Mike Gillis was one of 1,700 riders who took part in the Ride to Conquer Cancer in 2009. This year he’s back to help raise money and awareness while challenging himself for a great cause.
Riding through the scenic Pacific Northwest in a two-day adventure from Vancouver to Seattle, Gillis and a flock of other riders, including Canucks chairman and governor Francesco Aquilini, will spend the weekend of June 19 and 20 doing something big about cancer. Something epic.
This unique 260-kilometre trek, which raises funds that enable the BC Cancer Foundation to deliver breakthrough research, exemplary teaching, and compassionate care, has been circled on Gillis’ calendar since the inaugural event last June, and although he’s admittedly not as far along in his training as he’s like, he’s ready to roll.
“Last year was such a success and I imagine it’ll be bigger and better this year,” said Gillis. “Seventeen hundred riders is a lot and it’s a long ride, but I can only imagine it’s going to get bigger because it was extremely well organized and I think everyone had a good experience.”
One of the most eye-opening parts of the 2009 race for Gillis was the sheer mass of riders. It was helmets, bikes and bodies as far as the eye could see, which made for some dodgy riding early on. Make no mistake about it, this ain’t no Sunday ride through Stanley Park.
Luckily Gillis has been cycling for close to a decade and was prepared for the throng of riders and the thrills and spills that come with pedaling for a cause.
“It can be dangerous, you have to go slowly at the start, obviously, and you can lose your group in a real hurry. It’s important to just take it easy, I think everyone is patient to get out and get on the road and get there safely. It can be a little challenging for a lot of people who haven’t ridden in that setting before.
“Watching yourself and making sure that you have enough space between you and other riders is really important.”
There to help Gillis if anything was to come up was Team Merckx, led by former Tour de France participant and Belgium National Champion Axel Merckx, son of Eddy Merckx, one of the most accomplished riders cycling has ever known.
Gillis and company rode in groups of five or six each day giving everyone a chance to build some two-wheeled camaraderie.
“There are times when it can be pretty tough, when it’s windy or rainy it can be a little difficult and challenging, but when you’re riding with good friends and good people, it keeps you busy because you can talk.
“It’s one form of exercise where you can actually carry on a conversation while you’re riding and that makes the day go a little bit faster.”
Gillis joked that the best piece of advice he got from Merckx was “go fast,” but like the quest to a Stanley Cup, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
“It’s a real process. The one plan we had was to not go out really hard too fast and just pace it and get out of Vancouver in a reasonable way and get to the border and then as things spread out a bit, we got moving a little bit faster.”
Merckx is unable to take part in the event this year, so Gillis will ride as part of Team Wedgewood, one of British Columbia’s most respected cycling clubs and Cycling BC’s 2009 Road Club of the Year. Since 2004, Team Wedgewood has raised over $250,000 for the BC Cancer Foundation.
With 44% of Canadian men and 39% of Canadian women developing cancer in their lifetime, the BC Cancer Foundation needs all the support it can get to continue bringing hope to those directly impacted by this deadly disease.
Individual times don’t matter in the Ride to Conquer Cancer, it’s the collective support that makes a world of difference and both Gillis and Francesco Aquilini are asking for yours.
“We have great fans here that contribute a lot to community initiatives for the Canucks and with the Canucks, and if they can support us on this ride in any way, that would be great.
“I was quite pleased last year when lots of people participated and donated and hopefully the same will happen this year.”
Click here to support Mike Gillis
Click here to support Francesco Aquilini
More information on the Ride to Conquer Cancer is available here