National Championship season is here north of the border with the 2019 Shimano Canadian Cyclocross National Championships taking place on Saturday in Peterborough, Ontario.
The race marks the second-straight year the event will take place at Nicholls Oval Park set along the banks of the Otanabee River. Located about halfway between Toronto and Kingston, Peterborough has been home to dozens of cyclocross races hosted by the Peterborough Cycling Club over the past decade or so. Last year it hosted Canadian Nats and the PTBO UCI C2 the following day, and the club does the same again in 2019.
According to Canadian course correspondent Michael van den Ham (Easton – Giant p/b Transitions LifeCare), the track at Nicholls Oval Park is a relatively well-balanced course, with pedaling sections at the start of the lap augmented by tricky off-cambers and technical features near the river. The end of the lap has perhaps the most technical feature on the course.
“The defining feature, if you want to pinpoint one thing, is a long off-camber near the end of the lap that sent more than a few riders, including me, tumbling down and off the course last year,” Van den Ham said. “It’s followed up by a run slash ride up that, if you can make it on the bike, just about guarantees you’ll come onto the finish stretch with a healthy advantage on whoever you were racing.”
The tumble Van den Ham took last year was largely the result of gnarly, on-brand Canadian Nats conditions. Snow covered the course before the race weekend and it soon turned to ice and mud, making all the off-cambers that much trickier.
There is no snow in the forecast for weekend, but there is rain. It rained on Thursday and there might be more on tap for Saturday. Women’s defending champion and Canadian weather correspondent Maghalie Rochette (Specialized x Feedback Sports) did some forecasting for the weekend.
“From what I see, it looks like it might be wet weekend, so it may be a muddy race,” Rochette said. “We are racing in Peterborough at the same venue as we did last year, so I believe the course will be similar. Last year it was muddy, and I really enjoyed that course. So I guess what I’m saying is I’m not exactly sure what to expect, but that’s what ’cross is all about—you need to be adaptable and ready for everything.”
The Elite races on Saturday are expected to feature some familiar names vying for the coveted Maple Leaf jerseys—and perhaps custom-painted bikes—and some ringers who might be saying “Sorrey,” as they capture the jerseys for themselves.
Elite Women’s Race
The toast of the Women’s domestic racing scene this season has been Rochette. She won the Jingle Cross World Cup and recently swept the two days at Cincinnati Cyclocross. She has a total of 7 UCI wins thus far this season.
Rochette enters Saturday’s race as the defending champion. She won in the snow last year a week after capturing Canada’s first Pan-American Championship in Midland.
For Rochette, the last year has been a good one when she has the champ’s jersey on. “It’s always cool to be able to represent Canada everywhere I race,” she said. “Especially since I feel like the sport is really growing right now at home, and more and more people are racing and watching ’cross.”
2018 was the second time Rochette won Canadian Nats. Even though she has been there, done that, getting the opportunity to have the red jersey as a race-day choice is one she is fully ready for. “Although I’m motivated at most of the races I do, and Championship races represent even more to me, so motivation is not an issue I think!”
Rochette’s biggest competition in 2019 looks like it might be 2018’s breakout star Jenn Jackson (Easton – Giant p/b Transitions LifeCare). Jackson put her name on the cyclocross map over two weekends in Ontario last November, finishing fifth at Pan-Ams and second the following weekend at Canadian Nationals.
A year ago, the plaid-clad Jackson was a carefree mountain biker racing cyclocross for funsies, but this year, she signed with the Easton – Giant p/b TLC program and has been doing a full tour of the domestic UCI scene.
“I don’t really expect any results from myself, but I’m determined and hopeful that I can race well and be one of the best when I go to the start line,” Jackson said about her season. “Being with Easton-Giant and having a dedicated ’cross program, I did feel some pressure to get results for the team, but I still try to just race for myself and do my best to shake things up.”
With Rochette on fire thus far this season, Jackson knows she will have her work cut out for her on Saturday. However, like Rochette, motivation will not be an issue for Jackson.
“Honestly, the only real, meaningful goal I have in cyclocross and mountain biking is to be National Champion,” Jackson admitted. “This year it’s a total long shot with how fast and consistent Maghalie has been. I don’t want to pigeon-hole myself in a runner-up position before the race goes off, but it’d take something extra special for sure. Being second last year was awesome and really inspired me to put more into cyclocross, so now I’m all for trying and do better.”
With Jackson, Sandra Walter (Liv Cycling Canada), Siobhan Kelly (Black Dog Racing) and others gunning for her, Rochette knows that heavy is the kit that wears the Leaf. “The one thing that is certain is that everyone on the start line will want to win that jersey, so I’m expecting a hard battle and I expect I’ll need everything I have to defend the title.”
