A 1,000 km bike relay is a bit like a routine workout for Ecosystem’s president Andre Rochette: “It’s not the physical challenge that appeals to me, it’s the adventure”. The Grand Défi Pierre Lavoie (GDPL), taking place from June 16-19, brings together teams of cyclists from across Quebec who cover 1,000 km in 60 hours. This year’s twist: instead of being exclusive to experienced cyclists, teams are encouraged to have one or more riders who are getting back into shape. Enter Valerie and André-Benoit, Ecosystem’s neophyte cyclists who are taking on a major challenge.
After riding the GDPL for the first time in 2015, this year Andre Rochette wanted to share the adventure with two Ecosystem employees. He set up a mini contest: employees interested in participating needed to send him a letter explaining why. “I wanted to feel some emotion in the letters,” Andre explains. Valérie Bernier-Lachapelle (graphic designer) and André-Benoit Allard (project director) proved to be the most convincing.
“I received a wonderful letter, full of emotion, from an engineer,” Andre recalls, “but he’s already so fit that he could have ridden 1000 km on a tricycle. To be chosen for the team, they had to show that this experience would help them get back into shape”. This fits well with the aim of the GDPL, which is to encourage people to be active and improve their health: donations raised through the event are used to promote active lifestyles for young people and fund research into rare diseases.
When Andre speaks about the GDPL, it doesn’t even seem like a challenge. “It’s a nice way to see Quebec”, he says with a smile.
The part he personally finds the toughest: when it rains. “You’re all wet and it stinks in the RV”.
With a team of five people sharing an RV, some of whom ride at night, getting enough sleep can be a challenge for some riders. “Sleeping in a moving RV isn’t always easy,” Andre explains, “though last year I slept surprisingly well”.
Andre is looking forward to the first day, when everyone is gathered together and pepped up. “The end of the ride is another great moment. Eating and showering, too” he says while laughing. He especially appreciates the warm welcome they receive from volunteers, schools, and municipalities throughout the trip. “People see us as heroes”.
But Andre’s main motivation this year is accompanying Valérie and André-Benoit. “André-Benoit will be fine, but I’ve seen times when the training has been hard on Val. It’s going to be a real challenge for her, but there will always be someone nearby to help her along. And I’m sure that she’s going to be proud of herself at the end of it.”
“I’ve done a lot of motorcycling, so I’m pretty comfortable on two wheels,” he jokes. André-Benoit occasionally went mountain biking “just for fun”, but this was his first experience with road biking and regular training.
“I don’t regret that I signed up, but maybe my girlfriend does,” he says while laughing, explaining that the training was really time consuming. Between work, renovating a house, and two young kids, his weeks were packed.
Stressed out about the ride? Not at all. “We’re each going to ride about 200 km a day, that’s 8 or 9 hours. That leaves plenty of time to do other things.” Besides having an easygoing outlook, he knows where to set his limits: “I’m not interested in riding the night shifts. I’ll never do that! I’m not that hard core.”
André-Benoit still has a small concern—whether he can keep up with the group’s pace—though he also believes that “cursing a little is part of the challenge.”
Training for the GDPL has worked for André-Benoit, who has lost weight and intends to keep cycling as a regular activity, but without taking time away from being with his family.
“It’s not one day of cycling, it’s four!” Valérie is stressed out by the GDPL and she doesn’t hide it. “I don’t regret signing up, but I have moments of doubt, fear, panic, anxiety. It’s four days of going beyond my physical and mental limits. It’s going to be tough. But just because it’s tough doesn’t mean it’s impossible.”
Valérie started road biking last summer to get more exercise. “I really liked it… it’s fast, it gave me a sense of freedom and power and escape,” she explains, “but I was doing 20 km and that was already a lot for me.”
When Andre was looking for Ecosystem employees to participate in the 1000 km relay, Valérie decided to jump on board. “I’m someone who’s game, who’s willing to take a leap. With me, it’s all or nothing. The GDPL is the chance of a lifetime.” In her letter, she spoke about being the mother of a young son with health problems, a cause that is perfectly aligned with the GDPL foundation which helps address childhood illnesses. “My son is still young, so he won’t understand all this. But later, he’ll see that he inspires me and drives me to reach beyond my limits.”
Valérie is looking forward to the excitement of the opening day, and the sense of accomplishment of making it to the end. But between the two, there is a lot of pedaling to do. “I’m afraid of falling, getting hurt, or not being able to do it.” Her biggest fear: not being able to keep up with the group and being picked up by the bus at the end of the pack. “I didn’t do all this to give up partway through. It’s going to be tiring, and might get emotional. This ride is a psychological challenge, too.”
The GDPL will finish at the Olympic stadium in Montreal on Sunday, June 19 at 1:30. Later the same day, Valérie will hop on a plane to spend a week by the beach. André-Benoit will come back to Quebec City, work a little, and then take off on vacation. And Andre is planning to celebrate a Father’s Day dinner before heading back to work on Monday.