From Toronto to the Tour

PAM DAVIES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:49 AM ET

Toronto-born-and-bred professional cyclist Michael Barry is competing for the first time in the prestigious Tour de France.

It has been a long journey towards this childhood dream.

This year, two Canadians -- Barry and Ryder Hesjedal of Victoria, B.C. -- are racing the gruelling 3,642-kilometre race along with 198 riders over a relentless three weeks, finishing Sunday in Paris on the Champs Elysee.

Having known Barry since he was a baby, we were glued to the TV last Tuesday when he climbed the mountainous terrain behind Lance Armstrong during Stage 9.

Every time the cameras focused on him, a feeling of Canadian pride as well as personal pride welled up.

As Canadians we have a strong desire to follow the journey of our countrymen, which isn't always possible during the Tour de France because of spotty media coverage.

As Barry has written in his blog: "Often the essence of professional cycling is missed in the media's reports as they focus on the result instead of the journey.

"Cycling is not only about victory but about the journey. The more challenging the journey is, the more fulfilling the achievement. With an understanding of the sport's rich history that sense of achievement becomes more profound."

Cycling has come a long way in Canada but could still be considered somewhat of a fringe sport.

Barry remarked in a New York Times article, "As it is with a good baguette, a nice bottle of wine or an espresso, our culture is slowly learning to love and understand cycling."

Michael, 34, is one of a small group of Canadians to have participated in the tour over the years -- the most famous being Steve Bauer.

Cycling enthusiasts know Michael Barry, as a pro rider highly respected by the peloton, and a rider with integrity.

A key player in the complex and calculated chess game played at 50 km/hr. This year in the tour, Barry is a domestique, trusted to help his team leader, Bradley Wiggins, for Team Sky.

Many see Michael Barry as an elite athlete, but I can't help thinking of him as a wee tow-haired boy whose portrait I painted in the days when he and my daughter would play together -- part of the small, tight-knit cycling culture of the '70s.

Members of Toronto's cycling community will never forget the keen, little cyclist. At five years old, all geared up, he looked just like a mini version of a pro rider, complete with his prized miniature racing bike custom built by his dad.

Mike Barry Sr., who owned a bike shop, was an expert bike-frame builder. One of his Mariposa bikes was owned and immortalized by Canadian artist Greg Curnoe in several of his works. (Some have been on display at the AGO.)

Barry (junior, that is) lived and breathed the sport growing up. As a little boy he frequently read french cycling magazines. Over the years, at different cycling gatherings, he loved listening to the pre-spandex racing stories of his father's generation.

Having raced in the major tours such as the Tour of Spain and Tour of Italy, Barry always missed the Tour de France with injuries.

This year, he finally got his shot at cycling's greatest race.

His pro career spans numerous high-profile teams -- Saturn, US Postal, Discovery, T-Mobile, Columbia-HTC, and this year his new U.K. based Team Sky.

Unfounded allegations by shamed rider Floyd Landis of drug use have been adamantly denied by Barry. The International Cycling Union has affirmed "no riders tested positive for EPO at the 2001 Tour de Suisse, disputing comments made by disgraced cyclist Floyd Landis."

Barry is also an accomplished writer having written numerous articles for the New York Times, several cycling magazines and is writing a column for The Times UK throughout the race.

His website, michaelbarry.ca, always keeps his fans in the loop.

He's also an author of three books, Inside the Postal Bus: My Ride With Lance Armstrong and the U.S. Postal Cycling Team, Fitness Cycling, a collaboration with his wife Dede Demet Barry and Shannon Sovndal, and Le Metier, "the fascinating and intimate portrait of the life of a domestique" with co-author Camille McMillan.

Michael lives in Girona, Spain with Dede and their two boys.

Dede, an American cyclist, was a silver-medallist in the time trial at the 2004 Athens Olympics and has a long list of her own world-class cycling achievements.

If you get a chance see a few minutes of this year's race on TV, watch for No.32 fulfilling his domestique role, working for his team leader, Bradley Wiggins.

Be sure to remember that this journey began with a little boy from Toronto dreaming about one day riding in the Tour de France.


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