Défi de L'Île de Montréal
128 km on inline skates
[Trans. Lisa Bongiorno] It's 4:00 in the morning, my alarm goes off, I put my race clothes on, and everything's ready. I always make a checklist, it's my fifth Défi so I know what I need, especially since experiencing the Défi in 2002 under abominable conditions (5 degrees Celsius and rainy) -- always be prepared for the worst...
4:50: I deposit a supply bag in Section 4 at the Pie-IX bridge, and then I hurry over to the Verdun Auditorium for the start. I park, put on my skates, fill my jersey pockets with energy bars (7 or 8), energy drink (1 bottle), water (2 bottles), disposable camera, wallet, skate tool, and a bagel & cheese for the road in case I get hungry.
5:45: I enter the Auditorium to see who's come for this great annual festival transformed into a pilgrimage of skaters hungry for pavement... The regulars are all there: Bernard, Rod, Dany, François, Isabel, members of Roller-Montreal, members of Team Stamina from Victoriaville, the group from Quebec, the gang from the Ottawa Club (OUISC), and a large delegation from Toronto (TISC). I'm super happy to see so many skaters have come to our turf for the Défi -- finally skating is famous in Montreal!
Good, okay, the start will take place in a few minutes. 5:57 I'm on the
start line, there's a feverishness in the air, or it is just me who's
living something really intense? Our leader, Robert Fortier speaks: he gives us some advice and
asks if anyone has questions before starting. Nobody has questions, Ready,
10, 9, 8... 3, 2, 1 -- Go! We all set out on the bike-path in the utter
darkness of the morning.
I'm in the lead pack with Mehdi Chérif, Said Rahim, Jonathan Royer, Cathrine Grage, Jacques Lecuyer, Simon Côté and some 195 others I can't identify because of the darkness. The first kilometers or rather the first sections were done at speeds varying between 26 and 28 km/h, so you couldn't fall behind because you could easily lose your head (the head of the pack hee hee).
Already during the first section, things weren't going so well for me (I thought the Défi was going to be a walk in the park), I couldn't keep warm or be at ease at this speed; to be truthful, the pace was a little too fast for me at this stage. It was dark and we were in Ville Lasalle. Jonathan Royer took his first fall, but it wasn't so bad, he got back up and rejoined the group. At the end of the bike path at Dorval, we skate in the street, the speed increases, the pavement is perfect. Then I notice that we're a good ten skaters now -- cool, more workers to pull the pack...
We're in a paceline to protect ourselves from the wind and to be pulled by the group; I'll explain that... Okay: the first skater of the line (A) is followed very closely by the others (B)+(C)+(D)+++, who are all also very close to each other. BCD are trailing (A) so they are protected from the headwind which we all have to deal with. When (A) decides to yield his place, he goes to the side and slowly works down to go to the back of group BCD. Then (A) is stuck on the back and so on, (B) becomes the leader... This way everyone works the same and rests with the same ratio. That's the technique.
Point-Claire, a police car stops us. It was all too sweet, we already had quite a good lead. The police officers hadn't been told about the race. They warned us that it would be better to skate in a line so as not to take up the entire road. After a few minutes of discussion, we set out again knowing that we got away lucky that time. A few kilometers pass then another cop stops us again, and this time the Défi 2003 seems done for. We're blocked at the street corner and the police officers order us to stop skating immediately, which we all do angrily. Some argue with the young police officers, but that only gives them more excuse for stopping us. Then other groups of skaters arrive and notice that everything's held up; the minutes go by and we see our lead melting away...
We are now nearly 40 skaters and some support cars at this intersection. Then our savior arrives: Mathieu Fortier, the son of Robert. He is a police officer, so he uses the diplomatic approach to solve this small hitch (thank you!). Ten to fifteen minutes have gone by, the instructions are now that we should form small groups of skaters whenever we're on the roads. The leader of our pack takes off again and puts the machine in warp drive, meaning fast: to try to regain the minutes lost.
Mehdi, our leader, pulls the group for long periods. I was on the back to try to recover and also to be the caboose. The towns pass and then we are in Senneville, the only hill we climb, but there's been rain and it's very slippery, it's really crappy. We shout out with joy or pain, it had to be pain, such lousy pavement, like a foot massage in skates, there was so much vibration. We regrouped a little further on in order to get through that damned section as fast as we could.
A little bit later, after that part, we had to cross a stretch of gravel from construction in the road. We went over at full speed because for us this is a race, but our friend who's come up from Maryland, Jacques Lecuyer, fell face-first and lay on the ground a long time. The group was already heading off, but I slowed down with Said, then yelled to the others to do the same. Jacques got up and skated towards us. I said to him, "You're hurt," then saw that his face was all bloody. His eyebrow and chin were cut open and bleeding, and there were scratches all over his face. But he didn't seem to be hurting too much, so the long train could start back up.
We worked extremely well in this section, until our break under the Pie-IX Bridge, where Robert Fortier was waiting for us in his car, as well as supporters with supplies. We got our water and food provisions, then we set out again on this beautiful section, which in my opinion is very pleasant. At this point, I see our colleague Robert Mitchell on a bike who waited there in order to come along with us. So this section was done rather quickly. At the intersection of 81st and Sherbrooke, at the easternmost point of Montreal, my watch said 9:59, so we had 61 minutes to make it to Verdun to achieve the time that Mehdi Chérif wanted to reach for the Defi, that is to say a time of less than 5 hours. We nevertheless took time to drink, eat and stretch before undertaking the most difficult section of the Défi...
Finally we arrive on Notre-Dame, with only one goal: to see the Verdun Auditorium in front of us. In this stage of the Défi, I believe that everyone is hurting everywhere. Sometimes I shouted out in pain when I pulled the group; this does me good, it relieves the pain. Several of us are showing signs of fatigue. Said asks me, "How much longer, is it close yet?" Mehdi pulls for shorter periods than at the beginning and doesn't talk so loud hahaha. Jonathan has already told me three times that he has cramps in his legs and they hurt him terribly. I say "Welcome to the club," because I also have pains in my legs. Only Jacques and Cathrine do not complain.
Jacques Lecuyer of Washington fell face-first in gravel approximately two hours ago, he is one tough guy... Then there is Cathrine, who came from Denmark, a Scandinavian country, she belongs to an elite team in her country. This petite Danish woman pulled the group a lot during the Défi; since she is so little, she did not break the wind too well for us, ha ha. Then came the bike-path from the intersection of Notre-Dame and Dickson to the Jacques-Cartier Bridge. I look at my watch, 10:25, cool we still have time. Taking turns we switch the leaders of the group. The bridge is in sight, then Radio-Canada, the downhill on Berri to Viger, we make it successfully. We roll through Old Montreal, our morale is good as we approach our goal.
On the path next to the canal, you get onto Wellington, and at this point I pull because I know the rest of the way very well, then I set things up for the final sprint. I must tell you that Mehdi Cherif is now in front of us, because he accelerated on Notre-Dame, and we could not stay with him. Now we will fight for 2nd and 3rd place. I see the Canadian Tire, "Less than one kilometer left to the finish-line," I say to the boys. We enter the park, I say to Said and Jonathan, Ok this is where you can sprint, go go go! Then they battled it out to the best of their abilities to bring a beautiful end to this lovely adventure: Jonathan was #2 and Said #3, Jacques Lecuyer #4, then Cathrine Grage and then me your humble servant...
I want to make a point of thanking the organizers: Robert Fortier and his family, friends of the Défi, the volunteers, and skaters. And to everybody, see you next year, and until then keep in shape...
Charles Beaudoin, #90