It was just after midnight during a 1,200-kilometer cycling event in the French Pyrenees when rider Vince Sikorski felt something hit his left shin.
“I was alone and saw it out of the corner of my eye,” recalls Sikorski (’81 Pharm.). “In the ambient light, I looked down and saw a lump attached to my ankle. ‘What the hell is this thing?!’ I thought. As I ripped it away, I felt a sting in my finger and saw a drop of blood. I’d been bitten.”
At the next checkpoint, he explained the situation to the volunteer who guessed it was a bat and took Sikorski to a clinic. There, a nurse assured him that the risk of rabies in France is very low and not to worry.
About that time, however, he texted wife, Susan Maasch (’76, ’81 DVM), in Bend, Oregon. Alarmed, she quickly consulted with veterinary friends and together, they made a plan to intercept Sikorski along his route. Twenty-four hours later, he was whisked to a hospital in Toulouse for post-exposure rabies prophylaxis.
“I used to worry about him falling asleep, crashing, being hit by a car,” Maasch says. “Now, I need to add bitten by a bat to my list. Cycling really makes him happy, but I won’t be sad when he gives it up.”
On the fateful day that Sikorski finally hangs up his helmet, thousands of new riders will hit the pedals in what continues to be one of the world’s most popular and fast-growing sports. In the United States, Washington leads the pack, named most bicycle-friendly state by the League of American Bicyclists for 12 years running.
Whether that’s green commuting in Seattle, singletrack fun on Mt. Spokane, riding the Sacagawea Heritage Trail in Richland, or participating in high-stakes international competition and touring, cycling offers something for almost everyone.
It’s been 25 years of fun-filled adventure for world-class cyclists Sikorski and Maasch, including learning to pack, ship, and assemble single and tandem bikes. So far, the couple has toured France, Spain, Italy, Ireland, Scotland, Portugal, Slovenia, Croatia, Taiwan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Canada, and parts of the United States. In all, they’ve logged around 75,000 miles on five different tandems.
“I started cycling as a student at WSU,” Sikorski says. “I had a cheap Sears bike and I’d ride it out to my job at the radiation center on breaks between classes.”
Maasch also rode at WSU but became serious when the couple moved to Everett and eventually started touring. “One of our first trips was to China in 1985 soon after it opened to foreigners,” she says. “In 1986, we went to New Zealand and rode 1,600 miles in six weeks. It was exciting—it’s an awesome feeling when you realize you’ve gone that far under your own power.”
“It’s a stress reliever,” adds Sikorski. “We were both starting demanding careers in medicine. Then, in New Zealand, I’d get up in the morning and my biggest concern was, ‘Am I going to get a cold beer at the end of the day?’”
This August Maasch will cheer on Sikorski as he returns to France for his seventh solo ride in the Paris-Brest-Paris Randonneur, another 1,200-kilometer timed ride that is held every four years.
“It’s a challenge. You ride nonstop,” he says. “It’s really fun to watch the sunset and hours later, watch it rise again. It takes up to 90 hours to complete, so you don’t get to sleep much. I usually finish in about 70 hours. It’s very hilly terrain.”
“There’s nothing else like it,” says Maasch. “The French are out there cheering in the middle of the night. They give food and gifts. They have a hose if it’s hot and kids come out with boxes of cookies. Even if they ride through some little town at 2:00 a.m., there will be a bunch of drunks outside the bar cheering at them. The French love cycling and participate however they can.”
That exhilaration and inspiration are duly shared by Chris Dugan, a senior in social sciences and two-term captain of the WSU Cycling Team. Dugan is one of the University’s most dedicated competitors in the Northwest Collegiate Cycling Conference, but his eyes are on a bigger prize—the Tour de France.
“I started riding when I was five, chasing that dream,” he says. “I’ll never stop until I get there.”
Though Dugan admits taller, larger riders have the advantage in sprints or flat road races, he dominates as a “climber” on hills. Last spring, he won a tough race at the Montana Bobcat Classic in Bozeman.
“The race was 30 miles long and then a three-mile climb almost straight up,” he says. “Even my parents came to watch that one.”
Dugan trains about 60 miles every day, mostly on hills. Fluent in Spanish, he was first inspired by former professional Spanish cyclist Alberto Contador as well as Nairo Quintana, a Colombian climber whom Dugan says reignited cycling for that country and has become a national hero.
“I want to reinvent competitive cycling for the United States—that’s my ultimate goal,” says Dugan. “In the Tour de France, there are no longer any all-American teams or American team captains that are climbers. To win it, you need to be good at climbing.”
If all goes well, Dugan hopes to be in the Tour de France by 2024 or 2025. Cougs from every nation will be cheering.
More information about cycling in Washington at Washington Bikes.