While most of the South Island paid little attention to the recently announced routes of the 2016 Giro d’Italia and Tour de France, Saanich cyclist Jordan Landolt did the same.
The difference is that Landolt will actually be on some of those routes this summer. The 28-year-old spends the summer and fall season every year guiding “cyclist guests” through the scenic stages of all three Grand Tours (Italy, France and Spain) as a seasonal bike tour guide for Trek Travel.
“We are known as tour guides but are also luggage sherpas, language translators, shuttle drivers, wine connoisseurs, local historians, cycling partners, motivational speakers, bike mechanics, bartenders, problem solvers and just smiling faces making folks comfortable on their bike in a foreign place,” says Landolt, who just finished his fourth year as a guide.
It means ignoring the burn of his own legs and lungs and encouraging his physically exhausted guests (paying customers) to complete the final two kilometres of the gruelling summits of a Grand Tour.
Of course Landolt already loved tour cycling when he applied for the job in 2012. The former Saanich Braves junior player had moved on from hockey after a few pro seasons in Switzerland and, still in his early 20s, found long-distance cycling during a three-month trek through the U.S.
On a whim he applied to Trek Travel and beat out dozens of contestants in a survivor-type job application scheme.
“I flew to Wisconsin with 25 other hopefuls and after a rigorous full-day interview of team-building activities, public speaking, bike mechanics, picnic prep and role playing, they narrowed it down to 10 of us,” he said.
The rest of the week was spent learning and training, and by the end of the week, seven had jobs, including Landolt.
“Five days later I flew to Italy to guide my first trip in the Dolomites at the Giro D’italia. That year, Ryder Hesjedal won and I had no idea who he was.”
By 2013, Landolt was heavy into guiding – doing it 10 months of the year – and was beginning to take cycling seriously enough that he might consider racing. It happened during an impromptu ride during a day off in Mallorca, Spain in 2013.
“I was riding with another guide and through a mutual friend, we ended up meeting with Gerald Ciolek and Linus Gerdemann, then of African pro team MTN-Quebeka. Not household names here, but the German Ciolek was popular in Italy when he won the historic 2013 Milan San Remo (a race won seven times by cycling great Eddy Merckx).”
In cycling speak, Ciolek and Gerdemann were in world class form when, according to the code of cycling, Landolt jumped to the front of the group to “take some of the wind for the fellas.”
“It was a windy day and on a long flat stretch. As we turned the corner and out of the wind, [Ciolek] looked me up and down from my beat-up touring shoes to my second-hand ‘80s sunglasses and said, ‘You’ve got an engine…..lose some weight and you could probably be a strong time trials guy.’”
When he came back to Canada, Landolt sought coaching and found Houshang Amiri of the Pacific Cycling Centre and the Accent Inn/Russ Hays team. Then in 2014, Landolt won the 2014 B.C. elite time trial cycling championship.
Not bad for recreational tour guide.
“Amiri provided the necessary fine tuning and training [that led to] winning the B.C. time trial,” Landolt said.
Even if Landolt never wins another race, he can’t downplay a fateful moment like that. Later that summer Curtis Dearden of the Accent Inn/Russ Hays team won the Canadian national time trial championship. Landolt had the motivation and the service of coach and mentor Houshang Amiri (Pacific Cycling Centre).
Although tour guiding is mostly at a recreational pace, it also can provide some good impromptu training intervals, Landolt said, such as chasing down a lost guest who missed a turn or pushing a physically and mentally depleted guest the last two kilometres of Italy’s Stelvio (a climb so gruelling it’s only been in the Giro d’Italia four times).
Climbing the Stelvio, for those unaware, isn’t a Sunday ride. It’s the highest summit of all the Grand Tour.
“[Our] experience gets you so close you feel like you are part of it… cycling through the flocks of fans en route to the finish line just hours before the pro peleton.”
From there, the guests take a turn standing on the official podium before grabbing a cold beer and watching the nail-biting final kilometres on TV before the stage winners cross the line just meters away.
“Working as a guide with Trek Travel has taught me the foundations of cycling…” Landolt said. “More than anything it has taught me to challenge myself and to do things that scare me and feel the satisfaction of completing them or at least having the courage to try them. The 2014 B.C. ITT was a memorable and satisfying day for me, but first, or last, I would have been just as proud and content at the fact that I was there and gave it a shot.”