Comox Valley chiropractor Derek Vinge accompanied the Cycling Canada team to France last summer to lend a hand at the Under-23 Tour de France — dubbed the Tour de l’avenir — a nine-stage race held over two weeks in August, with just one rest day. It featured about 190 cyclists.
“By the end there’s so many crashes and so much chaos, I think only 60 people started the last day,” Vinge said.
As a therapist/soigneur (non-competing member of a sports team who provides support), Vinge was busy doing anything and everything during a race, then tending to athletes’ aches and pains afterward.
“It’s maybe not for everybody, but for me being an athlete and working with athletes, you’re all involved,” he said. “You’re packing bags, you’re making lunches, moving bikes and setting up bikes on trainers, and then you’re doing the food and the aid stations.”
It was an ideal way to be involved in the action, but at times it was stressful and relentless.
“The cool part about it is you’re trying to get ahead of the peloton in the race. You get to drive back roads through rural France and the Alps, so you’re getting to see these amazing, wonderful places. Then you have to set up your station, usually on a hill, so you can pass off the nutrition or water bottle at the right spot.”
Perfecting a water bottle handoff was not an easy task as Vinge dropped a lot of bottles at the beginning.
Daily moves to a new hotel were also challenging, in terms of setting up camp, treatment stations and areas for bike mechanics.
The workday would start early and end late. But on the rest day, he borrowed a bike and pedalled through a number of alpine passes, which afforded a view of what the competitors see.
“It was a really, really good experience,” Vinge said. “I really enjoyed it. Hopefully, do it again.”
The overseas opportunity presented itself when retired Comox Valley cyclist Nigel Ellsay became a head coach with Cycling Canada. Several years earlier when he worked at the Pacific Institute for Sports Excellence (now Education) in Saanich, Vinge had sponsored Ellsay, who trained at the facility. Ellsay requested that Vinge work with the Canadian team in France.
Two weeks later in September, Vinge was in Australia for the UCI Road World Championships in New South Wales, south of Sidney in Wollongong.
There were 24 Canadians out of the couple hundred cyclists of all ages, many of them Europeans. Canada had a fourth-place finish in the U23 women’s road race.
“It was a different experience because it was one location,” Vinge said. “You go to the race course every day, so you don’t have to pack up the bags and everything, you’re just doing the nutrition and therapy.
“I feel really grateful to have this opportunity,” he added. “It made me passionate and excited for sports and treatment, and doing what I do.”
Ellsay said there could be another opportunity next year at the Pan Am Championships in Panama, and the world championships in Glasgow, Scotland.