“You know what’s so special about the bike tour. The jacket. You can’t buy this jacket. The only way to get it is to earn it!…”
We are at the top of a mountain in Austria in early October. The rain has been falling all day and the wind is up so that the raindrops fall almost vertically. The rider who has just spoken those words has just arrived at the lunch spot. He is soaked through to the skin and has spent the morning riding 90km through Czech forests and up and down Austrian mountains. It is the first day of riding and he is already in pain, but he is smiling. “I f****ing love the bike tour!” he grins.
By the end of today the bike ride will reach the River Danube and follow its course to the city of Linz. For those who have not trained as much as they should have the intense weather and aching muscles are proving difficult, but there is a gritted determination to carry on going.
Say the words ‘Medical Cannabis Bike Tour’ and what is the image that comes into your head? For most people it’s probably a lazy stereotype image of hippies on old bicycles smoking big joints on a slow ride to getting lost…. For people who know the bike tour however, for people who have followed it, for people who have ridden in it, the image is very different.
The bike tour is a sporting event, a 3 day sportive that takes place over 420km, approximately 140 km each day. It is rarely an easy ride. There are mountain climbs; like the Garaff mountain ascent from the third tour in Spain, a feature in La Vuelta bike race, or the 12km/800m steep climb from Kransjka Gora in Slovenia. There are perilous roads; some little more than animal tracks to truck heavy highways of northern Italy in tour 5. Even the flat riding isn’t easy; from the wind and beating sun of the Spanish plains to the strong headwinds on the canal paths of Holland in tour 4.
Look at the field of riders and the volunteers who make up the support team. Amongst them you will find people of all ages, backgrounds and nationalities. Yes, there are people involved in the cannabis industry, but also many who are not. Yes there are people who use cannabis, but also many that don’t. There are dispatch riders, law students, an anthropology professor, a teacher, a medical supplies provider, a tourist operator…
“This is the best week of my year,” says one of the German riders who is on his second tour. “I didn’t know what to expect when I first rode, but now I do. There is such a magical atmosphere, a real spirit of unity which I have not experienced on other bike tours. The cannabis element makes a difference – smokers are naturally friendly! – and the fact this tour is international brings a very special dimension.“
The riders and volunteers on MCBT 2017 are a mixed bunch of nationalities – Dutch, German, English, Canadian, French, Italian, Austrian, Czech, Thai – and although the predominant language of communication is English, pigeon Spanish, French and German also peppers conversations as the group mixes together in the hotel each night. By the end of the tour deep bonds of friendship have been formed and the sense of comradery one feels is impossible to really explain. You often hear participants talking about a ‘family’ vibe on tour and it’s why so many people return.
According to one of the Canadians, someone who rides a lot, “Normally when you have a bunch of riders at an event like this it tends to end up in a race. On the Medical Cannabis Bike Tour it is not like that. The victory is actually in the taking part and that is something that is very unique to this tour.”
This sentiment is echoed by other riders, from the best – some of who have competed before – to those who have only recently taken up cycling. Each year approximately 50 riders take part in the Medical Cannabis Bike Tour (it began with just 2 riders in 2012, and the highest number of participants has been 80). Each day, the ride tends to separate between groups, with a very fast peloton (averaging 35 – 40km p.h.) setting the pace and the rest going at their own pace. It is a tradition for the tour to end as one unified peloton for the ride to its final destination.
From a distance the tour is an impressive sight. The yellow jerseys carry the names of the companies that sponsor the tour which adds to the sense of occasion. When a pack of riders sweeps past they catch the eye and it is interesting to study the reactions of passers-by. At first sight they see only yellow jerseys and sports people on bikes… it’s only when they look closer that they see ‘cannabis’ in the logos.
“Sometimes you even catch people doing a double take,” says one of the English volunteers, as he waits at a junction to direct cyclists on a detour. “Seeing cannabis and sport together is a real mixed message. Hopefully they will go home and tell their family and friends what they have seen, do some research, have a rethink about cannabis.
It happened to me. I lost both my parents to cancer and was frustrated by the treatments they were given. I read stories about cannabis and cancer and did some more research. I am certain that cannabis can help with cancer, but stories on their own don’t carry as much weight as scientific evidence. When I read about the work of the Spanish scientists and the tour, I became enthused. My first tour was such an adventure I keep coming back!”
