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Wheels tailored to all feels – a profile of Bytown Storm Cycling Team

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By Dan Plouffe, originally printed Spring 2011 in Healthwise Ottawa

Bytown Storm triathlete Joanna Brown. File photo.

When it comes to the Ottawa cycling scene, there’s truly something for everybody. With the countryside and the Gatineau Hills just a short ride away, plus a large network of paths within the city, it’s only natural that groups exist to support cyclists of all kinds. In this issue, Healthwise Ottawa profiles three local clubs that cater to different audiences.

Bytown Storm Cycling Team

They’ve become well-known as a youth-based triathlon club over the past 10 years, and now the Bytown Storm are rolling out a new cycling team in partnership with Kunstadt Sports.

“I’m really excited about adding the cycling program,” says Greg Kealey, the Storm’s founder and head coach. “It is something that anyone can enjoy, and not at a huge cost.”

Most Storm athletes have backgrounds in either swimming or running because there are more opportunities available through schools and clubs in those sports, but many triathletes quickly discover a love for the fast speeds of cycling and the freedom it brings.

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Before letting them loose, however, the empty parking lots at Scotiabank Place serve as a training ground to safely prepare riders for the road. With Kunstadt’s help, the Storm hope to hold criterium races for youth this summer around Scotiabank Place, on top of entering other cycling races.

The target is to have 10 riders in both the 14- to-16 and 18-and-under age range to field full teams, plus use some of the Storm triathletes to round out the ranks. The cycling team will work with the triathletes for strength and crosstraining, and will also hold its own practices with a dedicated cycling coach.

“The synergies are there,” notes Kealey, whose club will also offer cyclo-cross racing opportunities in the fall. “It’ll help all the kids develop better skills, be more comfortable on the bike and be stronger riders.”

Fifteen-year-olds Alex Maxwell and Elyse Charrier, both 2010 Ontario Summer Games triathlon competitors, are two of the Storm’s current members who plan on dabbling in a few cycling-only events this year.

“Cycling’s a very strategic part of the race,” says Charrier, “so the better I get at it, the more useful it’ll be when it comes to triathlon.”

The Storm have a history of producing numerous elite athletes, including reigning world junior triathlon bronze medallist Joanna Brown and fellow international competitor Matt Vierula.

“I find that motivating because you see how kids from your own town can make it so high up,” explains Maxwell, who trains 15-18 hours a week for all three disciplines. “It gives you hope that one day you can do it too.”

Not all Storm athletes devote as much time as Maxwell towards triathlon. Encouraging kids to do other sports, letting them decide how many sessions to attend and what their goals are has proven to be a popular approach with the athletes as well as their parents, who can train in their own program at the same time as their kids.

“The idea is it’s grassroots-based, but we have that stream into development and performance-based racing if that’s what some of the kids want to gear to,” Kealey adds. “Hopefully we can put more people on the provincial or national stage in both sports.”

TJ Fit Cycling Club

Started in 2005 by personal trainer Tracy Beardsley, the TJ Fit Cycling Club offers an open invitation to riders of all ages and abilities to join their group and relish in every aspect of the lifelong sport.

“It’s a very recreational club,” explains Beardsley, who also operates a spinning studio. “We’ve developed a really nice group of people that enjoy each other’s company, enjoy activity and enjoy being together. It’s really fun.”

The bulk of the 30-40 participants who gather for weekly rides are in their 40s, while some others are older. Early-season cycles tend to be a bit shorter and less challenging as they build towards longer distances while exploring places like Dunrobin, Richmond, Manotick and Gatineau.

“We get a lot of couples, which is really nice,” Beardsley notes. “If the guys want to race, they can go off, do their thing and go fast, and at least the women have a group to ride with. Then we get together for a bite to eat wherever the destination is.”

Weekend excursions are also very popular with the group that has visited Quebec’s Eastern Townships, New York’s Finger Lakes and Vermont in recent years. Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia always draws rave reviews in particular thanks to the ocean, the vast mountains and friendly people adding to its incredible scenery.

“We’d see whales playing in the water,” recounts Kevin Murray, a long-time TJ Fit rider along with his wife, Marsha Woodgate. “Cycling is a great way to travel and see the countryside because there’s nothing stopping you from pulling over to the side and taking in the sights.”

Preparing for the multi-day treks can also act as a motivating goal for riders.

“You can’t just get up and do it,” Beardsley says, highlighting Cabot Trail hills with a 14-16 per cent grade that last between 2-5 kilometres. “I love to see the people that think that they can’t do these types of rides, and then really train them, and watch them do something they thought they never could.”

Woodgate believes it’s Beardsley’s uplifting spirit that really brings together group members, who often gather for social events during the winter as well.

“When we first contacted Tracy to find out about it, we were amazed at how enthusiastic she was,” recalls Woodgate, who’s traveled with her husband to cycle in Tuscany. “Kevin said, ‘That can’t be for real,’ but we found out that it is – she’s always upbeat and positive and very encouraging.”

CycleFit Chicks

Already with 82 members just three years into existence, the CycleFit Chicks have exploded as the national capital’s lone femaleonly cycling club.

“There’s a lot of cycling clubs out there and they’re more heavily populated with men and a lot of women feel intimated going out there,” founder Sylvie D’Aoust explains. “Ladies want to find other women they can cycle with at their level so they don’t have to keep up with their husband or their boyfriend or the group.”

Beginners are welcomed by the CycleFit Chicks, who provide learn-to-ride, bike maintenance and nutrition clinics. To start, they hold technical rides at a slower pace for cyclists to develop pack-riding skills. The nonprofit group also provides three certified coaches through its $100 membership fee.

“CycleFit Chicks was a great intro,” notes Lorraine Gignac, who joined the group last year and fell in love with all aspects of cycling, especially (and unexpectedly) cyclo-cross. “Getting out there keeps stress away and keeps you fit. I love finding new routes and just being outdoors.”

As the club looks to grow to around 120 members this year, it will ensure that there are groups that ride at varied paces. There’s also a CycleFit Chicks racing team for those who want to take their cycling to another level.

“Competition is an interesting thing. It provides you with that motivation to try harder – whether it’s against yourself or against other people,” says new race team member Jennifer Cossette, who found herself suddenly doing hill repeats after work within a short time of joining the group. “But there’s also that sense of community. Some people go out and flat out see how quickly they can complete it, and others say, ‘I’m going out for the atmosphere and the enjoyment.’”

D’Aoust pegs the club’s average age at around 46, although she’s also eager to start up a junior program this summer for 13-to-17-year-olds.

“It’s all about developing our athletes, girls and women in cycling,” she explains. “It’s very inspiring to see people progress – get faster, better and more fit.”

View Healthwise Ottawa’s new fall issue here.

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