Canadian CX Champs – Winnipeg Rocks!

CDN CX Champs Photo by Peter Kraiker - cropped

Winnipeg put on a fantastic show for the 2014 Canadian Cyclocross Championships, October 25-26. I knew they would, which is why I decided to buy a plane ticket and compete in my first out-of-province CX race. Plus, Shimano Canada pimped my TCX W with an Ultegra Di2 gruppo and C35 carbon tubular wheels, so I was extra-pumped to test myself against the country’s top female ‘crossers.

And test myself I did. The course at The Forks in downtown Winnipeg was an awesome CX track – world class, in my opinion (which has been formed through watching Euro CX races on YouTube). It featured a smorgasbord of terrain: grass, dirt, sand, pavement, cobbles. It challenged all skills and elements of the sport, from fitness, tactics, cornering and bike handling to climbing, running, jumping and dismounting/remounting. To be honest, it didn’t play to my strengths, but this was a cyclocross race, not a mountain bike race. ;)

I cruised through several laps the day before the main event, and with every loop, I felt more and more comfortable, although I’m not sure “comfortable” is the right word, especially as I exited the stair runup after the second sandpit, which had been dubbed “Vomit Corner” by someone very eloquent. The latter part of the course contained a lot of challenging bits all rolled into a short distance: fast singletrack descent, followed by steep uphill grunt, followed by sketchy loose dirt descent with a sharp right-hander onto pavement, followed by a big (and I mean big) step up to lead directly into a steep (and I mean steep) loose soil runup, followed by two sand pits, followed by aforementioned stair runup. Whew, I’m feeling a little queasy just recalling it.

The mood on the start line was upbeat as we were treated to dry weather with even some sunshine. A chilly breeze was going, but I’m not going to complain. The weather could have been seriously different in late October in Winnipeg. The race is a bit of a blur to me. I remember it started off like a stampede with Anna Schappert taking the holeshot, I believe (Nice)! I tried to stay near the front and stay on good wheels. I remember Catharine being behind me for a while, calculating, biding her time – you know how she is. I recall Magahlie crashing and then I was second place on Mical’s wheel for a while, which was very exciting, until Catharine made her move and blew it apart. I rode with Magh for a while, but then she took off and Mical took off and I was alone, chasing and being chased. I never saw Mical, but I must have passed her when she was in the pits, because I heard at one point that she had crashed. I was bummed for her, but now I was now back in the medals. Every lap hurt more and more, especially those darn barriers, which felt like they were 10 feet high. I think that in ‘cross, if you’re under 5’3, you should be allowed assistance (i.e. a Minion to lift the bike over the barriers for you), a step ladder, or lower barriers. I think I’ll petition the UCI for that. Same with the big step up the retaining wall off of the River Walk and into the first runup – I really could have used a grappling hook by the end.

But I digress. I stayed on the gas, as I knew Natasha and everyone else was chasing hard and I could still see Magh up ahead. Feeling the pressure, I made an error on a 180-degree uphill grass corner and went down, cutting my knee. Undeterred and spurred on by the fans (including Barry in the Beer Garden, Maggie in the pits, trusty Coach Keith, the awesome crowd on the runup, the stellar Bikes and Beyond crew in the expo, the Shimano guys over by their wicked big blue setup, and the Local Ride boys wherever they were) I bounced back up and continued to give’r, successfully defending the bronze medal position and scoring my first Canadian Championship medal in a cyclocross race and my third Canadian Championship medal this season! It was also a super feeling to share the podium with my fellow mountain biking competitors, friends, and MTB Worlds roomies Catharine and Maghalie.

A bunch of us went out for a nice dinner that night, which was a fun way to get together after the race and then we checked out the after party, which featured old CX videos, loud music, and a bunch of cyclists bobbing up and down… but bedtime came soon after, since there was another race to go!

Day two featured the Manitoba GP of CX on the same course. Conditions stayed similar, but someone decided it was important to make things harder, so they had someone stand in the sandpit, raking between races to keep it loose and sketchy. Thanks. Since it was a UCI race, several fast international women came up to compete, which was super cool, but it definitely made the race harder. I guess I was still gassed from the previous day’s effort (I’m not used to this double-header business) and I had a lackluster race, getting shelled from the front and riding alone all race to finish seventh. Oh well, I gave it my all (which apparently wasn’t all that much), but I was happy to have that bronze medal from the more important race. The vibe was just awesome and I was excited to be a part of the whole thing.

The organizers put a huge amount of effort into creating an event for everyone and the location – an open air market near the downtown of a major city – allowed for lots of walk-by spectators. Before our race call-up, they broadcast video interviews from the previous day. It was a bit weird listening to myself on the loudspeakers as I made my way to the start box, but I thought it was a cool feature. Throughout the race, there was live commentating that could be heard all over the course as well as a live online feed so my parents could watch from home. It was just so well done and with so much enthusiasm. Those guys have definitely set the bar extremely high. They even had their own signature beer brewed by a local microbrewery for the event!

It was super-fun travelling and staying with Rich and Brett from Local Ride Racing. Those guys are a riot. They are also fast and both put in great efforts on the weekend in a very stacked field of elite riders. We were also treated so well by the crew from Bikes and Beyond – a local Giant dealer. They picked us up from the airport, drove us around, gave us socks, sheltered us, and were basically great hosts. Thanks Craig, Rudy, Katie, Phil, and everyone else at the shop for being so darn awesome! I’ll definitely be back for next year’s event – and I’m sure I’ll have a few more folks in tow!

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