Elite Men’s Race
While the Elite Women’s race is expected to be a battle between two riders well-acquainted with one another on the cyclocross course, the Elite Men’s race at Canadian Nationals is expected to be a battle between cyclocross specialist Van den Ham and some mountain bike ringers.
This is a common dynamic at Canadian Nationals, with strong mountain bikers representing the country well on the domestic and international stages.
“The last couple years I’ve gone into Nationals being one of the few dedicated ’cross racers in Canada, and people assumed that winning is a foregone conclusion. Well let me tell you now, it’s not!” Van den Ham explained. “People show up ready to go for National Championships, and with the depth of mountain biking talent in Canada, you just cannot take anyone for granted.”
Van den Ham returns as the two-time defending champion. After getting the (very friendly) monkey off his back at 2017 Nationals, the man they can MvdH returned in 2018 and won his second straight. Winning a second title, however, does not mean the whole process gets any easier.
“It seems like everyone talks about winning that first jersey as being a big challenge, but having done that and then having to defend the jersey last year, I can say from experience that showing up and trying to win for a second or third time is a whole lot harder, or at least more stressful,” he said. “It’s not that I have a target on my back or anything like that, although I’m sure everyone would like to beat me, it’s more that I expect myself to win and that can bring a lot of self-inflicted pressure along with it.”
One mountain bike ringer who will not be in Peterborough this year is 2018 runner-up and Canadian cycling legend Geoff Kabush (Yeti – Maxxis – Shimano). The gravel/mountain bike/cyclocross star will be in Michigan to race the Iceman Cometh Challenge mountain bike race on Saturday.
Returning to Nationals, however, is last year’s bronze medalist Marc-André Fortier (Pivot Cycles – OTE). Just 23 years old, Fortier is racing this weekend in Peterborough for very lofty reasons. “I’m racing ’cross because fall is boring if I stay at home doing nothing,” he joked.
Although Van den Ham is super keen to the challenge of the mountain bike ringers, Fortier admitted he still learns from him when he swaps his wide knobby tires for the narrower ones.
“It’s hard to race against MvdH because he is fast and has better skills than I do. He knows how to corner and rides ruts!” Fortier said. “I don’t have any big expectations. I want to have fun and maybe podium again if everything goes well.”
Ralph Auclair (Pivot Cycles – OTE) graduates from the U23 category, where he finished 3rd last year, and is expected to challenge for a podium. Last year’s fifth-place finisher Peter Disera (Norco Factory Team XC) will also be in Michigan at Iceman.
Schedule, #hype, Start Lists
The entire slate of Canadian Nationals races takes place on Saturday. The Elite Men race at 2:45 p.m. EDT and the Elite Women are at 4 p.m. EDT. Check back here for results.
The PTBO UCI C2 races then take place on Sunday.
For a look at last year’s icy, muddy race, check out the #hype video below.
Elite start lists are below.
Elite Women Start List: 2019 Canadian Nats
|Emily Lafleche||Kanata – Canada|
|jennifer jackson||Barrie – Canada|
|Jodi Wendland||Ottawa – Canada|
|Maghalie Rochette||St-Jérôme – Canada|
|Natascha Piciga||Toronto – Canada|
|Sandra Walter||Coquitlam – Canada|
|Siobhan Kelly||London – Canada|
Elite Men Start List: 2019 Canadian Nats
|Alex Schmidt||Vancouver – Canada|
|Alex Lefebvre||Guelph – Canada|
|Alexandre Vialle||Prévost – Canada|
|Andrew Bray||Toronto – Canada|
|Andrew Watson||barrie – Canada|
|Andrew Davidson||Calgary – Canada|
|Anton Varabei||Toronto – Canada|
|Brenton Miller||Dartmouth – Canada|
|Caelum Wishart||Guelph – Canada|
|Cameron Jette||Toronto – Canada|
|Christian Ricci||Oshawa – Canada|
|Connor Gregory||Toronto – Canada|
|Derrick St John||Gatineau – Canada|
|eric jeannotte||St Basile Le Grand – Canada|
|James Fedosov||Guelph – Canada|
|Jared Bone||Ottawa – Canada|
|Jonathan van der Sluis||Thorold – Canada|
|Justin Minicola||Bowmanville – Canada|
|Marc-André Fortier||victoriaville – Canada|
|Mark Fagnan||Calgary – Canada|
|Michael van den Ham||Abbotsford – Canada|
|Mitch Harris||Toronto – Canada|
|Peter Morse||Markham – Canada|
|Ryan Kent||Toronto – Canada|
|Sjaan Gerth||Ottawa – Canada|
|Stephen Kirby||Toronto – Canada|
|Trevor O’Donnell||Oro Medonte – Canada|
|tyler chapman||Ottawa – Canada|