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  • Writer's pictureCarey Tate

Louise Armaindo: Pioneer in women's cycling hailed from Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue.

The women are off to the races in the famed Tour de France Femmes bicycle race, as the men's leg of the Tour wrapped up in Paris on Sunday. A lesser-known cyclist from the West Island has been attributed the title of one of the first professional women athletes and a pioneer by many, especially Ann Hall, from the University of Alberta in Edmonton, whose book 'Muscle on Wheels' details the life of this famed bike racer.

PHOTO: McGill-Queen's University Press

Louise Armaindo, born Louisa Brisbois or Brisebois on October 12, 1860, in Ste. Anne de Bellevue, was a fascinating figure and a trailblazing athlete. She was a prominent circus performer and high-wheel bike racer. Like many circus performers, she adopted the stage name Louise Armaindo and created her own fictional biography and background to enhance her persona.

As soon as women's cycling started to gain popularity as a paying sport, Louise Armaindo embraced the opportunity and learned to ride high-wheel bikes. By 1881, she was showcasing her riding skills at the Wilkinson Bicycle School. She wasted no time challenging other women riders to races, offering enticing prizes such as "$100 in the pot and race me 25 miles, or $250 and we'll race 100 miles." Elsa von Blumen was one of her prominent rivals throughout her racing career.

PHOTO: McGill-Queen's University Press

During the early days of women's cycling, it was challenging to find legitimate competitors. As a result, women riders would sometimes compete against horses or receive a head start in races against men. Nevertheless, despite these limitations, Louise Armaindo displayed incredible physical performances. In one notable race in 1882, she covered over 600 miles in just 72 hours (riding for 12 hours a day for six consecutive days), setting a new American long-distance record.

Louise Armaindo's illustrious career spanned several disciplines in the circus and sports world. She started as a strongwoman, then transitioned to become a trapeze artist, followed by a pedestrienne (long-distance walker), and finally excelled as a high wheel racer. Throughout her athletic journey, she shattered speed and endurance records, leaving a lasting impact on the world of sports.

Despite her remarkable accomplishments and tough persona, Armaindo's professional athletic career came to an end when she was nearly 40 years old. She had been a professional athlete since she was 14, and her legacy as a pioneering female athlete in Canada remained unparalleled.

SOURCE: Ann Hall, 'Muscle on Wheels.'


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