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Geared up for Tour de Couriers

Montreal Gazette, September 03, 2004 

By Chris Pare

A month ago, Chris College broke his nose for the seventh time. He lost two teeth and chipped a few others, and his face looked like a bag of smashed apples.

But with a little help from his friends, he's feeling ready to compete this weekend in the annual North American Cycle Courier Championships.

His injuries were the result of a "door prize" - not the kind you win at a corporate golf tournament, but rather the damage you incur after biking straight into an open car door.

"I was going up St. Laurent Blvd. and this Mercedes door opened. He clipped me, and I sort of spun around to the side and landed on my face," College, 28, recalled.

The 10-year courier veteran had some friends realign his nose because he "didn't want to go through the whole hospital thing again."

Even as a 6-year-old, being a bike courier was something College wanted to do, flying around on his BMX and talking with friends on his walkie-talkie.

The three-day competition, which begins today, brings together hundreds of bicycle messengers from around the world to celebrate their death-defying trade.

The event dates from 1998, when it was first held in Montreal. The championships are hosted by a different city each year, and local organizers are responsible for designing a race that is both challenging and fun.

There are track events, like the Skids competition and Bunny Hop challenge.

But the main event is the Alley Cat race, a gruelling obstacle course that closely resembles the day-to-day challenges of negotiating dropoff points as efficiently as possible while avoiding injury.

"You start with your bike locked, so right there, if you can get your bike unlocked in one second, you already have an advantage," College said.

"You're going to different checkpoints, but you don't know what's going to happen until you get your manifest - sometimes they'll give it to you five minutes before the race, sometimes only when the race starts, so you have to think quick to figure out your route."

The International Federation of Bike Messenger Associations sanctions the annual championships, but it's not as formal as it sounds.

Organizers say the main goal is to foster a spirit of co-operation and community among bicycle messengers while promoting the use of pedal power for commercial purposes.

College is no stranger to competition, having taken part in the North American courier games in Toronto five years ago, as well as the Cycle Messenger World Championships in Toronto in 1995.

His best results are from last year's Global Guts race, which pitted 500 bicyclists racing simultaneously in 35 cities around the world. College's second-place finish on the 20-kilometre course ranked him 23rd in the world.

As this year's volunteer co-ordinator, College will be too busy to compete in all the events, but he hopes to bring home the glory in the Climb, a race from the Lachine Canal straight up to the top of Mount Royal. The winner is crowned "King of the Mountain."

To prepare, College likes to keep things simple.

"I take it easy the night before," he explained.

"Go through the bike, maybe go for a couple of training rides a few days beforehand. The day before, just drink lots of water, have a pasta dinner and don't go to the bar, although that often happens.

"Then the day of, take it easy, drink lots of water - have a couple of Gurus (a brand of energy drink) and a beer before the race, and you're good to go."

Drinking is also encouraged in non-competition events that include a vernissage, live bands and the requisite pub crawl. It's a weekend to rival any festival Montreal has to offer, and it's free.

All the goodwill surrounding this event inspires a sense of community among hard-living outsiders like College, who see the yearly get-together as more of a family reunion.

"It's a chance to hook up with friends from around North America that you only see at these events," he said.

"Just being with 200 other couriers, you really feel a sense of belonging. In some ways, we're like the outcasts of society, so when you're in a group like that you feel more power in numbers."


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