A great performance in the great salt air

At staggered intervals, the international group of riders sped across Confederation Bridge and back. The cyclists cut through the briny Maritimes…

At staggered intervals, the international group of riders sped across Confederation Bridge and back.

The cyclists cut through the briny Maritimes air, racing only against the clock in the second-stage time trial of mid-June’s Tour de PEI.

When the results were tallied, Yukoner Moriah MacGregor had placed fifth.

“It was pretty exciting,” said 33-year-old MacGregor.

“It certainly exceeded any of my expectations coming into the race.”

And that’s exactly what she loves about bike racing.

“You have this idea of where your limits are, and then you end up doing something beyond that pushes that perceived barrier up,” she said during a telephone call from Quebec.

“Being able to watch yourself improve is what makes it so addictive. Right now I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

The Tour de PEI is an International Cycling Union event — one of three in Canada — and lured past world champions to battle for a spot on the podium.

MacGregor and a teammate had just finished scouting out the road course she’d be riding next week.

Her journey to top-ranked cyclist was a long time coming.

She grew up in Mayo, spending half of her time on her parents’ trapline on the Stewart River.

Her first bike race was the Kluane-Chilkat International Bike Relay. She participated every year until 2003.

Putting together a group of four friends, she rode a regular mountain bike with Umbro shorts and sneakers — a far throw from the aerodynamic road bikes and spandex of the national race circuit.

“We just did it as a fun thing,” she said.

She bought her first road bike from Northern Outdoors in 1995. She hangs on to it for sentimental reasons and still uses it during the wet Vancouver winters.

Other than some long-distance trips through the Yukon and around Alaska, MacGregor didn’t really get serious about biking until she wound up in Vancouver 10 years ago.

There, she volunteered with a national race and watched national champion Linda Jackson.

“It was really inspiring for me; she started later in life too,” she said.

Jackson was an investment banker before she cycled into racing.

MacGregor entered her first provincial race in 1999, while working as a kinesiologist.

“I was shaking in my shoes. I was racing with all these great riders, and all I wanted to do was get their autograph.”

MacGregor got dropped by the pack shortly after the start of that race, but kept coming back for more.

She tackled national races in 2003 after a few seasons at the provincial level.

The national race circuit is a series of events held throughout North America.  It begins its season in March and wraps up in September.

This summer, MacGregor quit work to follow the tour full time.

“It’s a great way to travel and meet people around the country,” she said. The cyclists often stay with local host families instead of hotels.

This also helps to make the tour a little more affordable for the athletes. Aside from product sponsorship, the athletes aren’t exactly raking in the dough.

A goal for many is to ride for a team where you can get a small salary from your sponsor — something between $5,000 and $10,000.

“You do it for love not for money, that’s for sure,” said MacGregor, frequently breaking into laughter as her “crazy” Quebec teammate, who was the driving the car, careened through the rain-soaked streets.

Apparently, a lot of comradery develops during the North American tour.

“There’s a real sense of community and like any sport it has it’s personalities and it’s politics,” she said.

MacGregor rode this year on a small, four-woman team for AE Sports Development out of Colorado.

However, for the PEI race she was one of five women who came together specifically for the event.

They had never ridden together before.

“It certainly wasn’t an advantage, but the difference from the first day to the last was huge,” she said.

“We really started to work together as a team.”

MacGregor was also part of a larger, national team.

Her 5th-place finish in the time trial earned Canada one point in the UCI ranking.

“These rankings determine how many Canadians get to participate in the Olympics in 2008,” she said.

“Canada isn’t doing that well right now, so it felt good to be able to help out.”

And she wants to do even better.

“I’d like to join a real pro team, do some of the bigger races in Europe, and just continue to improve.

“I’d love to win a medal for Canada at the Worlds, that’s kind of the dream goal.”

She admits that one day she’ll have to go back to the real world, but not just yet.

“I made a commitment to myself, when I got my first racing licence, that I was going to do it as long as it’s still fun.

“I think it’s more fun now than it’s ever been before.”

The Tour de PEI airs on Global on Sunday.