Over the past five years donations to the bike tour, mostly in the form of sponsorship, have raised 450,000€ in funds for a unique clinical trial that will treat glioma (brain cancer) patients with a combination of cannabinoids (THC and CBD) and anti-cancer drugs. The trial, expected to begin in 2018, will test the research of Dr Guillermo Velasco and Dr Manuel Guzman from the Complutense University, Madrid, which has achieved impressive results in laboratory conditions – shrinking and even killing cancer cells in mice.
At the lunch spot, volunteers from the support team are giving out sandwiches and bananas. One of them rolls a joint for a rider whose fingers are so cold he can’t roll his own! The lead group have already finished eating and are ready to continue their journey, but they hear some shouts and stop. Looking back down the mountain they see another group coming in to lunch, almost an hour behind the first, the strain of the gruelling ascent showing on their faces.
The lead group turn in their saddles and add their voices to the shouts of encouragement, clapping and cheering. The new riders reach the finish point and unclip their shoes from the pedals. The relief is evident and they grin and high five those around them. The rider who reached the top of the mountain at the beginning of this report, turns and tugs at his jacket. “What did I tell you?” he grins. “It’s all about earning this! It’s all about the people. It’s all about the Medical Cannabis Bike Tour!”
More information about the bike tour and its cause is available on www.medicalcannabis-biketour.com.
You can also see videos from the tour on the Medical Cannabis Bike Tour Youtube channel.
Day 1: Frymburk, Czech Republic – Linz, Austria
Distance: 139 km
MCBT in Czech and Austria, in October? Hmmmm, people said, the weather could be a factor… And they were right!
Yesterday we arrived at our base camp in Frymburk, in Bohemia, Czech Republic. The sky was blue and the waters of the lake were calm. But in the night, the rain came…. and it didn’t stop.
We have never seen such a wet and cold start to the bike tour. Rain falls hard all morning as we circle the huge Lipno Reservoir, Autumn’s yellow leaves falling on wet roads. At midday,the tour crosses the River Rotbach and into Austria.
As with every first day the ride is a strange mixture of adrenaline and fatigue. But today is something else. In the mountains the wet riders get cold quickly. They must keep moving. Some veterans of 5 bike tours say this is the toughest MCBT day they have ever ridden!
But the bike tour pushes on, eventually breaking through the mountains. At Aschacan an der Donau, we get the first sight of the mighty River Donau and at last the rain stops. The riders’ best friend now, the river leads the tour all way to our first stop in Linz.
Day 1, you were not the kindest to us, but it was a day we will not soon forget! Roll on Day2!
Day 2: Linz – Emmersdorf
Day 2 and no rain. It’s a happy bike tour day today! We say goodbye to Linz and pick up the River Donau as we continue our journey through Austria.
From Linz the bike tour follows the river valley before leaving to climb up into the hills of Upper Austria, passing through small villages and farm country where locals stop to wave as the peloton speeds past, the trees displaying their Autumn splendor.
And today the peloton IS speeding! The riding conditions are perfect. Quickly the day forms into two main groups. “Tarmac like glass,” says one rider…
After lunch the route returns to follow the mighty River Donau, riding along the banks of the river valley, through wine country and to our Day 2 destination, the village of Emmersdorf.
Good spirits today and great vibes to take away the fatigue, the aches and pains of two days in the saddle. Team MCBT is ready for Day 3 and the last 130km of this great adventure… Vienna is calling!
Day 3: Emmersdorf – Vienna.
It is the final day of the bike tour and this is the home run… all the way to Vienna. Leaving Emmersdorf we ride along the river passing the vineyards that this part of the region is famous for.
Despite the aches and pains, expectations are high and spirits are high… This tour began with the weather of nightmares, and finishes with the weather of dreams! Perfect cycling conditions again today.
The MCBT is all about testing yourself, pushing the boundaries, chasing the challenge… For this reason there are two (and a half!) mountains to climb between lunch and home.
The tribes gather at the final rendezvous – teams from Canada, Holland, France, Slovenia, Germany, UK, Czech Republic, Italy . For the final 10, we ride as one unified peloton, an awesome convoy of riders, until we reach the finish line at the Cultiva 10th anniversary expo.
Medals for the riders and a check for Dr Guillermo Velasco from the University, Madrid who will be overseeing the clinical trials we are funding. And so another bike tour is finished, but the adventure continues…
420km, 3 days. Riders, volunteers, sponsors, film crews, we salute you! It’s been a blast! 😉