Cycling has always been a passion for John Courtney of Quesnel, who recently placed 11th with his teammate Alex Langley at the Tour Transalp in Europe June 28 – July 2.
The race was a team event over seven days which started in Imst, Austria and finished in Riva del Garda, Italy, as the competitors raced across the Alps and Dolomite mountain ranges. Courtney and Langley were one of seven Canadian teams who competed in the race, along with racers from a number of different countries.
This was not the first time the two competed in this race as they did the same back in 2013 although it was a different course, where they went through Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy.
Courtney said this time was different compared to 2013.
“There was lots of ups and downs,” Courtney said.
“When we did this race in 2013 it was something that was totally new and everything went really smoothly for us.”
He added racing on roads in Europe is an adjustment for North American racers.
“In Europe roads are very narrow, twisting and often steep,” Courtney said.
“The climbs are super challenging but the descents are often equally challenging.” Courtney said day three of the race was one of the most challenging times because of all the trouble they ran in too.
“Coming down into the first turn I was doing around 92 or 93 km/h and it was really steep and I realized it wasn’t a turn, it was a switch back,” Courtney said.
“I braked but I wasn’t slowing down, so I braked harder and I was still running out of road. Once I got into the turn I got bucked a little bit and had to stick my foot out to save myself from falling. As I was two wheel sliding through this turn my tires simultaneously exploded off the rims from the heat of the brakes, so I crashed and we lost 20 minutes because my tires were shredded.”
Although he could have let the crash deter him from finishing the race, he was back on his bike shortly after and the two finished strong as they placed 11th overall.
In 2013 the two targeted a top 50 finish in the race and finished 26th overall and in this year’s race their goal was a top 10 finish, which was almost achieved as they fell one spot short of the top 10.
He says a lot of their success is due to their coach Assaf Yogev, a former professional racer who prepared them for the race.
“Having this coach took me to another level,” Courtney said.
“This guy knows his stuff and knew how to get the most fitness out of us.”
In preparation for the race they did seven months of hard training, which involved 10 races with two in Prince George and the others in the Lower Mainland. He says there is lots of strategy when it comes to racing.
“A lot of it includes drafting which is when you are tucking in behind other riders, so they are pushing wind and you are not,” Courtney said.
“It’s about a 30 per cent difference in effort if you are the guy in front pushing wind or if you are the guy tucked and not pushing. Our plan was to try to and stick with the front runners on the climbs. When we were not able to at times we didn’t want to panic or worry because we knew Canadians tend to be much stronger descenters than the Europeans.”
Courtney says he prefers team events to individual races because with team events your teammate can help you get through the rough spots during the race, as each can give encouragement when one partner is struggling in a part of the course.
“I’ve done some multi-day races as an individual, but it’s no where near as fun or rewarding as these partner events because you are getting each other through it,” Courtney said.
He said one of the highlights of the Tour Transalp was on Canada Day when they won the Nation Hero Jersey.
“On Canada Day, Alex and I finished as the top Canadian team and we got to go up on stage and pull on the Nation Hero Jersey,” Courtney said.
“They also handed us a big trophy and we got to wave to the crowd.”
Courntey says cycling is a great sport to get into because it’s a fun way to get out and explore .
“It is a sport that anyone can do,” Courtney said.
“It is a very freeing experience to feel the wind on your face and the fitness that comes as a result is just a side benefit.”
He added he’s always had a passion for cycling even from a young age.
“I do not remember a time in my life where I wasn’t in love with cycling,” Courtney said.
“I learned to ride when I was six or seven and as soon as I learned I was out on the bike everyday. It was the ticket to freedom and a way to explore the world.”