Long before Ryder Hesjedal became Hero of the Giro by winning the 21-day Giro d’Italia, another Victoria cyclist thrilled the sporting world.
His parents named him William John but in the 1930s the world knew him as Torchy.
Early in his racing career, a reporter wrote “a flame-haired youth led the pack like a torch.” The nickname stuck, soon to be emblazoned in headlines.
Torchy Peden became a household name, his winning personality and feats of stamina making him a favourite of spectators and sportswriters. The New York Times described him as “carrot-topped, raw-boned, happy-go-lucky.”
Mr. Peden emerged as a champion of six-day bike races, gruelling events during which two-men tag teams duelled for supremacy day and night, day after day. The events were popular in the Depression, when, for a few cents, a person could come indoors for a few hours of entertainment, as cyclists went round and round.
Torchy showed prowess in these “weeklong rides to nowhere,” as the newspapers called them, winning 38 of the endurance events, far more than any other rider. He made as much as $50,000 a year and was known as the “King of the Sixes” and the “Babe Ruth of Bicycle Racing.”
Mr. Peden was known to whoop and holler as he raced around the steeply-banked wooden tracks. Sometimes, he snatched a hat from a spectator in the front row, wearing the item for a few laps before returning it without breaking rhythm. He’d also wear an item of women’s clothing, or write a letter, or eat his meals while atop his bicycle, anything
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