If you’ve ever driven in Coquitlam, you know the hills are steep and long. Thermal Drive, Blue Mountain Street, and others are gut busters. Now imagine biking those hills on a daily basis…after already riding 100 kilometers or more.
Alex Stieda did that for years, finishing long rides back to his house on Gatensbury Street sometimes, he admits, completely shattered. But it forged in him a power and endurance foundation that propelled him to the very pinnacle of the cycling world: wearing le maillot jaune—the yellow leader’s jersey—of the Tour de France.
Growing up, Alex played hockey and became interested in cycling as a form of summer cross-training. He bought a ten-speed from a friend and fixed it up. It may have been the best $20 he ever spent.
With the guidance of Harold Bridge, a long-distance randonneur cyclist, and later coach Baz Lycett, as well as senior riders like Ron Hayman, Alex rose quickly up the Canadian cycling ranks. By 1978 he was winning every sprint and distance event possible at the Canadian national junior championships. At the 1979 world junior track championships, a young Greg LeMond edged him out in the quarterfinals of the individual pursuit. Alex got his revenge years later on the future Tour de France winner in a Coors Classic sprint to victory in San Francisco.
He won his first Gastown Grand Prix in 1980. “I was wearing this green skinsuit that my mom had made,” he chuckled. “I had both hands up and I was screaming across the finish line. That was one of the catalysts to the rest of my career.”
After that Alex was a mainstay for Canada internationally for the next 12 years. He won bronze medals in individual pursuit at both the 1982 Commonwealth Games and 1983 Universiade. He competed for Canada at the 1984 Olympics and won his second Gastown Grand Prix that same year. He became a 15-time Canadian national champion, while recording three top-10 finishes at the UCI world track championships.
After joining the rising 7-Eleven team in 1982 and turning pro in 1986, he was at the forefront of the North American wave that cracked European domination of the sport. On Day Two of his first Tour de France in 1986, Alex bluffed a ‘nature break’ and fooled the peloton of veteran riders.
“I just thought if I could just get away and win some of the time bonuses, then I could move myself up and maybe go into the overall lead. It was a far-reaching goal, but possible,” Alex remembered.
He sprinted out in front and by the end of the stage held the race’s overall lead to claim the fabled yellow jersey, as well as four other classification jerseys. It marked the first time a North American had ever worn the Tour de France’s leader’s jersey. To this day, he remains one of only two Canadians to accomplish this. Alex hung on to cycle through the cheering crowds lining the Champs-Élysées to finish 120th overall out of 210 starters just eight years after taking up cycling seriously. He is remembered today as one of Canada’s greatest cyclists both on the road and track.
Just like those steep Coquitlam hills, not a bad climb.
Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.
To read more on the career of Alex Stieda, please see the April 2020 Curator’s Corner article here: https://bcsportshall.com/curator-corner/alex-stieda-le-maillot-jaune-the-yellow-jersey-2020-inductee-spotlight/