Wendy Simms in her new National Championship skinsuit ©Regan Pringle

Wendy Simms tells her tale of victory from the Canadian National Cyclocross Championship last weekend in Toronto – where she was able to hold off stiff competition and go almost wire-to-wire to take her fifth title. And, as her husband Norm Thibault told Cyclocross Magazine, the race came 11 months to the day after the couple gave birth to their first child. Pretty impressive! If you missed our race coverage of the event, go back and check it out.

by Wendy Simms

20 women were signed up to race the Elite Women’s Canadian National Championship event, and there were some heavy hitters in the crowd. Most people were considering Natasha Elliott (top Canadian in the UCI Cyclocross rankings) and Catharine Pendrel (freshly crowned #1 mountain biker in the world) to be the biggest threats, but one can never underestimate the superstar mountain bikers Mical Dyck (Trek Canada) and Emily Batty (Trek). But, to be honest, it was the scrappy Pepper Harlton (Team Alberta) I was the most worried about. Pepper has come second at Nationals for the last two years, is an incredible bike handler, has a killer start and is never afraid to go for it. I don’t think I or anyone else really expected the OTHER Albertan – young Katy Curtis – to be the most tenacious of the bunch. I should have paid more attention when I saw her warming up on the course absolutely glued to Pepper’s wheel.

After racing in 22C [translation: HOT!] with a water bottle the week before in Colorado, it was a bit of a shocker to hit the cold winter air of Toronto. They kept calling for snow/rain, but in the end it was a gorgeous sunny day with no mud in sight (booooo!). The course was surprising difficult considering it was mostly grass with not a lot of variety. The designers had used the bowl-like terrain of the park to include two long climbs and a few other short, sharp climbs mixed in with a lot of twists and turns. One section paralleled a dog park, so every time you went by, a big pack of dogs chased full speed after your wheel (behind a fence). The race organizer had his initials “ZMS” taped into the course on the hill, which was a bit cheesy, but it actually ended up being one of the hardest parts of the course with the off-camber, greasy downhill turns.

I had one goal for the day: win a National Championship jersey for my new sponsor Ridley. I had a great start and was leading up the hill through the first corner when I got roller-derby bumped from behind by none other than Natasha Elliott (Garneau). I had specifically chosen a start lane away from her to avoid the aggressive riding style that has already claimed a few casualties this season. I was pretty pissed off that I was almost taken out in the first corner, so a huge adrenaline rush rocketed me away into the first twisty section. Pepper Harlton and Katy Curtis (Team Alberta) followed close behind. I could see Natasha dangling off the Albertans and probably should have punched it to lose her, but I had to simmer down the temper or I was going to make mistakes; so I just settled into a rhythm and she caught up.

Four of us were off the front with Mical Dyck (Trek) not far behind. I led most of the first two laps because I didn’t want anyone else to catch us, and I didn’t want to get crashed out. So every time someone tried to take over the lead, I surged ahead and took it back. The strategy worked because Mical popped and Natasha was cracking. Just when I was starting to worry I was doing too much work, I heard someone (Pepper) go down in a corner, so I attacked. Katy followed and the two of us got a small gap. Katy then attacked me almost immediately on the big steep climb (she was like a monster truck on it!) so I “let” her take the lead so I could rest.

Unfortunately Katy started slowing up so that fellow Albertan Pepper could catch up, meaning my rest would be short-lived. I didn’t want to be racing with two scrappy Albertans. Once Pepper was within five seconds of us, I had to take over the lead again and push the pace. But I could not shake Katy. I wasn’t sure if I could out sprint her at the end – she might be wee but she has legs twice the size of my sticks – so I was trying to figure out where to make my move when she attacked up the big hill on the last lap. I clawed her back and rested for most of the last lap. Perrrrrrrfect.

Wendy and husband Norm representing their new leaf-suits ©Regan Pringle

I punched up past her to the “ZMS” section, took the tricky corners nice and slow to rest up, then absolutely gutted myself on the last three straightaways to hold her off by a mere 1.7 seconds for my fifth National Championship jersey. It was doubly sweet since [Wendys husband] Norm had won his Master race in the morning. We were even ties 4-4 for a few hours! (But now the score is 5-4!)

Wendy Simms’ cyclocross campaign is sponsored by Ridley and FSA. Also supported by: Crankbrothers, Shimano, Frontrunners, Oak Bay Bikes Nanaimo.