Published in National Post. [Toronto magazine, June 7, 2008.]
We'll call it the Tour de Front!
For a day, competitive bike racing returns to T.O.
After a 17-year absence, competitive bike racing returned to Toronto last Friday. The Toronto Criterium was a short circuit race that attracted thousands of spectators to the Esplanade and St. Lawrence Market on a rainy day.
"I think this shows that Toronto can put on global events and it doesn't detract from what we do as a city," said Scarborough Southwest councillor Adrian Heaps, who also chairs the Toronto Cycling Committee. "It adds value to us."
In the works for more than six months, the Criterium is an attempt to reconnect with the city's long bike racing heritage. (The Dunlop Trophy Race, which attracted North America's top cyclists, was held here from 1894 to 1927.)
Heaps admitted that it was designed to encourage cycling as transportation. "You need a spectacle to sometimes raise the profile of an activity just at a moderate level."
While the racers who participated in the three events (a kids' race, an adult amateur race and a pro race) worked up a sweat, they weren't alone. Patios along Front Street East and the Esplanade were packed and one of the servers at Flat Iron and Firkin's patio, located near the finish line, conveniently remarked that while "it's usually busy here because it's patio season, this is crazy."
One person watching from that patio was Ian Howes, who sporadically rang a bell he brought from home whenever the racers past.
"I think it's awesome," Howes said. "I'd be very happy to trade the Indy for this race. If we lost the Indy, a bike race in the middle of the city is a wicked pick up."
The participants would agree. The 100 spots available for the pro and adult races filled quickly.
Prior to winning pro race, North Vancouver's Andrew Pinfold remarked, "It's amazing the turnout that you get with downtown races.
"In B.C. we have the Tour de Gastown and this looks on par with that kind of race. For us, you're racing in front of people and that's what we live to do."