The UCI typically schedules UCI cyclocross national championships for the second weekend in January. However, the organization does allow nations to hold their championships earlier if climate or other factors present a good reason to do so.
Canada is sometimes jokingly called the “Great White North” because of its chilly, snowy nature, so it is not surprising the UCI allows Canada to hold its National Championships in November. Even with the November date, “The North” received a boatload of snow in 2018 and provided true “Canadian Cyclocross Conditions” for the 2018 Championships.
Saturday’s 2019 Shimano Canadian Cyclocross National Championships in Peterborough, Ontario did not have the on-brand snow of 2018, but that did not mean the racing was any less intense and exciting.
For two years now, Canadian Nationals have taken place at Nicholls Oval Park in Peterborough. Peterborough is located about halfway between Toronto and Kingston, and the venue is set on the banks of the Otanabee River.
With the venue set near the river, the course featured two levels and a steep hill thanks to the river valley. The beginning of the lap on the upper part was flat with a focus on power, and the run-up and challenging off-camber near the river presented a challenge at the end of each lap.
“The course was very Euro in feel, for lack of a better term,” Canadian course correspondent Michael van den Ham (Easton – Giant p/b Transitions LifeCare) said. “Lots of big, long power sections split up by fairly technical features. It was one of those courses where there wasn’t any one place to launch an attack, rather attacks had to come throughout an entire lap and gradually where down however you were riding with.”
It probably would not be a November in Ontario without some discussion of the weather. Although there was no snow, there was rain. It rained on Thursday and then drizzled on Saturday morning.
As cyclocross has shown, conditions can change from day-to-day and from race-to-race in a given race day. That was the case on Saturday in Peterborough as a dry-ish course for the opening Elite Men’s race quickly turned slick and greasy for the Elite Women’s closer when heavier rain started to fall.
Heading into Saturday’s races, the defending champs Maghalie Rochette (Specialized x Feedback Sports) and Van den Ham speculated about whom their top competition would be in their National Championship races. Rochette said Jenn Jackson (Easton – Giant p/b Transitions LifeCare), Van den Ham chose Marc-André Fortier (Pivot Cycles – OTE).
Both predictions proved prescient as the heirs apparent to the Maple Leaf jerseys gave the defending champs everything they could handle Saturday afternoon.
With the Elite Men racing first at Canadian Nationals, they get first billing in this (rather friendly) race report.
With the rains not yet picking up, Michael Van den Ham described the conditions for the Elite Men’s race. “Our conditions were what I would call Belgian dry. As in, there was still moisture in the ground, still a couple of muddy sections, but you just know that all the Euro guys would be running some sort of Grifo, Mix or Typhoon—I ran Vittoria Terreno Wets—because, well, that’s dry for them!”
In the first lap of the eight-lap race, the ’cross-dedicated Van den Ham led the way, and Marc-André Fortier and Trevor O’Donnell (Lakeside Storage / Bicycles Plus) joined him at the front. Alexandre Vialle (Toyota St – Eustache) chased 7 seconds behind the lead trio 1 lap in.
In Lap 2, Van den Ham and Fortier broke from O’Donnell, creating the expected 2-man battle between the cyclocrosser and the mountain bike ringer. “I know before the race started that Marc-Andre was going to be my biggest competition and pretty quickly that proved to be true. Within about a lap it was just the two of us of the front and, for the first couple laps anyways, he was marking my every move,” Van den Ham said.
Although he does not race much cyclocross, Fortier did not back down in the face of racing Van den Ham in his natural habitat. Fortier took the lead spot in Lap 3 and upped the pace. Perhaps red-lining a bit, Van den Ham hit a rut the wrong way and went crashing to the ground. About halfway into the race, Fortier had a 13-second lead on the defending champ.
The question for Fortier was whether or not he could go solo for five laps to capture the big win. “He made a mistake, and I found myself in the lead with a 15-second lead 20 minutes into the race,” Fortier said. “I thought it was too early to go all-in to keep that gap, so I kept a high pace but nothing crazy.”
We saw last year at the Pan-American Championships where Van den Ham put in a valiant effort to catch Curtis White, and on Saturday, the two-time champ found himself facing a similar challenge.
“The first thing that happens when you crash is always frustration and anger, but once I got over that bit I managed to get my head in gear and slowly start reeling him in,” Van den Ham said. “Dylan was yelling time gaps from the sidelines at about four different locations around the course, so I had a pretty good sense of where I was compared to him.”
Van den Ham made the catch as the riders passed through the start/finish straight with three laps to go.
Not content with just making the catch, Van den Ham went to the whip. “At the moment he caught me, he put the hammer down and then the pace was high. We were both in the red zone,” Fortier said.
For most of the penultimate lap, Fortier showed the heart of a champion, sticking with Van den Ham’s every move. “Turns out Marc-Andre wasn’t really to give this thing up yet and despite attacking him at just about every opportunity for an entire lap, I couldn’t get rid of him,” Van den Ham said.
The race’s key moment happened near the run-up at the end of Lap 6. With Van den Ham finally opening up a small gap, the at-the-limit Fortier went down. A few seconds became a 13-second lead for Van den Ham.
The next two laps, Fortier would get no closer, allowing Van den Ham to capture his third-straight National Championship.
“I mean, it’s pretty hard to be anything but happy with the race,” Van den Ham said about the win. “I certainly made it a little harder on myself by falling over early in the race, but I guess I can’t complain about how it ended up! Like I was saying before the race, Marc-André was fit and motivated and that I wasn’t going to be able to take the Maple Leaf home again without a fight and he certainly proved that this weekend. These things aren’t getting any easier to win, but I sure don’t plan on giving it up anytime soon.”
