The Cham­pi­ons of Tues­day Night

Les Mardis cy­clistes de La­chine be­gan with a sim­ple rock mark­ing its start line. As the race se­ries en­ters its for­ti­eth year, it’s a cor­ner­stone of Que­bec’s cy­cling scene

Canadian Cycling Magazine - - CONTENTS - by Tara Nolan

Les Mardis cy­clistes de La­chine be­gan with a sim­ple rock mark­ing its start line. As the race se­ries en­ters its for­ti­eth year, it’s a cor­ner­stone of Que­bec’s cy­cling scene

On a Tues­day evening in the Mon­treal bor­ough of La­chine, a group of vol­un­teers con­verges to set up for a pop­u­lar cri­terium that will draw a throng of cy­clists. They will range from pre-teen am­a­teurs to old pros. The course for Les Mardis cy­clistes de La­chine is one mile (1.62 km) that loops around and through Parc Lasalle. Crowds form to watch the fast-paced com­pe­ti­tion that will hap­pen 10 times through­out the sum­mer.

The very first race took off from here at the end of the ’70s dur­ing a dif­fer­ent era of cy­cling. Tino Rossi, an am­a­teur cy­clist who had de­cided to re­tire af­ter one too many crashes, had an idea that he hoped would work to­ward en­cour­ag­ing kids, and even some of his friends, to take up a sport in­stead of drugs.

In 1977, there were a few trial runs, but 1978 marked the first of­fi­cial year of Les Mardis cy­clistes de La­chine. Rossi used a rock he found to mark the start/fin­ish line. Traf­fic still drove through the course. Seven cy­clists com­peted that first year. Rossi dis­cov­ered that some of his friends were es­sen­tially able to turn their lives around be­cause they had to take up a train­ing reg­i­men to com­pete and they were in good com­pany with fel­low like-minded in­di­vid­u­als. That was the be­gin­ning of what has be­come an es­teemed cri­terium (although Rossi em­pha­sizes his races are dif­fer­ent from the typ­i­cal def­i­ni­tion of a crit) that con­tin­ues to both launch ca­reers and lure pros.

For the past 40 years, Rossi has been the heart and soul of this se­ries, work­ing to get city hall to rec­og­nize the event, even­tu­ally clos­ing off the street and se­cur­ing funds from the city of Mon­treal from 2016 through 2018. “He got the sup­port of the city and the ath­letes,” says Léan­dre Dro­let, a jour­nal­ist who cov­ered the event for many years, and who was hired two years ago by Rossi to head up com­mu­ni­ca­tions for Les Mardis cy­clistes.

Even if pro­fes­sional cy­clists can’t make it out to the event ev­ery week, the race fig­ures into many of their sum­mer sched­ules. Floyd Lan­dis, Steve Bauer, An­toine Duch­esne and other pros have all com­peted on a Tues­day night. There are male and fe­male cat­e­gories for 12- to 14-year olds, an­other for 14 to 17, adult and elite. Many teams show up, as well. For ex­am­ple, a ju­nior team from New Zealand par­tic­i­pated be­fore do­ing the Tour de l’abitibi. “If you have good re­sults, there’s a good chance you will be ap­proached for a na­tional team,” says Rossi.

Pier­rick Naud of Rally Cy­cling has been “do­ing the La­chine” for the past 10 years, since he was in the cadet cat­e­gory (14 to 17). “It is great that the race has been around for so many years,” he says. “When you are young, it’s a great way to get re­ally good ex­pe­ri­ence and race with older peo­ple. When a guy like Hugo Houle shows up, it’s im­pres­sive for the younger rac­ers and it gives a bet­ter show.”

The La­chine course, renowned for be­ing fast, leads rac­ers around that one-mile loop 10 to 31 times, depend­ing on their cat­e­gory. Thierry Kirouac-mar­cassa, who won the yel­low jersey twice in the cadet cat­e­gory and who won the ju­nior men’s na­tional cham­pi­onship road race last year, says the unique thing about the race is the speed. “It’s a

cri­terium that was made for go­ing very fast with cus­tom, wide turns,” he ex­plains.

“It’s re­ally good for prac­tis­ing sprints and get­ting used to high speed,” adds Naud.

An­other unique as­pect that Rossi brings up is the points sys­tem he in­vented. It re­wards the fastest rid­ers in the sprints that oc­cur ev­ery five laps, much like a points race on the track. “This is a race to know who is the strong­est ath­lete and with this type of race you have to work,” says Rossi. “You have to be there ev­ery sprint if you want to be a cham­pion.”

This year marks a few mile­stones for the event. It will be the first year with­out Rossi at the helm. Mon­treal turns 375, La­chine is 350 and Les Mardis cy­clistes de La­chine will cel­e­brate its 40th year. Dro­let says that there will be sur­prises through­out the sea­son but wouldn’t re­veal them ahead of the se­ries’ start on June 6. Rossi hints that the mayor has some­thing in store for the fi­nal race.

That start-line rock from al­most 40 years ago has evolved into a pro­fes­sional start line and a photo fin­ish, There’s also a podium and even stands for those who come to watch; Rossi says an av­er­age Tues­day night can lure 5,000 to 6,000 spec­ta­tors and up to 30,000 for the fi­nale.

In 2016, it was an­nounced that Rossi would be step­ping down and pass­ing the torch to the Néron broth­ers, who own five bike shops and have been in the busi­ness since 1970. This year, the Nérons will run the show. The broth­ers ap­proached Rossi about get­ting in­volved in the cri­terium, which led to Rossi’s de­ci­sion to re­tire. “It’s nat­u­ral to have their name in­volved with Les Mardis cy­clistes,” he says.

Rossi’s pas­sion has been re­warded through­out the years. He says he’s the only guy with a bi­cy­cle-based or­ga­ni­za­tion to be in­ducted into the Pan­théon des Sports du Québec (Sports Hall of Fame), an or­ga­ni­za­tion in the prov­ince that has hon­oured ath­letes such as Mau­rice Richard. He’s also re­ceived the Con­fed­er­a­tion medal from Queen El­iz­a­beth, among nu­mer­ous other hon­ours. “It’s a nice credit,” he says for some­thing he’s done to help bet­ter so­ci­ety. “Sports make bet­ter peo­ple,” he says sim­ply.

Rossi ex­pects he won’t be able to stay away from Les Mardis cy­clistes com­pletely. He says he’ll prob­a­bly be asked to con­sult here and there about var­i­ous as­pects of the event. But when asked how he feels about en­trust­ing his legacy to some­one else, Rossi, 77, states confidently: “Les Mardis cy­clistes has a very solid spine fi­nan­cially and I leave my baby healthy.”

above left

An­toine Duch­esne drops in to com­pete

above right

Jean-françois Laroche of Cy­cles Régis wins the over­all pro-elite cat­e­gory for the 2016 sea­son

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