Maghalie Rochette leads the elite women’s field into a tricky corner at 2014 Canadian Cyclocross Championships. © David Lipnowski)

Maghalie Rochette leads the elite women’s field into a tricky corner at 2014 Canadian Cyclocross Championships. © David Lipnowski

The Canadian Cyclocross National Championships takes place this Saturday, October 24 at the The Forks in Downtown Winnipeg.

Rain in the forecast could potentially lead to slick conditions and a hard-fought battle for both the Elite Men's and Women's titles.

On the Elite Men's side, reigning champ Mike Garrigan (Van Dessel/Shimano/Velocolour) looks to repeat. A strong field featuring Geoff Kabush (Scott-3Rox), recently-profiled Raphaël Gagné (Garneau p/b Easton Cyclocross Team) and hometown hero Micheal van den Ham (Garneau p/b Easton Cyclocross Team).

Catherine Pendrel (Luna Pro Team), fresh off of a strong performance at the CrossVegas World Cup, and winner of last year's Elite Women's race, will not be racing. Pendrel has began her push for  mountain bike glory at 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Her absence opens the door for a new champion to be crowned, and all eyes are on her Luna teammate, Maghalie Rochette.

Be sure to tune into the live stream at

The Elite Women & U23 start at Saturday, Oct. 24 at 3:15 PM CDT

Elite Men's coverage begins Saturday, Oct. 24 at 4:30 PM CDT

Use the slider below to read more about the who stands a shot in both the Elite Men's and Women's races to take the coveted Maple Leaf jersey. Be sure let us know in the comments who your pick is!

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Elite Women: Cathrine Pendrel’s Absence Leaves the Door Open for a New Champion. Who Will Step Up?

Pendrel, Rochette and Walter, all riders with a rich mountain biking history, stood on the podium at the Canadian National Championships. © Andrew Reimann

Pendrel, Rochette and Walter, all riders with a rich mountain biking history, stood on the podium at the 2014 Canadian National Championships. © Andrew Reimann

With reigning champion Catharine Pendrel (Luna Pro Team) absent from this weekend’s Shimano Canadian Cyclocross Championships p/b Volvo, attention turns to 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 (Naked Factory Racing) and homegrown roadie superstar Leah Kirchmann (Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies).

Pendrel, who is now dedicated to preparation for the 2016 Olympic Games 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 break-out rides by under the radar women.

“I think she [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.”

The Young Favorite — Maghalie Rochette

Rochette found the right lines through the sand in the UCI race to finish third. © Andrew Reimann

Rochette goes into the Canadian Cyclocross Championships a marked woman. Can she come out with a victory? © Andrew Reimann

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 featured in the top ten 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.”

Her Competition

Mical Dyck: technically adept British Columbian

Michal Dyck testinng out the course, on tubeless tires of course. © Matt Lasala / Cyclocross Magazine

Michal Dyck hopes to use her technical ability to deliver her a podium finish. © Matt Lasala / Cyclocross Magazine

Dyck’s technical skills carried her to best-placed North American at 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 about two weeks ago. “I think it’s just allowing the body to recover and hopefully it’s fast by nationals.”

A muddy course suits her. 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: Winnipeg local heroine

Few would know 25 year-old roadie 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 favourites 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.

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