Triathlon Magazine Canada - - T1 - BY LOREEN PINDERA

As soon as I heard the news this spring that the City of Mon­treal would be clos­ing the Gilles Vil­leneuve race­track to cy­clists for the whole sum­mer, I fired off an email to Danny Mc­cann. “What about Esprit?” I asked. “No prob­lem,” came his im­me­di­ate re­ply, short and sweet. “We got Esprit.” a nearby out­door venue un­der­goes ren­o­va­tions.

Mc­cann, how­ever, leaves noth­ing to chance. The or­ga­nizer and race di­rec­tor of the Esprit triathlon, now in its 33rd year, booked the Sept. 9 and 10 race week­end for 2017 the day the 2016 race was over last fall. “The cir­cuit will be cleaned off well be­fore our race,” he promised. Mc­cann is a busi­ness­man – his fam­ily-run com­pany sup­plies tools to the heavy con­struc­tion in­dus­try, he has a stake in a multi-rink sports com­plex in Mon­treal’s West Is­land and, ever since his own pro hockey days in Switzer­land 45 years ago, he’s had a gig on the side send­ing Cana­dian hockey play­ers to Europe.

The Esprit triathlon is his labour of love. It may be un­paid work, but he runs it just like any of his other en­ter­prises.

“You’re al­ways work­ing at it, al­ways think­ing about how to make it bet­ter,” he says, whether that be clean­ing Ikea out of $6 blan­kets for the med­i­cal tent after spot­ting them on sale or fig­ur­ing out how to build a bet­ter rack­ing sys­tem for thou­sands of bikes on race week­end.

Triathlon was a brand new sport when Mc­cann or­ga­nized the first Esprit race in Mon­treal in the early 1980s. The best-known long-dis­tance triathlons in North Amer­ica at that time were the Iron­man races in Hawaii and Pen­tic­ton, B.C. His hockey-play­ing days be­hind him, Mc­cann ran 10K a day to keep in shape. He dreamed of go­ing to Kona, but he couldn’t swim four lengths of the pool. “I was like a wind­mill out there, thrash­ing around in the wa­ter,” he re­calls. He joined a masters swim club and learned to float and keep his body pointed in one di­rec­tion. He signed up for Kona in 1987 and, al­though kayak­ers still had to pad­dle out to him to steer him back on course, he man­aged a 1:20 swim and ful­filled his am­bi­tion.

“Once I did what I had taken up the sport to do, I was very happy with that,” Mc­cann re­calls. He com­peted in a few more triathlons at the stan­dard and sprint dis­tance, but he trans­ferred his abun­dant en­ergy and or­ga­ni­za­tional acu­men into build­ing the sport in Que­bec.

In Esprit’s early days, or­ga­niz­ing the event was ba­si­cally a one-man show, with the help of Mc­cann’s wife Bev­er­ley and no more vol­un­teers than the Mc­canns could fit around a din­ner ta­ble.

To­day, he has a core group of 30 vol­un­teers and a sta­ble of 600 more for race week­end, most of them ath­letes from sports as di­verse as the Mcgill women’s bas­ket­ball team to a dragon boat club to a Nordic ski team. The teams use the event as an an­nual fundraiser: A size­able chunk of Esprit’s $200,000 bud­get goes to hon­o­rar­i­ums for their ath­letes’ vol­un­teer ef­forts.

“The teams can take that money and spend it on travel to a tour­na­ment or uni­forms or what­ever they want,” he said. “The vol­un­teers are there to help out their own group. And we know be­cause of that, they’re go­ing to show up, even if it’s rain­ing.”

Some years, the rain has been tor­ren­tial: in 2011, there were white­caps on the shel­tered Olympic row­ing basin where the swim takes place. But re­gard­less of the weather, the pace is fast.

“We have the fastest race in the world,” Mc­cann boasts. Thank the For­mula One race­track for that. When Esprit hosted the In­ter­na­tional Triathlon Union World Cham­pi­onships in 1999, the ITU in­sisted on set­ting a counter-clock­wise course. That meant the pre­vail­ing wind was at the rid­ers’ backs, and some of them clocked in at 65 km/h on the straight­aways. Need­less to say, the bike course has been coun­ter­clock­wise ever since.

And with no ve­hi­cles on the bike course, the big­gest dan­ger is ver­tigo from go­ing around and around – 21 times to make 90 kilo­me­tres – and los­ing track of your laps. The race kit used to in­clude a row of lit­tle coloured stick­ers to af­fix to your han­dle­bars. You were sup­posed to remove one after each lap. Nowa­days, Sport­stats sup­plies a dig­i­tal

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