Report - Ralph Hartmann



Late Friday afternoon, the day before the Defi, I was talking race strategy at the office, since two of my fellow work colleagues were also planning to take the challenge the next day. Michel Falk, who skated with me the last couple of Défi's was giving some last minute pointers to Richard Lupien, an avid bicyclist who decided to challenge himself by accompanying us on our journey. I still wonder if Richard joined us on his bike for the personal "défi", or if he was just making sure the two of us actually did what we had previously bragged about.

As usual, Michel and I got off to a pretty brisk start near the front of the pack. Even in the dark, I am very comfortable with the first portion of the Défi as I live nearby, and often skate the Verdun-Lachine portion of the course. Nevertheless, about 30 minutes after the start in Lasalle, a pile of leaves covering a manhole got the best of me. I fell quite hard on a fast section, but some leather cross-country ski gloves saved my hand. I got up right away, and actually did not even notice a bit of road rash on the side of my leg until the event was over. I guess adrenalin is a good pain killer.

It was right about then that Richard caught up to us on his bike (he let the skaters jockey for position at the start). We stayed together through Dorval and Point-Claire, while being joined from behind by Rod's group. In Beaconsfield, however, a small gap opened up with my friends Michel and Richard seemingly content to let my group of four break slowly away.

It was so much easier skating as a group and I worked with the team until the second checkpoint in Pierrrefonds. I asked my Dad (who was in a support car as he has been for the last three years) to wait and tell me how far back Michel was at that point. After rejoining my group for several more kilometres, my Dad reported back that although Michel was only a few minutes behind, he insisted that I continue on with my group and go for my best performance possible. It was at that point that I committed myself to helping Rod, Simon, and soon thereafter Nicolas in making the best of our team effort.

And what a team it was. I had a personal goal of averaging 20 km/h, which translates into a time of approximately 6:24. I knew conditions would have to be right for me to do it, and the team approach allowed me to achieve it. Simon was a physical force. Nicolas inspired us with his youthful endurance (only 4 wheels versus 5 wheels for the other three of us). And Rod brought us all together with his team leadership. He says we should believe him when he says he is not that strong. I for one don't buy it. To skate as well as he did, and to concentrate and manage the team the way he did takes a lot of strength, and I salute him and the team for their great effort.

I will mention that I thought of leaving my team mates behind on the final stage. My back was seizing up and I needed to take a two minute break to stretch out. I would have been just as happy had they left me behind (so I could have coasted in at a slower pace). Of course, they would not let me off so easy, and I appreciate them giving me the chance to get a second wind.

For the final few kilometres, Richard, on his bike, caught up to us after temporarily leaving Michel by himself. After finishing with us, Richard had the strength to go back and help Michel finish as well. Michel had a great day as well, coming in only fifteen minutes after our group. This was a super achievement, given the fact that he had to fight off the stage 5 headwinds all by himself, and I congratulate him on chopping off over 15 minutes from his personal best.

Finally, my thanks to all the organizers for another great Défi. Also, thanks to all the volunteers and especially my Dad, who once again managed to meet me at every check point along the way.

Ralph Hartmann