I wore the ‘White Jersey’ (from the Gap), pressed the pedal to the metal and sipped wine with olympic cycling champion, Steve Bauer.
Steve Bauer has great calves. The Canadian Olympic Cycling silver medalist who rode in 11 consecutive Tour de France races, wearing the coveted ‘yellow jersey’ as leader in the 1988 and 1990 races, isn’t even sweating.
He is leading a group of 25 intrepid cyclists on a sweltering Saturday as part of Steve Bauer Bike Tours – a 32 km full day excursion to several of Niagara’s most delightful wineries.
Personally, I am very relieved to discover that 14 of the tour participants are a group of doctors from Markham-Stouffville Hospital. The fact that most are gynecologists still means they have medical training and that they probably remember CPR from medical school or what to do about heat stroke and dehydration. I decide to inhale and not swallow at the wine tastings.
Bauer, who grew up in Fenwick, Ontario near St. Catherines, retired from competitive racing in 1996. In 2005 he was inducted to the Canadian Olympic Sport Hall of Fame and as well the Canadian Sport Hall of Fame. It was his Belgian-born wife, Annick who pointed out that the Niagara area was as conducive to scenery and wine production as many regions in France that annually attract thousands of cyclists from around the world.
“When I finished up my racing career, it left a void in my life but I just didn’t want to go into coaching because that would take me away from my children,” explains Bauer who has two children from a previous marriage. When Annick and I started to talk about the lifestyle in Niagara- the Shaw Festival, wineries, great restaurants and hotels that attract so many fit, active people to the area, the lightbulb went on.”
The two partners have built up their business slowly over the years and strategically allied themselves with well- known hotels, wineries and bed and breakfasts in the area to target individuals and corporate groups who are looking for an exciting and healthy break from conferences or meetings.
“Our versatility is our strength,” explains Bauer. We will work with groups to put together side trips that include a variety of interests including Niagara Falls or both cycling and hiking to accommodate all skill levels. It’s amazing how people underestimate their own abilities and we make enough stops for lunch and wine tasting to make it very enjoyable. Our support vehicle always drives along with us and we don’t lose people,” he laughs.
Base Camp is ‘The Yellow Jersey’ the Bauers’ bike shop and cafe in Queenston Village where we saddle up Schwinn gold and black bikes for our trip. Leading with my stomach, I less than discreetly ask what time we eat a picnic lunch (prepared by the chef from Queen’s Landing) after the wine tour of Chateau Des Charme. No fear of dehydrating or noshing along the way because Bauer’s attentive staff on bikes and in the Ford Explorer support vechicle, keep us in cold water, Power Bars and fruit throughout the day. I figured the protein from the bugs I was ingesting from panting through my mouth would tide me over until lunch anyway.
I have finally learned the meaning of the expression, ‘going nowhere fast’. Don’t get me wrong. We did go somewhere and with great enjoyment. But twenty-three bicycles had passed me by the time we reached our last stop at Marynissen Estates. (But I knew I’d have the last word.) My husband made me promise not to mention that he was in the Israeli army but would ride with me anyway. And, I’m very proud to report that I arrived back at “The Yellow Jersey” without resorting to tossing my bike into the back-up vehicle for the last 8 km along the Niagara River.
For die-hard cyclists, Bauer creates trips to the Giro d’Italia and shadows the Tour de France Luberon Valley including an attack on the 2000-ft Mont Ventoux before the race then arranging passes to VIP tents and mingling with the international cyclists in Avignon. (I can mingle extremely well.) And in 2017 he has designed a Beer in Belgium cycling tour.
“The thrill of the technical decent is amazing,” he enthuses.“We shadow the race through France, the central valley of Switzerland to the Vosage foothills in Alsace and finally along the Champs Elysees to the finish.”
“This is always a nostalgic trip for me,” admits Bauer.” I’ve raced the terrain so many times – a finish here – a spill there- but I give my groups my expert insight into this amazing event.”
(Postscript to readers: Do you know that those doctors on the Niagara Winery tour never spit the wine out when they taste?)
TOP PHOTO: Steve Bauer (left) with cyclists in Paris. Photo: Steve Bauer Bike Tours
For information on Steve Bauer Bike Tours Inc. in Niagara and his guided trips to the Giro & Tour de France: Steve Bauer Website