Men to watch at the Canadian ’cross championships

A number of riders are expected to be in the mix at this weekend's national championship in Winnipeg.

The quality of the men’s elite field starting the Shimano Canadian Cyclocross Championships p/b Volvo this Saturday promises a ferocious fight for the national title.

Defending champion Mike Garrigan (Van Dessel/Shimano/Velocolour) continues to fire off the fast start that launched last year’s victory. Former champion Geoff Kabush, intent on his SCOTT-3 Rox team carrying off a maple leaf jersey, arrives in Winnipeg with teammates also able to contend for the podium. Michael van den Ham is pumped by his new Red Truck-Garneau-Easton Cyclocross Team and is in good form. Raphaël Gagné, also of Red Truck, lines up after a career-best mountain biking season. Last year, Kabush and van den Ham placed second and third, respectively.

A number of other riders could land a podium spot, especially if the forecasted rain batters the 3.2-kilometer course or if scenes from 2014 replay. Last year, a rider slid out ahead of Kabush on the now infamous off-camber corner lurking early in the circuit during the first lap. The delay forced Kabush to expend energy chasing. He and van den Ham hunted solo leader Garrigan, but lost the battle by two nail-biting seconds.

Two long, fast segments may provide an advantage to the SCOTT-3 Rox outfit or Red Truck, both of which bring three men. Riders will mash through 70 meters of sand and roll over gravel, dirt, cobblestones, wood, pavement, and slippery lawns. The course design resembles that from the 2014 edition of ’cross nationals, with two flyovers and more sand added.

Virtual spectators can follow improved live streaming of the elite and U23 women title races as organizers have increased camera coverage. Live streaming continues for the elite categories on Sunday in the Manitoba Grand Prix of Cyclocross, which is wrapped into the Shimano Canadian Cyclocross Championships weekend. Canadians and an expanded international field will contest the UCI C2 race. The coverage can be found at

Mike Garrigan: Defending champion

The man from Ontario Province who now lives in New York has raced nearly every weekend on the U.S. cyclocross circuit the past few seasons and his resume lists UCI podium results. His speedy start in Winnipeg last year kept him out of trouble during the first pass around that tricky grass corner. He’ll celebrate his 34th birthday on race day.

In recent racing at the Gran Prix of Gloucester and the KMC Cyclo-cross Festival in Providence, Garrigan placed mid-field and got a hole shot. He has said his fitness is lagging somewhat, but he seems optimistic nonetheless.

“I’m certainly motivated,” he told Canadian Cycling Magazine. “If I don’t think about fitness or training, and just think about my motivation levels, they’re very high, as well as my excitement and confidence for nationals.”

Geoff Kabush: Wiley veteran

In 2014, Kabush relinquished the national ’cross title but found redemption the following day at the Manitoba Grand Prix of Cyclocross, which he won by outfoxing van den Ham in the finale. At age 38 he’s as motivated as ever for the win.

“This MTB season was frustrating and challenging so I definitely still have some motivation heading into the cyclocross season,” Kabush said. “A good result at nationals would certainly be nice and something I am ready to fight for.”

The five-time Canadian cyclocross champion said he hasn’t managed heaps of training lately. But he’s been racing the fat tire bike at home and abroad. At CrossVegas, he felt great but ran into problems and ended up 48th.

“I’ve stayed healthy, which is the most important thing,” Kabush said. “There is no doubt the goal heading to Winnipeg is to come away with a jersey for the team. It is definitely going to be a more competitive race this year, so I hope I have the legs to fight for the win.”

Michael van den Ham: Hometown favorite

Van den Ham set his personal performance bar high last year with a stunning debut in the elite category while he was a full-time university student. Now graduated, the 23-year-old has more energy for ’cross and more UCI racing under his belt. He rates his current condition as on par or better compared to the 2014 early season.

Since coming in fifth at The Night Weasels Cometh in Massachusetts on the wheel of past American champion Ryan Trebon, he crossed the line in ninth place at Providence, which he ranks among his best results.

Van den Ham and Gagné have worked well together this fall and believe strength in numbers should count on Saturday.

“On a course like Winnipeg’s and with a team as strong as ours, I think we can work together to give ourselves a pretty good chance of winning the race,” van den Ham noted. “That could mean trading attacks, going early, or setting up for the sprint.”

Raphael Gagne: Trail blazer

Gagné loaded up on personal firsts during the 2015 mountain bike season and if he wins in Winnipeg, he’ll add another to the list. Going back as far as 1997, no man from Québec Province has won at ’cross nationals. Gagné could pull it off, even though he skipped the 2014 ’cross season. He took four UCI wins in 2013 and this year in Gloucester he plowed through a large field to finish in the top 10 after a back-row start.

Gagné will look to flex his technical skills this weekend; while light in ’cross mud experience, he suspects the muck suits him. The only time he entered cyclocross nationals was in 2010 when, without a spare bike, he ended up 17th after flatting. This weekend he can count on a second bike.

Potential party spoilers

Aaron Schooler (Focus CX Team) flies back to Canada from his current home in Germany because he means business; he’s finished in every top five spot over the past four years except for first. Evan McNeely (Norco Factory Team), a three-time U23 ’cross national champion, finished fifth in 2014.

Geoff Kabush’s SCOTT-3 Rox teammates Cameron Jette and Derek Zandstra placed third and fourth, respectively, in 2013. Jeremy Martin (Louis Garneau Québec) finished third in the Sea Otter ’cross race in April. The third Red Truck rider is Craig Richey; he is 31 years-old, took up cyclocross competition in his 20’s, and just scored a top 10 at Trek CXC Cup. Mark McConnell, nicknamed “Hot Sauce” for the caps he sells to fund European cyclocross campaigns, is a reliable top-10 finisher.