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Les Canadiens: Canada’s Elite Cyclists Return to Shenandoah

Each year, starting at the end of March, the Shenandoah Valley and Blue Ridge Parkway around Waynesboro becomes home to a welcome but curious phenomenon: flocks of hunky, happy cyclists, most of them speaking French. You can set your calendar by this migration: soon after they arrive, it’s time to set the clocks back and definitely time to forget those excuses for why you’re out of shape. After all, if the Canadians have come to train, can spring be far behind?
Such inspiration comes to us courtesy of Marc DuFour, the genius behind Groupe Centrifuge, a training camp supervised by some of the best cyclists in Canada and headquartered at Shenandoah Acres Resort since 1996.
This year’s guides include members of the Quebec Provincial Road and Mountain Bike Teams as well as “development athletes” ages 16-18, here to benefit from coaching by their elite elders. Clients pay for as many weeks as they choose between March 20 and May 8; this year DuFour reached his maximum capacity of 45 participants per week without advertising at all.
The atmosphere surrounding this group crackles with energy. They have driven 12 hours to get here from various parts of Quebec, with their bikes on their cars. Delighted by the warmth of 50-degree days and damp, overcast skies, they’re here to ride and they’re not fooling around.
In addition to daily rides, the camp provides advice on training programs and clinics on position and technique. To improve their steering, DuFour has riders weave in and out of orange cones set up across the softer surface of the grass, since some riders do topple over. Another exercise for balance requires them to lean over from the moving road bike to scoop up an object off the ground.
Just before 10am each morning, DuFour divides the gaggle of as many as 70 cyclists by calling rides such as “100 kilometers, two major climbs, average speed 28 km an hour…who wants to go?” Having cycled 30,000 kilometers in the Shenandoah Valley over the past eight years, DuFour has nothing but praise for the quality of the roads, the technical descents, the diversity of new routes he continues to discover. For DuFour, however, it all boils down to a simple truth he states slowly, with sparks in his eyes: “It is fun to drive your bike on these roads. You have to be agile.”
A variety of riders share his joy. Thirty-eight year-old Eric Grypinich, who dismisses his racing days as “a long time ago,” treasures the two weeks each year he sets aside from work and family to ride in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Returning for his seventh spring here, Grypinich emphasizes that “we are not just experiencing riding on these roads, we are training.” One major difference in the terrain he notes is that “whereas in Quebec, the hills are maybe one kilometer long, here they are 17 kilometers long.”
Mattieu Toulouse, a twenty-five year-old professional mountain biker, works as a guide for Groupe Centrifuge during breaks in his racing schedule. “You can’t stay home and compete the way I do,” admits Matthieu Toulouse, referring to the endless winter in his hometown of Montreal. Having just raced at the NORBA challenge in Waco, Texas, Toulouse relishes training on the rolling hills and the monster climbs up Wintergreen Mountain and Reed’s Gap before heading out to California for the Sea Otter Classic.
Despite its rigorous agenda, Grypinich attributes the success of DuFour’s camp to his creation of a relaxed atmosphere and an ambiance that emanates from “bringing together great athletes and people who enjoy their time with them.” Indeed, looking around a crowded room where conversation and laughter, as well as the red wine, flow freely, it’s easy to feel the camaraderie between these tired, fit people who have ridden long and hard today and now eaten a great meal together.
Into this already excellent mix, Grypinich adds that the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains provides a more subtle but equally strong allure that brings him back, year after year, “for the spirit of the place. It is so beautiful.”
–Phoebe Frosch

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