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Ava Holmgren soars to elite women’s national title at Layritz Park

Junior takes on wild racing conditions and comes away with win at Canadian cross champs

Photo by: Nick Iwanyshyn

As darkness loomed over Layritz Park, Canada’s elite women lined up for cyclocross national championships. With rain and wind that started in the men’s race only picking up, the women faced easily the hardest conditions of the day. And that was before the sun set mid-race.

Ava Holmgren shone through, racing up from the junior ranks to win a wild elite women’s race in Victoria, B.C.

Ruby West
Ruby West started Saturday’s finals fast. Photo: Nick Iwanyshyn

Elite Women: Ava races up

The elite women’s start line was small, but full of talent in Victoria. It was also the most unpredictable race of the day. Jenn Jackson and Sandra Walter (Liv Racing) are both experienced cross campaigners with national podiums to their name but neither had raced cross outside of local B.C. races this fall. Ruby West (Jukebox-Factor), a national and Pan-American champ as an under-23, likewise had less time in the dirt. The rider with the most ‘cross racing this fall was also the youngest. Ava Holmgren (Stimulus Orbea) opted to skip the junior women’s race and race up two categories, taking on the elite field. With World Cup top-20 finishes to her name this fall, the young Ontarian’s quest for the elite title was far more than a pipe dream.

Jenn Jackson
Jenn Jackson was up with the leader when mechanical disaster struck. Photo: Nick Iwanyshyn

Off the line, it was Ruby West taking the lead. As in the men’s race, a front group of five quickly formed. All the expected names were present as well as local Victoria road racer, Holly Henry (InstaFund Racing / BSC).

Quickly, the course started to cause chaos. Ruby West and Jenn Jackson were both riding with Holmgren when mechanicals struck. West lost time, but was able to return to the race. Jackson was forced into a DNF with a destroyed derailleur.

Holly Henry
Holly Henry with Sandra Walter on her wheel. Photo: Nick Iwanyshyn

That left Holmgren alone, off the front on the second of five laps. Sanrda Walter chased the, while Holly Henry nipped at Walter’s heels. Behind, Dana Gilligan suddenly was within reach of a podium finish. With the rain falling, and the sun setting rapidly on riders (enough so that a couple rode with lights), the race continued into the night.

Holmgren’s big gamble paid off in spades. The young Stimulus Orbea rider continued to build her lead over the five-lap race to finish with a 1:05.37 advantage over Walter.

At just 17 years old, Ava Holmgren is the 2022 elite women’s Canadian cyclocross national champion.

Sandra Walter was able to fend off a late push from Holly Henry. Walter earns silver. Henry bronze. Dana Gilligan battled through the final lap to hold onto fourth, just ahead of a hard-charging Ruby West in fifth.

2022 Canadin cyclocross national championships Ava Holmgren
Ava Holmgren on course at Layritz Park. Photo: Nick IwanyshynLay

“My plan was just to do the best I could on the day and not focus on the other riders. I was really trying to ride my own race and mainly stay with the lead group and assess the race from there,” Holmgren said of her strategy going into Saturday’s event. “Fortunately I was able to ride away as people dropped back, with mechanicals and such. I was able to ride it smooth and not crash. I felt really good! It worked out well.”

As for the decision to race up into elites?

“I had to think about it a bit. It definitely wasn’t easy. After winning the junior Pan-Am championships, I was feeling really good and decided to race up into elites in the United States. That went really well and I was able to race for the win there. That gave me a lot of confidence,”

There was also a few practical considerations. The elite win comes with more UCI points and, for the 2022 Pan Am champ, the opportunity to actually wear the maple leaf. “I would be able to wear the jersey in any elite race, if I won. Whereas if I won the junior race, the Pan-Am jersey trumps the national jersey and there are no under-23 races.”

The new national champ is headed overseas for the Christmas Cross season in Belgium, aiming for World Cup and junior World Cup races before world championships.

Results: Elite Women – 2022 Canadian cyclocross national championships (Layritz Park, Victoria, B.C.)

1 Holmgren Ava – Stimulus Orbea
2 Walter Sandra – Liv Racing Collective

3 Henry Holly – InstaFund Racing/Broad St Cycles 
4 Gilligan Dana +1:39.93
5 West Ruby – Jukebox-Factor
6 Walcroft Katelyn – Hardwood Next Wave 
7 Piciga Natascha – Liv Giant Toronto 
8 Skaug Emma – Fernie Gravel Grind

Jackson Jennifer DNF