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Wendy Simms (Ridley-FSA) and Chris Sheppard (Rocky Mountain Bicycles p/b Shimano) won the Canadian national cyclocross championships on Saturday.
The race took place on a twisting course through Cedarvale Park in Toronto, with riders cheered on by cowbells, vuvuzela and a chorus of barking dogs, confined in a nearby enclosed off-leash dog-walk. Neither of last year’s elite champions (Geoff Kabush and Alison Sydor) were here to defend so both races for Maple Leaf jerseys were wide open.
A cool day, overnight frost on the grass made parts of the demanding course slick and more technical. As the afternoon came, the sun shone to help dry off parts of the course, the shaded areas were still a challenge, one off-camber section in particular.
The start is the key
A larger than usual elite women’s field took to the course at 2:30 p.m., with some talented MTB racers testing themselves as well. While Sydor didn’t race, Catharine Pendrel and Emily Batty took to the course and showed they have maintained their fitness well into the “off” season.
Eventual winner Simms (Ridley-FSA) got the hole shot, and stayed in the lead group for the duration. Pepper Harlton (Team Alberta/Juventus CC) and her teammate Katy Curtis were the only riders to even challenge Simms.
Natasha Elliot (Garneau-Club Chausseres), who won Day No.2 of the recent UCI race in Toronto, spent the entire race chasing, working hard to close gap as did Mical Dyck (Trek Canada). Pendrel got off to a slow start and had to work her way back up toward the leaders (6th after the first lap).
Simms and Curtis were able to shed Harlton after she slid out on a corner around the middle of the race. With one lap to go Harlton and Elliott were chasing the leaders, less than 20 seconds behind, and Pendrel was still clawing her way back.
Pendrel kept her pace high, and was able to pass both Elliott and Harlton to reach the third step on the podium. A slip on the still slick off-camber section nearing the end of the race cost Curtis any chance of the victory, giving Simms a small gap which she took to the line.
It ain’t over till it’s over
The men had a 60 minute race, with the temperature dropping and the sun hiding behind clouds. A good sized crowd was on hand, most of them at either the beer tent by the barriers or at the top of the steep climb that tested the riders early in each lap.
The fast start saw Aaron Schooler (Team H&R Block) get the hole shot taking Nathan Chown (Handlebars Cycling Company), Kevin Noiles (La Bicicletta Elite Team), Shaun Adamson (Cycle-Smart, Inc) and a select group with him. Notable in the group were Mike Garrigan (Independent) and Sheppard (Rocky Mountain Bicycles p/b Shimano).
A fast pace saw lap times hover around the 8-minute mark and attrition quickly set in. Schooler kept the lead for a few laps with only Sheppard and Garrigan able to stay with him by the end of the second trip through the park.
Attacks by Sheppard, and to a lesser degree by Garrigan, put Schooler in difficulty and by the fourth lap he was off the back. Garrigan struggled and fought to get back on, and the two leaders were on their own.
The two men attacked one another a number of times over the closing laps, but neither was able to open a decisive gap. Heading into the final lap, the two began the strategic games as each sought to find an advantage. Most observers fully expected a sprint finish … until misfortune struck.
With less than half-a-lap to go, just before the barriers, lady luck abandoned Garrigan as he rolled a tire, forcing him to make a quick and temporary repair. Sheppard kept the pace as high as he could and he soon had a dozen seconds on Garrigan. Meanwhile, Schooler was closing the gap, as Garrigan was now forced to ride the turns delicately. Despite picking his way through the closing section, Garrigan was able to hang on for second, though clearly disappointed at missing the chance to contest for the win.
- 1. Wendy Simms, Ridley-FSA
- 2. Katy Curtis, Team Alberta
- 3. Catharine Pendrel, Luna
- 4. Pepper Harlton, Team Alberta-Juventus Cycling Club
- 5. Natasha Elliott, Garneau-Club Chaussures-Ogilvy Renault
- 1. Chris Sheppard, Rocky Mountain Bicycles p/b Shimano
- 2. Mike Garrigan
- 3. Aaron Schooler, Team H&R Block
- 4. Derrick St. John, Garneau-Club Chaussures-Ogilvy Renault
- 5. Craig Richey, Cyclocrossracing.com