Fortier finished second to improve on his third-place finish from a year ago.
“I think it was a really exciting ’cross race. Tight, slick and unpredictable,” Fortier said. “I have mixed feelings. A podium is what I was aiming for, so that’s good and I’m happy about it. But also, I was so close that I feel disappointed to miss it by so little. It was a good battle, I think I left everything on the track and I couldn’t have done much better.”
Vialle and O’Donnell battled well into the race for the third podium spot before Vialle got a podium-earning gap in Lap 7 to finish third.
See below for full race results.
Van den Ham now heads to Midland looking to score some revenge for 2018 and add a Pan-American Championships jersey to go along with his collection of Maple Leaf jerseys.
While the course was “Belgian Dry” for the Elite Men, the top Elite Women had one word to describe the conditions for their race after rain started to fall in Peterborough—”Greasy,” said Jenn Jackson.
“In the second half of the lap, there was a lumpy grass descent with a sharp uphill right-hander at the bottom, which then wrapped around to a long off-camber before the final,” Jackson said when describing one of the tough features. “It was slimy and really wet with the constant downpour, but not heavy deep mud that makes you swerve to steer.”
“It never got super muddy, it was just greasy enough that you had to pay attention,” Maghalie Rochette agreed.
The Elite Women’s race was expected to feature two riders who have been racing against one another since Rochester back in September. Rochette has gone all-in on cyclocross and has had the results to show for it, with a Pan-Am and Canadian Nationals double in 2018 and her first career World Cup win in September at Jingle Cross.
Jackson is relatively new to cyclocross after breaking through in a big way last November with a fifth at Pan-Ams and second at Elite Canadian Nationals. The cross-country skier turned cyclist raced the full World Cup XCO scene over the summer and has now fully embraced cyclocross as a part of the Easton – Giant p/b Transitions LifeCare team.
As Jackson indicated in our preview, she knew she had her work cut out for her with Rochette on top-level form this year, but as they say, anything can happen and that is why you race the races.
With some Canadian women such as Mical Dyck and Catharine Pendrel opting to skip Canadian Nationals this year, the Elite Women’s field was a rather small seven riders. That did not necessarily affect the beginning of the race, as Rochette rocketed out and set the pace early as she has also done against much bigger UCI fields this season.
“I wanted to start fast and see who was going to follow. I kind of knew Jenn Jackson would bring her A-game, and sure enough, she really brought the battle to me,” Rochette said.
After Rochette’s fast start, Jackson showed she was prepared to throw caution to the wind a bit and take advantage of her mountain bike background on the greasy, technical second-half of the course. Jackson pushed the pace, and Rochette now had to follow. Also joining the duo at the front one lap into the six-lap race was Sandra Walter (Liv Cycling Canada).
“Jenn seemed to be faster than me in some technical sections, so after a lap, she took the lead,” Rochette said. “I got on her wheel and recovered for a bit, but I realized that if I wanted to win, I’d have to put pressure from the front.”
When Walter went to the pit in lap two, Rochette and Jackson used the opportunity to break free to start the two-up battle everyone was expecting to see. On a course with a bit of a split personality, Rochette and Jackson were each excelling in different parts, leading to the two yo-yo-ing at the front for the next few laps.
“I couldn’t match Magh on the open pedaling sections, which there was a lot of, but I was making up time through the back half of the course where there were some more tech and climbs,” Jackson said.
Halfway into the race, Rochette and Jackson were still together. With 25 minutes down, Jackson was just 25 minutes from pulling off the upset and earning that new Maple-Leaf-print Hawaiian shirt.
Rochette’s power, however, would prove to be too much, especially on the top, flat part of the course. “As we got into the second half, I was getting pretty cross-eyed trying to keep up on the working sections and then instead of making back time through the technical pieces started losing time with mistakes and the gap just steadily opened up,” Jackson said.
“I rode hard when I could and kept it safe in the technical stuff,” Rochette said. “Eventually, I opened a gap, and I kept pushing to make sure it would stick. It wasn’t an easy race at all, in fact, it was a great battle, so it was super fun.”
In that fourth lap, Rochette opened up a 10-second lead on Jackson. In the next lap, the defending champ extended her advantage to 24 seconds, and she would not look back from there to take her second-straight title and third Elite title overall.
“I’m super happy about how I raced. It’s super cool to be able to represent Canada for one more year!” Rochette said. “It’s not easy to win a championship race, especially when you come in trying to defend your title, but I’m happy about how I managed my nerves and how I raced!”
Jackson finished second for the second straight year after giving Rochette all the hell her cookie-powered legs bring to bear.
“As much as I wanted to win, I knew it was a long shot with how Magh has been racing this year,” Jackson reflected. “It was still a shot though, so I took it, and it was awesome to have this battle with her, especially at Nationals. I did have a lot of fun and hopefully, I can keep improving and continue to race against and alongside Maghalie more often!”
“National Championships matter a lot to me, and bringing extra for the big races is something I’ve done well at this year, so I’m glad I was able to find my best for this one.”
Walter finished third to round out the podium.
Full results are below.
Rochette now heads to Midland looking to defend her Pan-American Championship title this weekend, and Jackson looks to have another special day at the race that put her on the North American cyclocross map a year ago.
Elite Women Results: 2019 Canadian Cyclocross Nationals
|Rank||BIB||Last Name||First Name||Result|
Elite Men Results: 2019 Canadian Cyclocross Nationals
|Rank||BIB||Last Name||First Name||Result|
|1||1||VAN DEN HAM||Michael||0:57:47|
|17||7||VAN DER SLUIS||Jonathan||-3 Laps|