Victoria pro cyclist keeps busy with big rides and sneaky coffee stashes

Rob Britton in the rain at the red gates of the Sooke Wilderness Trail turnoff from Niagara Main. (Rob Britton Photo)Rob Britton in the rain at the red gates of the Sooke Wilderness Trail turnoff from Niagara Main. (Rob Britton Photo)
Rob Britton. (Team Rally Photo)Rob Britton. (Team Rally Photo)
Rob Britton drinking coffee during Team Rally 2020 training camp. (Team Rally Photo)Rob Britton drinking coffee during Team Rally 2020 training camp. (Team Rally Photo)
Rob Britton. (Team Rally Photo)Rob Britton. (Team Rally Photo)
Rob Britton. (Team Rally Photo)Rob Britton. (Team Rally Photo)
Rob Britton. (Team Rally Photo)Rob Britton. (Team Rally Photo)
Rob Britton. (Team Rally Photo)Rob Britton. (Team Rally Photo)
Rob Britton with Team Rally training camp in 2019. (Team Rally Photo)Rob Britton with Team Rally training camp in 2019. (Team Rally Photo)

There is a core of dedicated Greater Victoria people who strap bootie coverings over their bike shoes and head out at 6 a.m. to ride in the November rain, guided by headlamps.

Among that core is an even smaller group who followed Rob Britton’s Instagram account on Friday nights to see where Britton placed his latest stash of goodies. Throughout the summer and fall, Canada’s 2019 national time trial champion (and still defending champ) lives in Victoria and this year stashed bags of 11 Speed coffee and gift certificates for Whistle Buoy beer while out on long training rides. He’d also leave a pair of stickers and cyclists could post a selfie with them to enter a contest.

“What was amazing was that the coffee never lasted past 8 a.m., even when sunrise was 8:05 a.m. This is 20 to 30 km out of town,” Britton said. “I would post them Friday night and there would be 30 posts of cyclists next to the stickers by 10 a.m. Saturday.”

Rob Britton on a long-distance bike-packing trip this summer. Britton brought a boost to bike-packing when he used an epic 1,600 km offroad ride from Alberta to Tofino in the summer of 2018, as a warmup for the 2018 UCI World Championships.
(Photo by Rob Britton)

It’s been a colder training season for Britton this winter who was raised in Saskatchewan but has been mostly based in Victoria since the 2000s. Under normal circumstances, Britton has spent the past few holidays with family in Maui where he is able to warm up for January training camp in California.

READ MORE: Oak Bay, Victoria cyclists win Canadian road and time trial championships

Britton renewed his contract for one more year with U.S.-based Team Rally and has long been among the best North American riders who are not European based. He won the 2017 Tour of Utah (a big deal) and was 12th in the 2019 Tour of California in a peloton of elite riders including the 2020 Tour de France champion.

Britton credits his Rally teammates for sacrificing themselves beyond what they’re capable of to drag him up into the lead group. But there are only a few dozen people at any given time who can stay on the wheel of a lead group featuring cyclists who were on the podium of the Tour de France.

Sadly, the Tour of California went on hiatus before COVID-19 was a reality. It was a major draw for UCI World Teams and was a chance for Team Rally cyclists to compete with world’s best as Rally has transitioned to racing more in Europe. “We took the Tour of California pretty serious, it was our home race. I focused on it every year,” Britton said. “I remember the last year [2009] before I raced the Tour of California. I watched from the side of the road, standing in the rain. I felt I was still a long way [from racing it].”

READ ALSO: More than 250 riders participate in Tripleshot CrossFondo

At 36 and a decade into his pro-racing career, Britton has a theory that supports his success despite becoming one of the older athletes in the peloton, and why he still has the capacity to race at an elite world level.

“Physiologically you don’t get a lot slower,” Britton said, adding it’s generally considered that pro-cyclists start to slow at about 32. “But I started late, and I was never physically gifted. To me, it’s tenacity, or grit, or whatever catch-phrase you want to use. It’s a lot of sacrifices [life spent away from family and friends]. And it’s the amount of time you spend racing.”

In other words, Britton believes that due to his late start, not racing at the international level until his mid to late 20s, he has gas to burn.

His exploits at home are even more endearing. He lives in Victoria proper with his fiancee, who is in her second year of pediatric residency at Victoria General Hospital. While she’s at work, Britton is out conquering south Island roads. And the mid-Island roads, and heck, all the roads.

In 2018 Britton helped stoke the “bike packing” trend as he rode 1,600 km from Calgary to Tofino, mostly off-road (and in a hurry), with everything he needed packed on the bike. He essentially went straight from there into the 2018 UCI World Championships in Austria where he escaped the peloton and helped break up the race for Canadian Mike Woods to capture bronze.

On June 20, Britton rode 508 km with longtime pal Taylor Little from Victoria to Port Hardy in one shot. It was a fundraising ride they called the “Up Islander,” with proceeds going to the Wirth Foundation, which supports mental health.

READ MORE: Britton returns for 2013 Robert Cameron Law Cycling Series

This holiday season he made a joke of the “Fiesta 500,” a popular annual challenge to ride 500km between Dec. 24 and Dec. 31, taking a rest day after hitting the 500 km by mid-week. (He still goes for an hour-long ride on a day off).

And then there was the scavenger hunt for free coffee and beer, which was a way to draw locals out onto trails (Britton is a major advocate for gravel and long-distance offroad riding) and motivate them despite the void of organized events.

That includes Britton’s own event, The Last Ride, a gravel ride (“not a race”) that he has organized as a way to promote long-distance off-road rides the past few years.

Next for Britton is the Team Rally January training camp in California. Going into the 2021 race season, Britton is hoping to target another run at the Tour of Utah, though the race calendar is still up in the air during the pandemic.

“Some races are a go, others are still not certain, and many [will wait until] later in the year to give them a better chance of happening,” Britton said.

Beyond this year, Britton has considered the “afterlife” post-pro cycling, but is taking it one season at a time.

“I’m looking forward to the day of sharing gravel and backroad riding with more people, as roads aren’t getting any safer (from a safety point of view, if nothing else).”

reporter@oakbaynews.com


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