‘Lu­natic’ cy­clist finds new heights in Europe

23-year-old trained on North Shore moun­tains through snow, sleet and dark­ness to achieve his dream

The Province - - NEWS - GOR­DON MCIN­TYRE gordm­cin­[email protected]­media.com Twit­ter.com/gordm­cin­tyre

Give Jack Burke your mail to de­liver be­cause, un­like Canada Post, nei­ther snow nor rain nor gloom of night stays his daily cy­cles from Squamish to Sey­mour or Cy­press.

Once at the North Shore moun­tains — and it might be the mid­dle of the night and the mid­dle of win­ter — he rides up and down as many times as he can be­fore head­ing back to the Sea to Sky High­way for the two-hour ride home.

Ev­ery other Cana­dian pro­fes­sional road-rac­ing cy­clist spends win­ters train­ing in Ari­zona or Cal­i­for­nia. Burke keeps the guy in the snow­plow on Cy­press Bowl Road com­pany at mid­night.

“Do I ever ask my­self, ‘What am I do­ing?” Burke, 23, said, think­ing over his an­swer. “Ab­so­lutely, this is nuts. Peo­ple look at me and think, ‘You’re a com­plete mo­ron.’

“But it’s my dream. I wouldn’t trade it for any­thing.”

Al­ways a good ath­lete — he played in the Greater Toronto Hockey League with fu­ture NHLers Max Domi, Dar­nell Nurse and Canucks draft pick Jor­dan Sub­ban — cy­cling mag­a­zines had con­vinced him in Grade 4 he was go­ing to move to B.C. and ride bikes for a liv­ing.

It wasn’t easy.

He had an aca­demic/ath­letic schol­ar­ship to Quest Univer­sity in 2013, but that didn’t cover liv­ing ex­penses. He would at­tend class and study all day, ride most of the night, end­ing five- to seven-hour train­ing runs at 3 a.m., or be­gin­ning them at 4 a.m.

In four years, he did not miss a sin­gle class, as­sign­ment, exam or meet­ing.

“I’d take naps when­ever I could, telling my­self I needed to train more than I needed to sleep,” he said. “My rea­son­ing was, I’d stud­ied all night for things I wasn’t in­ter­ested in, why couldn’t I train all night for some­thing I wanted more than any­thing else?”

Burke’s bike lights died in the rain, and he couldn’t af­ford new ones. In­stead, he splurged on a $14 safety vest. (The crew at 7mesh would even­tu­ally give him a GoreTex jacket: “How I viewed Gore-Tex at the time is likely how you might view a Fer­rari.”)

When a sta­ple punc­tured his tire be­tween Squamish and Bri­tan­nia Beach one night, he won­dered how he could af­ford a $6 tube and patch.

“It was em­bar­rass­ing, I was sup­posed to be a pro­fes­sional cy­clist. On the other hand, I couldn’t af­ford lights for my bike,” said Burke, sip­ping a cap­puc­cino at the Cloud­burst Cafe in Squamish.

“That flat tire, I was hold­ing my wheel in my hand, sit­ting on a bar­rier on the high­way, soak­ing wet, freez­ing cold, in the dark, try­ing to fix it un­der a street light.

“I’m al­most in tears on the side of the road look­ing at this stupid sta­ple ... And the only thought go­ing through my mind was whether I had enough money in my bank ac­count for a new tube.”

(He did, just.)

Friends would drive his lit­tle two-stroke Yamaha Vino 50 he bought with win­nings from the Whistler Grand Fondo to mo­tor-pace him on the high­way — brav­ing all win­ter has to of­fer on a scooter meant to go to the baker in Tus­cany and pick up a loaf of fo­cac­cia. He would pay his friends with packs of Jelly Belly candy.

To­day, his bud­dies have it eas­ier — they pace him in his 2007 Toy­ota FJ Cruiser and all the com­fort a heated cab, four wheels and shock ab­sorbers af­ford.

Things be­gan look­ing up in 2016 when he signed on with H&R Block Pro Cy­cling, and then with Aevolo in 2017.

Last sea­son, he raced for Jelly Belly-Maxxis and this month he moves to Ger­many to join Lux­em­bourg-based Leop­ard Pro Cy­cling, a top feeder team for the pro­fes­sional road-rac­ing tour.

It’s one step away from his ul­ti­mate goal: A ride in the Tour de France.

“It’s a mas­sive jump in my ca­reer,” Burke said.

And, yes, he can af­ford lights for his bike — enough lights to look like Snoopy’s dog­house at Christ­mas.

“I’m known as the lu­natic rid­ing his bike with the lights,” Burke said.

“One of my spon­sors is Cat­eye, a light com­pany, so I have them ev­ery­where now. It’s, uh, dif­fer­ent, after you risk your life with no lights.”

NICK PROCAYLO/PNG

Jack Burke was so broke when he moved to Squamish to pur­sue his road-rac­ing dream, he didn’t know how he’d pay for a $6 in­ner tube after one flat tire.

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