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Ask Oli: An ode to the van ride

Endless miles and countless memories from summers spent on the road

Ask Oli Van Ride

While driving in the team van to the Cascade Cycling Classic in June, an overwhelming feeling of nostalgia swept over me as we navigated the distantly familiar winding roads of Oregon.

Every summer for the past eight years has been filled with rides just like this one. However, none of them had knowingly been my last. This one, on the contrary, would quite possibly be my last trip of the like.

In silence, I reminisced, recalling some of the many tens of thousands of kilometres I’d driven in North America and even a few thousand in Europe. It’s often been said that the van rides would be what I missed most. Moments sweating next to smelly team mates in putrid vans for 16 hours at a time somehow being very valuable experiences.

Early on I recall driving from Winnipeg to Chicago several times each summer. Sometimes we sat for hours in the heat, often growing restless and resorting to beating the living crap out of each other, climbing over the benches to do so. My head was sometimes held under a moving blanket while my ribs were ticked, and despite the torture I could blindly land a foot on the face of my opponent, pressing their head against the window. I’m sure passersby were startled by the ‘TEAM MANITOBA’ decals accompanied by the compressed face of a teenage boy in the window above.

Ask Oli Van Ride
The team vehicle on a more scenic stretch of Idaho highway. Oliver Evans

Years later, a breakdown outside of Vegas and the need for a new transmission stranded me for three days on the Northern side of Sin City.

I remember the van overheating on the Trans Canada on the way home from mountain bike nationals in Canmore circa 2012. In the midst of a heat wave, we lost air conditioning and cranked the heat to save the engine, while twelve kids stuck to each other in the now mobile sauna.

Once, after the team absolutely dropped the ball at a crit we had felt destined to win in Los Angeles, we drove in deafening silence along the dark freeway having had our boss’s expression of disappointment toward us compound with our own. Frustrated by our congruent sadness, I retrieved some beers I had received from the race commentator, and proceeded to pour them into our team issue protein shakers (this was the first and only time I ever used mine) for my fellow passengers. I plugged Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” into the van, and slowly all the guys lifted their heads, took a sip of their beer, and began to sing with me.

The infamous drums erupted midway through the song, and we proceeded to belt the lyrics in tone-deaf unison – the perfect release of our frustrations. This moment, I recall with a smile, was one of a very few that year where I felt a part of my team.

The memories go on – there’s 8 years worth. I’ll miss creating more. But these are the times, through breakdowns, defeat, hope, debates, countless sing-alongs, scraps, and jokes, during which I got to know my teammates and see much of the world through a fingerprinted window.

A rite of passage for any Canadian cyclist. The worst times that later become the best memories.

A ride in the van is of equal importance to a ride on the bike during our development.