ENTERTAINMENT

The bike race that has more fans than the Grey Cup

PETER GZOWSKI December 2 1961
ENTERTAINMENT

The bike race that has more fans than the Grey Cup

PETER GZOWSKI December 2 1961

The bike race that has more fans than the Grey Cup

ENTERTAINMENT

The Tour du St-Laurent, a long-distance bicycle race modeled unashamedly on the Tour de France, is, after eight years, probably the largest annual floating sports event and carnival in Canada. last year, more than half a million people watched one part or another of its 588 miles (from Quebec City to Montreal and back again through the Eastern Townships, with a few closedcourse sprints thrown in) and most of them stayed on for the variety show and outdoor dance that took place most of its five evenings. Hut it’s been largely ignored by English-language papers in Canada and has received more attention abroad than at home. Next summer the Tour tin St-Laureut on the heels of professional soccer in Canada, is going big time.

The 1962 tour will last eight days, travel more than 1.000 miles in Ontario as well as Quebec, hit 14 cities and distribute $8,000 in prize money among the best of 80 riders from eight countries, including, for the first time. Russia. It will also be the first year the tour has provided a year-round living

for Yvon Guillou, an ex-bike-racer from Breton whose brainchild it is. This fall, Guillou sold his Quebec City bicycle shop and took up the promotion of the race as his full-time career.

Most of the promotion has gone into lining up sponsors to pay the $15,000 annual tab. Someone has to foot the bill for, among other things, nearly 2.500 meals, l ast year, sponsors had cars bearing advertisements drive in front of the racers and manufacturers of various products paid $400 each to have a contestant wear a brand-name on his number.

So far. none of Europe’s top stars has come over—largely because they make there the kind of money Maurice Richard used to make here, and Lour du St-Laurent prizes aren't yet in that category. ( Of last year's 63 starters. 40. including both the individual w inner and the winning team, were Canadian residents — mostly, and also including the winners, Italians from Toronto.) Now a top team from Russia, which will be about as amateur as their world hockey clubs, has agreed to come to

Quebec for ’62. expenses paid. It is the winter-book favorite.

Whoever the winners are—and there will be prizes for each of the 16 “laps” as well as over-all champions—Guillou is determined to do something about one nasty aspect of big-time bike-racing that’s been cropping up everywhere recently: drugging. Last year, one Olympic contestant died after taking a drug and Guillou knows there were pep-pills and other drugs being taken on the Tour du St-Laurent. There’s a doctor who travels with the tour who may get permission to conduct spot saliva tests and Guillou himself hopes to write into the rules a clause that will allow him to disqualify anyone with unprescribed pills in his pocket.

Tn 1962,” Guillou says, “the Ontario section of the tour will be confined to the Ottawa and Cornwall areas, but we plan to add a new stage every year so that pretty soon we’ll include Toronto and even, by about 1967, Windsor and Detroit. Bicycle racing at its best is as exciting and popular a spectacle as there is.” PLTLR GZOWSKI

PETER GZOWSKI