Q&A with Michael Barry, Toronto’s only cyclist in the Tour de France

Q&A with Michael Barry, Toronto's only cyclist in the Tour de France
Michael Barry (Image: TeamSky)

One of Canada’s two racers in the Tour de France this year is Team Sky’s Michael Barry, who grew up cycling the streets of Toronto. After years of just missing the cut, the 35-year-old cyclist and writer is racing his first Tour—and it’s a doozy. The brutal, crash-ridden race has seen one of his teammates, Simon Gerrans, knocked out of contention with a broken arm. Even the seemingly invincible Lance Armstrong is calling uncle in light of crash-related injuries. Despite the drama, Barry took some time during his resting period to chat with us about the Tour, Team Sky and what’s on his iPod.

This is your first Tour de France. What was it like finding out you’d be participating in the race? I was thrilled and also relieved when I found out. It was a childhood dream to race the Tour, and it is something I have worked toward since I was a small boy. I have been very close to going throughout my career and was a reserve numerous times, so it was a relief to finally make the selection.

Can you elaborate on your role within Team Sky? I am a “domestique,” which essentially means a worker. My job is to keep our leader, Bradley Wiggins, in position and out of the wind so that he is ready to attack at the decisive moment in the race. A cyclist can save 30 per cent of his energy if he sits in the draft of another cyclist. Brad will stay behind me until I run out of energy, and then he will push on to the finish.

Which stages look the most interesting to you this year? The Pyrenean stages will be tremendous from a spectator’s perspective and extremely hard from a pro cyclist’s. The countryside is beautiful, and the courses take us over small rural roads through some picturesque villages. It’ll look fantastic on TV, but we probably won’t see much of it as the mountains are steep and hard. It will likely be stinking hot, and we will be worn from over two weeks of hard racing.

What do you make of all the crashes at the race so far? The crashes have made the racing a lot tougher. Virtually half of the peloton is covered in bruises and cuts. The race has been chaotic since the first day. Every rider knows the stakes are high and is nervous as a result. That nervousness causes crashes as riders overreact in dangerous situations or push the limits too far in others.

And of having your teammate Simon Gerrans injured? Simon had some very bad luck and was involved in three bad crashes. The final crash ended his race, as he broke his arm, but, heroically, he finished the 190 kilometre stage as he didn’t want to give up. When he left the team hotel, I was heartbroken for him, as I know he had trained and sacrificed for months to be in top shape for the Tour. You never want to see your teammates or friends injured. To see their goals collapse as a result of those injuries is even more difficult.

What is the most difficult aspect of a race like the Tour de France? The routine of racing three weeks straight and being away from home and living in hotel rooms is draining. There are few moments when we aren’t moving or thinking about the race and what we need to do to be ready. I get tired from the intensity of it all. But the most rewarding aspect is reaching the finish line and sitting in the team bus with my teammates knowing the job has been done as well as possible.

What is your diet like? Sadly, we don’t get to indulge in moules frites, but we do have our own chef to ensure we get good quality food that is well cooked and tasty. I find the simple things the most satisfying: good fresh bread, which our chef bakes daily, good olive oil and sea salt. Or bread, cheese and honey. We eat quite a simple diet that is easy to digest, caloric and healthy.

What kind of music do you find particularly inspiring while training? I listen to a little of everything. There are about 6,000 songs on my iPod, and often I will just put them on shuffle and absorb whatever is playing: hip hop, classical, rock, pop or electronic. When warming up for a race, I listen to electronic music with a progressively intensifying beat.

How do you feel about Toronto as a biking city? Do you have any favourite cycling areas? Although the city is a chaotic place to ride, I still love it. There is something I find thrilling about riding in traffic once I find the flow of it all. I discovered Toronto on a bike when I was a young kid. As a result, when I was a teenager, I realized I knew a lot more about the city I lived in than my classmates. On a bike, I was free, which was a great feeling as an adolescent. I like riding in the Don or Sunnybrook as much as I do up Avenue Road or Yonge, as my senses are fully engaged in either environment.


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