felt stronger after leaving the Flying J checkpoint. Three kilometres extra I finally realized I had made a mistake. Cleaning my glasses as best I could I checked the route sheet and my GPS and turned back.

I enjoyed the route. It was deja vu. I’d ridden most of these roads at different times on my own when I lived in Pierrefonds or with the Beaconsfield Cycling Club. Most were deserted in standard Quebec shape; bad. I broke my old rule about riding in Quebec never ride with tires below 700 x 28. Paid for it too with two flats from potholes hidden by water. First shortly after I left the second checkpoint Boulangerie (Bakery) trying to catch Jean Robert, the Maine couple and the other Rando, I flatted. Gave up on catching them and just tried to enjoy the ride. I flatted again just after I got back on route after missing the turn.

My bike was heavy and the rain was such that it soaked through everything making me heavier too. But I never felt tired; I just couldn’t go very fast. I climbed a long hill near Hemmingford that started with an elevation of 60 by the GPS and went up to 350 metres at the top. I walked the last bit concerned that if I just pedalled up I would have nothing left when I got to the top. It was the only time I thought I’d get worn out all ride. My worry I now think was mostly in my head. Because like I said I never felt tired. It was pedalling in soup.

Thank God for the wool jersey I was wearing. My rain jacket could not keep all the rain out. The jersey was soaked but still kept me warm. I only started shivering in the last few kilometres as I got to the last checkpoint the Couche-Tarde.

The cashier finally dismissed the lady and her file of lotto tickets gesturing towards the people waiting in line behind her. The big guy in front of me asked Export A cigarettes, and pulled out his lotto tickets. Not so many this time. But I was getting more nervous. It was 8:20. Not much time left. At least, it was warm in the store and I’d stopped shivering. Finally, I got to the front. The clerk reached for my card before I’d even shown it. Said in French, she’d mark 8 PM when I’d first come in. Thank You.

I had two more kilometres to go to the parking lot where Teena was waiting for me. I was shivering now. In shock at how long the ride had taken. Feeling like I should have started slower and paced myself. Thinking about giving up on riding old steel bikes on brevets. And thinking of carrying less on brevets. And weighing less on brevets.

I e-mailed Jean Robert with my time. He got back to me and said it had been the hardest 200 he had ever done. He’s done PBP twice, ridden a lot. He’d checked the weather and the low had gotten down to 2 Celsius.

Earlier on the ride he’d invited me back for their 400 on the first of June. Just a few climbs toward Sutton. I probably will go back but not on the first. But with a different bike, less stuff and hopefully less of me.

It was fun. Lost track of whether I was speaking French or English. Got in touch with a lot of deserted scenic roads. Teena told me on the way back to Ottawa that I’d ridden on the fringe of the African Lion Safari. It explained what I thought were the most aggressive looking cows I’d ever seen. They weren’t cows. They were African water buffaloes I realize now. Wasn’t that tired just felt like I’d been wading all day. I guess I was.

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