Why this really was the most important ‘cross worlds for Canadians ever
After years of buildup, Canada is becoming accepted in a traditional European-dominated eventPhoto by: Connor Gregory
It’s been almost 40 years since Canadians began racing in ‘cross in Europe, and 2023 marks one of the biggest world championships ever for Canada. In the late ’80s, Ottawa’s Mark Orzel would travel to Europe, setting up shop in Switzerland and trying to break into the pro ‘cross scene. He’d go on to race the worlds, along with Jim Sciberas. In the ’90s, riders like Kris Westwood (future Cycling Canada high-performance director), Peter Wedge, Brian Pedersen and Bill Hurley would follow in their footsteps, racing in Europe and riding the ‘cross worlds. As time went on, more and more racers took the plunge and headed across the pond. Mike Garrigan, Maghalie Rochette, Andrew Pinfold, Michael van den Ham and many more would mix it up in the big leagues.
Unless you spent the weekend on Jupiter, you probably know that Isabella Holmgren is the new junior world champion. Her sister Ava came in second in an emotional and incredible race. Madeleine Pollock would finish 38th and Geza Rodgers in 41st.
Gold and silver: the Holmgren twins make Canadian cross history
Maghalie Rochette, who had a great race herself finishing ninth after a mechanical on the first lap, said Holmgren’s race summed up Canada’s progression in the sport.
“Coming to Belgium and doing ‘cross, it took years to earn the respect and to learn the ropes. There are all sorts of little things that are part of the sport, all that is pretty hard. It took years to figure it out,” she said. “Now we are in a spot where we as a country are well-respected here and people in the community can help us.” Sidney McGill who had several breakout races on the World Cup circuit, finished 25th.
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Another stand-out performance was that of Ian Ackert, who finished in 11th. “I had a good clean race. I’m really happy it ended this way,” the Stimulus-Orbea rider said. “It’s a dream, we’ve all trained together for five years to see Bella and Ava get one-two was the highlight of the weekend.” Canada’s Mika Comaniuk was 43rd in the junior men’s race, with Filipe Duarte coming in 62nd and Cam McCallum in 70th.
In the under-23 women’s race, Christiane Bilodeau finished 31st. In the men’s under-23, Evan Russell was top Canadian in 32nd, followed by Cody Scott in 36th.
Although Michael van den Ham didn’t get the top-30 that he was aiming for, his race had some early drama. He crashed on the first lap, which cost him time. But he also dislocated his finger. As he lay on the dirt, he examined his digit, and then pulled on it–and re-inserted it. After that, he jumped on his bike and would go on to finish 33rd.
Michael van den Ham fixes own dislocated finger mid-race and still finishes the ‘cross worlds
Bella Holmgren said that she and her sister will be taking a break from riding for a week and will begin to plan their season on the road and mountain bike soon. But for now, she will be soaking up the fact that she has a rainbow jersey to wear. “I still can’t really process it,” she said after the race. One thing is for sure, Canadian ‘cross racers and fans are still soaking it up after one of the most exciting world championships they’ve ever seen.