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Marathon ride ends short of Paris goal

Tsawwassen's Ron Stewart satisfied with his showing in cycling odyssey
Mechanical issues derailed Ron Stewart’s bid to complete the 1,200-kilometre Paris-Brest-Paris ride last month.

Ron Stewart has returned from France where he took part in the epic 1,200-kilometre Paris-Brest-Paris ride and while he's not thrilled with the result, he says he's satisfied.

Stewart left Tsawwassen on Aug. 12 to fly to France to begin the long-distance cycling event on Aug. 16. He completed 700 of the 1,200 kilometres when he had to stop due to mechanical and other issues.

"I did make it from Paris to Brest on the coast, where mechanical issues started to compound with my barely adequate speed to put me out of the running 51 hours into the ride," he stated in an email to the Optimist.

At that point he was running on only about two hours sleep and running out of strength.

"The experience was astounding, and everything I had been told it would be," he said. "I gave it my all. If I try again in four years, I will be properly prepared."

Stewart was one of 36 B.C. riders. Of those, 34 completed the journey.

Paris-Brest-Paris is a randonneur cycling event. Randonneur is a form of long-distance cycling where riders attempt a course that is a least 200 kilometres, passing through pre-determined checkpoints along the way. Riders had 90 hours to complete the race.

Stewart had worked out a schedule that would have seen him complete the ride in 88 hours.

He started the ride at 5:45 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 16 and rode through the night.

"When Monday morning dawned, I was feeling fine," he said. "My average speed was good."

However, throughout the morning his speed started to decline and he started to fall behind schedule.

"All day, people in towns had cheered us on calling, 'Bravo!' and 'Bon Courage!' I hadn't done anything to deserve a bravo, but I sure appreciated the wishes of good courage," he said.

It was around the 500-kilometre mark that the mechanical issues started to take their toll.

Stewart had been having trouble with shifting gears, making navigating a particularly hilly section difficult.

"It was very dark and very, very hilly," he said. "The climbs just kept coming and coming. I was missing those low gears that I couldn't use."

At that point Stewart had logged 480 kilometres in almost 40 hours without sleep. He was on the verge of quitting when he saw a fellow B.C. rider he knows.

"He told me I was thinking instead of pedaling, and he had previously warned me about that," he said.

Stewart resolved to carry on until it was impossible to finish.

Fighting sleep and riding through darkness, Stewart pushed on to the next town. He arrived at the checkpoint an hour behind his own schedule but 40 minutes ahead of deadline, rode to the edge of town and slept in a bank parking lot.

"I then had the best ride of the event ... As I was approaching Brest, I had gained 25 minutes on the deadline."

He was feeling optimistic, but then just 15 kilometres from the Brest checkpoint his rear tire went down. He tried pumping it up but it would only last for three kilometres at a time. After changing the tire and getting back on the road, things really started to go downhill.

"I was travelling a few more blocks, shifted the rear gears, and the chain fell off at the front rings," Stewart said. "And that was the beginning of the end."

He made it a bit further on a repaired chain but the ride and lack of sleep were taking a toll.

"There were more climbs... the chain was still falling off occasionally, and I was getting further behind deadline. At the edge of town, I was too tired to get up a hill and it was clear my ride was over."

Stewart spend the night at a checkpoint and then took a train back to Paris.

Despite not completing the ride, Stewart said a lot of good came out of the experience.

"I achieved my goal of getting there. I did better than getting from Paris to Brest, and I rode 13 per cent farther than I have ever ridden, with a lot more climbing," he said. "I saw almost the whole course. I got cheered for my athletic prowess and was encouraged by many, many strangers."