About 250 cyclists took part Friday afternoon in a silent memorial ride in honour of cyclist Clément Ouimet on Mount Royal, where the 18-year-old man was fatally injured Wednesday in a collision with an SUV.
The ride up Camillien-Houde Way was organized by Cyclovia Camillien-Houde, a group that's been lobbying to make the road car-free on Sundays throughout the summer.
"It's very moving right now to see all the people showing up because we want to give a last homage for Clément, who just died too fast, too soon," Marc-Antoine Desjardins of Cyclovia Camillien-Houde told Radio-Canada, holding back tears, as the group prepared for the ride.
"It's like a part of us died," Desjardins added, explaining that many cyclists like the challenge of biking the winding road that cuts through Mount Royal and offers striking views of the city.
Ouimet, a promising road cyclist who raced with a Montreal team called ThePACK and with Espoirs Élite Primeau cycling club in Laval, was coming down the mountain just south of the lookout on Camillien-Houde when an SUV travelling ahead of him suddenly made an illegal U-turn.
He couldn't stop in time and hit the vehicle. Ouimet suffered a head injury and was rushed to hospital, where he died late Wednesday night.
Police are still investigating, and it's possible the driver will be charged.
Sea of helmets
Cyclists stood for a minute of silence before launching the memorial ride, raising an arm up for Ouimet.
A sea of helmets bobbed up and down as the riders, many of whom knew Ouimet, began the two-kilometre climb. The vigil ended in the parking lot near Beaver Lake.
Several of the cyclists tucked bouquets of flowers into their backpacks and jerseys. One of them, Virginie Gauthier, is a member of the Espoirs de Laval cycling team that Ouimet joined this summer.
"We're living a real nightmare," Gauthier told Radio-Canada. "It feels a little surreal, but what reassures me is to see to what point Montreal's cycling community is mobilizing itself to hope to create a change that should have happened 10 years ago.
She said she and her teammates "fell in love with Clément in the first week we met him."
"He was a young man that was smiling, who was there for his teammates, who was really passionate about cycling … Getting on his bike every day was a way of life, it wasn't just training," Gauthier said.
Gauthier said the lack of stop signs for vehicular traffic on Camillien-Houde make it easy for drivers to exceed speed limits, leaving cyclists especially vulnerable.
Cyclist recalls 'horrible scene' after crash
Cyclist Pascal Marcoux happened upon the scene shortly after Ouimet collided with the SUV Wednesday.
"His bike was destroyed. It was a horrible scene," he said.
Marcoux returned there Thursday to lay flowers at a makeshift memorial that's sprung up in memory of the cyclist.
Marcoux said he bikes the stretch two or three times a week to train and sees vehicles making U-turns "all the time."
"There are signs, but people are nuts," he said. "It's incredible."
Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, who is campaigning for re-election, said he's putting together a working group to look at the idea of limiting through traffic on the mountain.
Drivers would be able to access Mount Royal park and the lookout, but it would be impossible to cross from one end of the city to the other over the mountain.
Marcoux said he would welcome such a move but would settle for a ban on all traffic on the mountain on Sundays so cyclists can do their thing without worry.
"In an ideal world, it would just be permanently off-limits to cars. That would be wonderful, but hey," he said.
Dream of safer city for cyclists
Gabrielle Anctil, spokesperson for Ghost Bikes Montreal, said earlier Friday the group would be attending today's memorial ride for Ouimet.
She said whether a white ghost bike is erected at the scene of the collision is up to the young cyclist's family.
"For us, it's really important to respect their will," Anctil said.
As to the dangers for cyclists riding on Camillien-Houde, Anctil said they are well-known, and cycling advocates have been calling for measures to curtail traffic there "for years and years and years."
Anctil said she would welcome a move to limit through traffic, but she also hopes the current election campaign will go beyond political promises and generate a more profound reflection on the kind of city Montreal should be.
"I think it's the time for us to come together and say 'let's build a city that's safer for vulnerable road users,'" she said.
"I would dream of seeing that city come to life."