Mardis Cy­clistes Cel­e­brates 40 Years

Last Hur­rah for Tino Rossi?

Pedal Magazine - - Out In Front - BY JOHN SY­MON

Joseph “Tino” Rossi, now 77, has been run­ning the Mardis Cy­clistes de La­chine (MCL) Cri­terium stage races around Lasalle Park for more than half of his life. Now in its 40th sea­son, the se­ries has re­cently seen the in­jec­tion of $250,000 from the City of Mon­treal, with­out which Rossi ad­mits the MCL might no longer ex­ist. The year 2017 is, of course, Canada’s 150th an­niver­sary, as well as Mon­treal’s 375th and La­chine’s 350th, so this is prob­a­bly a good year for Rossi to pass the torch to his suc­ces­sors.

Rossi was born near Rome, Italy, in a coun­try where cy­cling ri­vals soc­cer as the na­tional sport. His fam­ily im­mi­grated to Canada when Rossi was a young boy, bring­ing tra­di­tions of the Old Coun­try with them.

Rossi and some cy­cling friends “dis­cov­ered Lasalle Park by ac­ci­dent” one evening in 1978, and re­al­ized it was a nat­u­ral cir­cuit for “a Crit.” That first evening, Rossi used chalk to mark the start/fin­ish line as seven cy­clists raced the one-mile cir­cuit.

There were com­plaints from mo­torists af­ter that first race, and Rossi was called in the next day to see the lo­cal mayor, Guy Descary. In­stead of be­ing told to cease and de­sist, the mayor asked Rossi, “Would you like to do it again?” and lent the full as­sis­tance of his mu­nic­i­pal­ity. All La­chine may­ors over 40 years have been sup­port­ive, but Rossi is most lav­ish in prais­ing the cur­rent bor­ough mayor, Claude Dauphin.

What all the may­ors saw is that the MCL could help give La­chine a bet­ter im­age. For­merly a down-and-out part of Mon­treal known for drugs and crime, La­chine is now a vi­brant place where peo­ple are buy­ing homes. The area’s new rep­u­ta­tion is based in part on bi­cy­cling.

On the sur­face, the MCL is a se­ries of races with a fea­ture 50km Cri­terium held over 10 Tues­day evenings each sum­mer. But Rossi has lever­aged this into some­thing much big­ger, into a mag­i­cal race that has achieved cult sta­tus. “I added on the deco­rum and cer­e­monies,” ex­plains Rossi. Dur­ing the count­down to the weekly races, he ex­cit­edly shouts to the pack, “Are you ready to rum­ble?”

Right from its be­gin­ning in 1978, the races were fast and com­pet­i­tive. In the early years, On­tario cy­clists such as Steve Bauer, Jo­ce­lyn Lovell, Gord Sin­gle­ton and Alex Stieda of­ten made the trip to Mon­treal, rac­ing against such Que­bec rid­ers as Louis Garneau, Pierre Har­vey and Claude Langlois. All of these cy­clists went on to win great ac­claim in their cy­cling ca­reers, tes­ti­mony to what they learned sprint­ing around Lasalle Park.

In re­cent years, Que­be­cers rid­ing Pro in Europe, names such as An­toine Duch­esne (Direct En­ergie), Hugo Houle (AG2R), François Parisien (for­merly Ar­gos-Shi­mano) and David Veilleux (for­merly Europ­car), have all been reg­u­lars here. Women rid­ers, such as Joelle

Nu­mainville (Cy­lance Pro), have ob­tained spe­cial dero­ga­tions to race here with the men.

The fame of the MCL ex­tends far be­yond Canada; this sum­mer, two Pro Con­ti­nen­tal teams from France will be mak­ing ap­pear­ances at the MCL, as well as the U19 Na­tional team from New Zealand on their way to the Tour de l’Abitibi.

Last sum­mer saw Jean-François Laroche win his sixth cham­pi­onship among the se­nior men, ri­valling the record set by Yan­nick Co­jan in 1999. The sus­pense is whether Laroche can pull off an­other sea­son ti­tle this sum­mer. “We didn’t plan this,” ex­plains Rossi. Adding to the ap­peal is that here you can see part-timers such as Laroche [a lawyer by day] com­pet­ing against Pro cy­clists and some­times win­ning.

In 1980, Rossi opened his bike shop, Bi­cy­clettes Rossi in La­chine, sell­ing it in 2000 as part of a di­vorce set­tle­ment. The new owner,

Owen East­mond, in­sisted on keep­ing Rossi’s name on store.

Now 17 years later, cus­tomers still walk in ask­ing to see Rossi. “I don’t re­gret sell­ing the store, but I do re­gret sell­ing the build­ing. It is now worth $1 mil­lion.”

Iron­i­cally, his name­sake bike shop is no longer in­volved with run­ning Rossi’s races, but the com­pe­ti­tion a few blocks away, Cy­cles Néron is. The Néron fam­ily owns five stores through­out Greater Mon­treal and was sched­uled to take over the MCL in 2017. But the Nérons in­vited Rossi for din­ner af­ter the 2016 sea­son, say­ing that they were not ready, and begged him to stay on for one more sea­son.

Rossi looks well now, but had a hip re­place­ment in 2014. “It’s not easy pass­ing the torch if you want to do a good job; other­wise peo­ple will suf­fer.” Rossi claims to be work­ing up to 16 hours a day to en­sure that the MCL se­ries goes well this sum­mer. He jokes that it will take five peo­ple to take over his job run­ning the MCL.

The MCL started with vol­un­teer labour, and saw Rossi put in money from his own pocket for the first 15 years or so. To­day, the 10-stage se­ries has some 60 em­ploy­ees and ben­e­fits from “ma­jor-event” sta­tus con­ferred by mu­nic­i­pal au­thor­i­ties. Rossi’s 400th stage will come to a close at the 2017 grand fi­nale on Aug. 15. While he is coy, Rossi hints that there will be some sur­prises that evening.

Asked what his life will be like af­ter hand­ing over “his baby” to the Néron fam­ily, Rossi had a quick an­swer: “I will play with my [six] grand­chil­dren and have them come see me in Florida. I want to stay closer to my fam­ily, bring­ing them ev­ery Tues­day to the MCL, hav­ing a glass of wine and watch­ing the races.”

Still, Pedal sus­pects he will not be con­tent to merely watch the races.

Joseph “Tino” Rossi, 77, with check­ered flag in hand, turned the Mardis Cy­clistes de La­chine Cri­terium se­ries, cel­e­brat­ing its 40th sea­son, into mag­i­cal races that have achieved cult sta­tus.

(l-r): Joseph ‘Tino’ Rossi (Mardis Cy­clistes), De­nis Coderre (Mon­treal Mayor), Claude Dauphin (La­chine Mayor)

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