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Winnipeg gears up to host Canadian national cyclocross championships

Top cyclocrossers head to the Canadian prairie for three days of racing on a downtown course

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WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Winnipeg, a small prairie city, will aim to surpass all previous editions of the Canadian national cyclocross championships at the end of October with a downtown venue that will bring cyclocross to the people.

Canada’s national cyclocross competition has a 25-plus year history but 2014 will be the first edition to run as a three-day festival similar to American ‘cross races. On October 24, the Kick Cancer Cyclocross Derby launches the weekend with community races and clinics. Serious competition ensues with the Shimano Canadian Cyclocross Championships on October 25, and the weekend concludes with a UCI C2 race on Sunday, the Manitoba Grand Prix of Cyclocross international.

The Forks park in the heart of Winnipeg will host the event, offering gravel paths, deep sand, grass, pavement, cobblestones, and riverfront elements for a dynamic and fast course.

Riders will experience a circuit with an in-town feel similar to venues in the Belgian motherland of cyclocross, which organizers hope will introduce the sport to thousands.

Racing where the public plays

The Forks first held a cyclocross competition in 2013 with Manitoba’s provincial championships. Current women’s elite Canadian cyclocross champion and mountain bike world champion Catharine Pendrel is familiar with the venue and scheduled to compete in both days of elite racing.

“Races are always better when we can draw large crowds and share our sport,” Pendrel said. “I like it when people that have never watched a bike race can happen upon one and check it out and meet the people that devote their lives to it. I think the downtown venue will add energy to the riders, races, and the crowds.”

Pendrel, and the rest of Canada’s elite field will battle for red and white maple leaf jerseys on Saturday. Maghalie Rochette and former Canadian champion Mical Dyck will line up. On the men’s side, current elite champion Geoff Kabush and reigning junior and U23 champions Willem Boersma and Michael van den Ham are set to compete, as well as last year’s elite podium finishers Aaron Schooler and Cameron Jette.

Elite riders expected to challenge Canada’s best at Sunday’s Manitoba Grand Prix of Cyclocross include Americans Ellen Noble and Jeremy Durrin, as well as top British rider Gabby Durrin.

With Winnipeg located within a day’s drive North of Minneapolis, the UCI race is expected to draw Americans as well. The Forks will also host a Friday night relay race pitting Canada against the U.S.

Fans can view online livestreams of the weekend’s elite races plus Saturday’s U23 and junior men’s competitions via Canadian Cycling Magazine.

A Canadian approach to cyclocross

This year’s Canadian championships take place earlier than the typical November calendar slot, and much earlier than the traditional schedule for national cyclocross championships that sees most nations, including the U.S., race in January.

“Last year we ran them in the last week of November,” said Nicholas Vipond, competition coordinator for Cycling Canada. “But generally [on] that weekend, Winnipeg is under two feet of snow and minus 20 Celsius.”

Canada’s numbing December cold can deter even the most hardened cyclocross racers from training and racing outdoors. So the Canadian ‘cross season generally extends from September through November. Strong local series thrive around Vancouver and Ottawa, Vipond said, and Quebec, Ontario, and Manitoba also offer provincial series.

A shorter season, significant distances between population centers, and accessibility for many Canadians to a robust number of American races leads most invested in the sport to the same conclusion: holding one or two big annual events is a better approach than building a national cyclocross series.

With the recent cancellation of the one-day UCI C2 Cyclocross de Rimouski, the national championship is Canada’s only UCI event, and surely the country’s biggest cyclocross event.

“It’s great to have big events at ‘home’ because they connect our community,” Pendrel said.

“For me it’s a chance to get to know some of the up and comers, the organizers and families behind the racers. For developing riders, they get exposed to what bigger, faster races look like and can challenge themselves at a higher level without the challenges of international travel.”

True to both grassroots Canadian cyclocross culture and European tradition, local brewer Half Pints will supply a Belgian IPA called “Dead Ringer” which it created uniquely for the Shimano Canadian Cyclocross Championships.