“Speedy; Speedster …I’ve heard them both before,” he confirmed with a chuckle when asked about what seem like natural nicknames, “but I actually don’t like those because they set preconceived perceptions, which, until recently anyway, I wasn’t necessarily able to deliver on.”
Modest to be sure, one thing’s for certain, Andrew Speed from Errington has fast-tracked his cycling; so much so he started his summer completing two races in two days totalling 410 kilometres. It may not have been a typical weekend for Speed, who turns 49 in September, but you can add his name to the list of astonishing locals who keep raising the bar.
On Saturday, June 23, he was the frontrunner in the gruelling Victoria Gran Fondo, and the day after that he returned to the streets for a stellar showing in Ryder Hesjedal’s Tour de Victoria.
This was the third running of the Victoria Gran Fondo — the 270 km ride started downtown by the Parliament buildings, headed out through Colwood and past Sooke to Port Renfrew, from there to Cowichan Lake and into Duncan, through Cobble Hill and Shawnigan Lake, then down the Malahat and back to where they started.
Speed would lead the field of 42 that set out under ominous conditions that day with a time of nine hours and six minutes.
Last year was his first attempt at anything that distance. He was seventh and the finisher was an hour slower “so a much faster pace this year.”
There are five aid stations along the way to refuel, but Speed said he finds it “really hard to stop once I get going. I just want to keep going, but being on your own is a lot harder — a lot,” he said, explaining “they say when you’re drafting, when you’re not leading, you’re doing 30 or 40 per cent effort, which is amazing, but in this one I was basically alone the last 50k… you get in a kind of weird zone after being in the saddle that long; you’re really looking forward to the end.”
It was, he conceded, “brutal at times. I think in total we had 9,000 feet of climbing all together.”
“It’s a fantastic event,” he countered, explaining the people who put it on, the volunteers, “they do an amazing job, and what’s so impressive to me are those who are so far out of their comfort zone. It’s a real accomplishment for those people, for sure, and that’s one of the things I love most about it all. It’s a race, but there’s a whole social element to it,” he explained, adding “when you spend six to eight hours riding in a group you can talk to up to 15 different people… you meet a lot of people. It’s a race, but it’s not like a professional race. At the end of the day, you’re always challenging yourself.”
About 15 hours later he was back at the exact same place for the start (and finish) of the second annual Tour de Victoria, finishing 39th out of the field of 750 riders in the featured event, the 140 km road race, with a time of 4:03:31.
“See now that one had a little bit different feel as it’s a closed course… they have the roads shut down for you, whereas in the Gran Fondo you’re out there in the real world so to speak.”
Understandably, Speed was some chuffed with his result in the Tour de Vic.
“I was thrilled. I mean there’s some ultra athletes out there… I had no plans of working as hard as I did,” he conceded with a laugh, explaining how he set out on the Tour de Victoria thinking it was going to be more of a social ride, “but I kind of got caught up in it, and I figured I might as well go as hard as the old body would let me. I was really pleased — it was certainly beyond my expectations.”
Last year he finished 180th when they didn’t have the whole course timed.
Asked how he was feeling the next day, Speed said his knee “was giving me a bit of grief the last 50K on Sunday but I felt okay. I was back doing my regular training ride on Monday.”
He regularly rides the Hammerfest’s 40 kilometres of XC trails in deep Errington. He also rides as far as Campbell River and to Mount Washington and trains with the local triathlon club. He’s ridden to work before, but concedes “it’s a pain, and at only 45k I prefer just to come home, change, and go for a longer ride after that.”
Speed, points out his friend and well-known Qualicum Beach dentist Paul Connor of Bayview Dental and Implant fame, “is amazing. He trains like crazy, and it was a sign of his remarkable fitness that he could do both races so well. I spend a lot of time riding with him, and he is a machine, both on a mountain bike and on a road bike.”
A veteran rider in his own right, Connor, in his early 60s, is known to ride from Victoria to his house near Eaglecrest.
“Paul’s a fantastic rider and he’s a great guy — we’re doing a two week trip from Durango, Colorado to Mohab, Utah the end of August — it’s considered the mountain biking mecca of North America,” said Speed, explaining how Connor and local triathlete Rob Williamson, who is preparing for the Penticton Ironman in August, “have definitely elevated my riding ability that’s for sure. We push each other.”
Took up cycling for fitness
The manager of systems development at VIU in his other life, Speed is married with five kids and two grand kids. He said he rode a fair bit growing up in Calgary and Nanaimo, but didn’t get on the bike again until about 11 years ago.
“I spend a lot of time behind a desk,” he explained, “and I kind of realized one day I wasn’t in shape, so I started mountain biking around 2000.”
Everything was going gangbusters he said, until a couple years ago when he had a hard crash and tore all the ligaments in his right wrist. He had reconstructive surgery, “and so now I have to basically wear a medal wrist brace when I ride mountain or road bikes.
“That’s what started me in road biking — I really missed pedalling. I love it,” he said of the two different styles of riding. “They compliment each other, they really do and I do one or the other every day.”
It was right around then he also had esophagus surgery.
“Really I’ve been on a mission since my wrist injury,” he said, explaining “the only reason I train is I just want to be as fit as I can be. It’s not to win anything, it’s just to feel good and be healthy.”
Asked his take on Andrew’s accomplishments in the saddle, longtime local mountain bike booster and Arrowsmith Cycle owner Kebble Sheaff said, “I have to say it’s pretty remarkable to see the change in him. There’s a million riders like him out there — weekend warriors out to have fun, going on a group ride here and there… I don’t know what it was, but something just clicked, I mean he was like a 240 pound guy and now he’s this skinny little fast guy.”
Asked if Speed may be the best all-round rider in the area — something more than one person has suggested — Kebble quickly agreed.
“Easily. For sure, which is funny because of his age.”
And that, said Sheaff, “is what’s so incredible. I mean it’s the young guys that are the super fast guys… the fast guys are always the fast guys. No one at his age decides one day he’s going to be a fast guy — nobody… normally you have to work on it for 20 plus years.”
Sheaff, who himself has been submersed in the sport for years, makes the point Speed is also quick to give back. A member of the Arrowsmith Mountain Bike Club for as long as he’s been riding, Speed, said Kebble, “rides two or three hours every day and he probably puts in close to a hundred K a day. But he’s also involved with the club — he’s involved with putting on the races, he’s out there doing trail maintenance days… he’s awesome.”
On July 8, Speed was in Penticton for the second annual Valley First Granfondo Axel Merckx where he turned in a time of 4:35:44 to finish 112th out of a field of 1,426 riders that completed the 160km featured event.
“It was a great ride,” he confirmed after. “Super hot though… it was 38 degrees at one point, but it’s all in fun. I just have a great time doing it.”
For those following along at home 2,600 riders in all three categories set off at the same time. Riders have the option of bucking up a few hundred dollars extra for the event kit and an assured start at the front of the pack.
Tevor Gunderson from Calgary, won the finishing sprint to cross the line first overall in the Granfondo division in a time of four hours and 12 minutes. North Vancouver’s Ann Yew crossed the line in 4:27 to become the first female finisher in the Granfondo category, and five-time Tour de France winner and cycling legend and Hall of Famer Axel ‘Eddy’ Merckx, nicknamed ‘The Cannibal’ back in his prime for his insatiable appetite for victories, completed the Mediofondo (92 km) route in a time of two hours and 54 minutes.