From his vantage point on the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame podium, Coquitlam’s Alex Stieda can trace much of his athletic accomplishments to the grinding run up Gatensbury Road.
As a member of the Class of 2020, the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame inductees unveiled on Tuesday at BC Place, Stieda said his roots in a sport that has brought him so many huzzahs were imbedded in his Coquitlam childhood.
“I grew up on Gatensbury (Street), right beside Como Lake. After every training ride, I had to ride up that hill to get home,” Stieda recalls of his regular route during his teenage years. “To this day I think that had a real effect on my character. In the winter when it’s pouring rain, it was five degrees and you’re soaking wet and frozen cold, and I still had to go up that hill.
“I can remember going up that hill one block at a time, then doing a circle in a block then attacking the next block, circling a block and attacking the next block. Being at the end of my rope and still getting home. I think that built a lot of character.”
The Port Moody portion of Gatensbury, designated a road, was where he burnished a lot of his uphill skill, and was an early tease to some of the biggest rides he’d take in a successful cycling career.
The Olympics, Commonwealth Games, European pro tour, and the first Canadian to ever lead a portion of the Tour de France – all these resonate in sports achievements.
Reaching those pinnacles were all possible because of the support and good fortune that the young Stieda found in his community.
“The cycling history came from my mom’s side, and a neighbour two houses down was Harold Bridge, the president of Cycling BC at the time. He was two doors down in Coquitlam, so what were the odds?” he says. “He started taking me on rides and showing me how to ride, how to pedal and how to be a good rider.”
Bridge guided Stieda to the China Creek velodrome in Vancouver, a remnant of the 1954 Empire (now Commonwealth) Games. That’s where 16-year-old Stieda met Baz Lycett, a former British national champion who inspired and coached him to further heights.
Already accomplished on the national stage, Stieda was told by Canadian cycling pioneer Ron Hayman that the obvious next extension was against the world’s best, a continent away. It was an unlikely patron that stepped forward. The family, which included three younger sisters, just didn’t have the funds to send him off on such a wild journey.
The day’s political leaders were willing to buy that ticket.
“The national team didn’t help pay for it – Coquitlam city council came up with the $500 to help pay for the flight. I landed in Lahr, Germany and made my way to Belgium and tried racing for two months,” he said. “I actually did very well. But my family didn’t have the money to pay for that flight, but Coquitlam city council came up with it, and I will never forget that.”
Cheered on by his family, friends and teammates, the Coquitlam rider would garner many road wins along the way, including as a pro with the 7-Eleven cycling team.
That’s where, in 1986, the 25-year-old held sway in five of the second day’s events – the first North American to achieve such a feat. On the pro circuit from 1986 to 1992, Stieda raised his game and represented his country proudly.
Nothing prepared him for his debut, however, where the grueling realities of climbs and saddle sores don’t always add up to a first place finish.
“That first race I did was a tour of Sicily as a full professional. I’ll never forget riding up Mount Etna, doing laps in the snow and the rain, freezing cold, getting to the finish line and seeing full-time, hard core pro bike racers crying at the finish, because their hands were frozen,” Stieda recalls. “I couldn’t believe it. Was that what professional cycling was all about? I didn’t know.”
Standing on the stage Tuesday with the likes of wheelchair curler Sonja Gaudet, baseball’s Jeff Francis, football’s Brent Johnson and hockey’s Kirk McLean brought home the connectivity to community for the Edmonton resident.
In his adopted Alberta home, Stieda helps train the next generation of riders, enjoying the youthful enthusiasm and excitement they bring to the pedals every day. Whether it’s competitive or recreational, the sport has given him so much that he loves giving back.
So with such a career honour, it all came back to his home roots.
“It’s a great honour, to be inducted with the people who are inducted (today) and those who have been inducted… I believe it’s also a tribute to the village that raised me as a cyclist. It’s not about me, it’s about the people who were there for me all through the years. It’s not always rosey as an athlete. The people who supported me, my family, my friends, my teammates were there through it all.”
The 2020 class also includes Coquitlam’s Bill Mitchell in the builder-coach category, for his work on the provincial and national wrestling circuit.