Trio of riders lead women’s field at Canadian ’cross nationals

Maghalie Rochette, Mical Dyck, and Leah Kirchmann are all expected to be in the mix this weekend in Winnipeg.

With reigning champion Catharine Pendrel of Luna Pro Team absent from this weekend’s Shimano Canadian Cyclocross Championships p/b Volvo, attention turns to her teammate Maghalie Rochette as the overall favorite in the elite women’s match.

The deal, however, is far from sealed.

Rochette faces not only strong, well-known opponents on October 24 but a Winnipeg course proven to put underdogs within reach of the podium. Top contenders include 2012 champion Mical Dyck of Naked Factory Racing and homegrown roadie superstar Leah Kirchmann of Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies.

Pendrel, who is now dedicated to preparation for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, dominated last year by combining speed with consistent technical skills in sections that waylaid her rivals.

When asked about the implications of starting without Pendrel, Dyck mentioned Rochette as the one to beat, outside of breakout rides by under-the-radar women.

“I think [Rochette] will definitely be driving the pace and she’ll be the one I’m going to have to try to hang with, outsmart, and out-power. She’s young and she’s strong and she’s really good,” Dyck said. “I know she’s very driven to win it.”

Sneaky Winnipeg course

The showdown will unfold on a 3.2-kilometer course like the 2014 design in The Forks marketplace and adjacent park in downtown Winnipeg. The landscape presents little elevation change save a dip down to the river, a steep run-up, and two flyovers. Dyck calls it “sneaky technical.”

Last year, Dyck and Rochette slid out on the same off-camber grassy corner in a lumpy section near the start/finish area. Rochette lost multiple positions in no time; then she bogged down on a suboptimal line in the long sandpits and lost Pendrel for good. The Luna rider finished runner-up. Dyck placed ninth.

This year, racers will churn through more sand, about 70 meters total, followed by stairs. A bidirectional flyover replaces double barriers and the route adds an out-and-back trek on an old railway bridge. A new flyover looms at the crest of the steep run-up. “That’s really going to hurt,” Dyck noted, “because that run-up hurt as it was last year.”

Pedaling sections link the off-camber grass and sand areas. Riders will again traverse varied surfaces: sand, grass, gravel, dirt, cobblestones, wood, and pavement.

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 Canadian Cyclocross Championships. Canadians and an expanded international field will contest the UCI C2 race. The coverage can be found at

Maghalie Rochette: Heir apparent from Quebec

In Rochette’s third year of competitive cyclocross last season, she became the inaugural women’s U23 Pan American Cyclocross Continental champion. The 22-year-old recently finished in the top 10 at the CrossVegas World Cup and the KMC Cyclo-cross Festival in Providence.

At this weekend’s title race, she intends to avoid last year’s mistakes and is treating the event as a fresh opportunity, unencumbered by painful memories of second place.

“I am extremely motivated and super-excited to have a shot at it again this year. My goal is to keep it clean and to have a good strong race. Of course, a new jersey would be very cool,” Rochette noted.

“I have never won a ‘real’ national champion’s jersey. I have been U23 champion, but in ’cross, when you are a woman, it doesn’t mean much as you can’t wear it all season. This year, I will be racing elite and it would be a great honor for me to wear the maple leaf on my back for a year.”

Mical Dyck: Technically adept British Columbian

Dyck’s technical skills carried her to finishing as the best-placed North American (12th) at the 2015 cyclocross world championships in Tabor. This season, she completed CrossVegas and KMC Cyclo-cross Festival mid-field or better. But she’s prepared for ’cross nationals and should go in rested, following a formula that worked well for Tabor.

“I’ve done some pretty good, hard training. I’m definitely really tired right now,” she said earlier this month. “I think it’s just allowing the body to recover and hopefully it’s fast by nationals.”

A muddy course suits Dyck. Dicey conditions may arrive if the forecast for rain holds true. She’d love to double-up on the title, though considers any podium spot an excellent result given the competition. The 33-year-old is wary of dispensing too much energy early on. She might need to weigh that risk if Rochette blasts off from the gun again.

Leah Kirchmann: Local Winnipeg heroine

Few would know that 25-year-old roadie Leah Kirchmann became the 2013 Manitoba provincial ’cross champion on a course resembling the national title circuit, and for good reason. Her ’cross experience consists mostly of some junior outings. So she’s been practicing cornering, run-ups, sand maneuvers, and more. Kirchmann intended to contest cyclocross nationals last year but an injury landed her a live coverage commentary role instead.

She’s counting on technical skills from mountain biking and power on the fast sections. The other favorites would prefer not to sprint against her on the paved finish; she’ll have to foil their attempts to dispatch her beforehand.

“I’m not putting too much pressure on myself for the event. My focus is on having fun and riding as technically well as I can, and I’ll see what kind of result I end up with,” Kirchmann explained. “That being said, it would be a great accomplishment to stand on the podium in a hometown race.”

Kirchmann grew up near The Forks circuit. Along with local Anna Schappert, the Manitoban could draw reserves from a mighty cheering section. During the weekend she will host another Fast and Female coaching session with girls from the community.

Talented hopefuls: Sandra Walter, Anna Schappert, Cindy Montambault, and Natasha Elliott

Walter (Liv Cycling Canada) claimed third place in 2014. A multiple-time Canada Cup winner, her technical skills can lead to the podium again. Schappert (Dark Red Racing) is 24 and just returned to Winnipeg with a 10th place from the Trek CXC Cup. Coming from Quebec Province are Montambault (CVM 2 Vals) and Elliott (Red Truck-Garneau-Easton Cyclocross Team). Montambault placed 5th at mountain bike nationals in cross-country and won a Canada Cup race this year. Elliott finished fourth at 2013 and 2014 ‘cross nationals and earned a 10th place at Gran Prix of Gloucester in September; she is 37 years-old.

Women’s U23 competition

Several 16-year-old rising talents should shine as they vie for Canada’s first cyclocross championship for U23 women. Sidney McGill (Juventus) finished 33rd at CrossVegas and is a current U17 mountain bike champion. Ruby West (Centurion Next Wave) placed in the top 10 in the elite field at September’s Nittany Lion Cross. Maggie Coles-Lyster (Local Ride Racing) holds U17 track titles. McGill, West, and Coles-Lyster were the top three riders in last year’s U17 non-championship battle.