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Canadian XCO championships return to Canmore July 22–23

This year marks the first time that Canmore has hosted the event since 2011

Mountain biking the orange loop trail at the Canmore Nordic Centre with Mount Rundle in the background. Photo by Ryan Creary

This weekend, July 22 and 23, the Canadian XCO championships return to Canmore, Alta., for the first time since 2011, attracting top mountain bikers who want the maple-leaf jersey.

For the championships’ return to Canmore, riders can also expect a somewhat different circuit. When competitors roll out amid the weekend’s anticipated hot, dry conditions, they’ll find a shorter course with more laps—reflecting changes that have already been implemented at the World Cup and championship levels. In 2010 and 2011, the circuit measured a total of 6.8 km. This year, with multiple loops back to the finish, the course tops out at 4 km.

Race director Ron Sadesky is excited about what the new circuit will mean for 2017’s competition. “This year’s course is perhaps one of the best ever nationals courses,” Sadesky said, “featuring a clover leaf design full of technical features and gruelling climbs.” Taking advantage of the region’s natural landscape—not to mention its stunning beauty—the resulting course, he said, will offer athletes a “thrilling” mix of challenges when racing kicks off.

“A lot of thought and creativity went into the layout and design of the course and we are thrilled with the outcome,” Sadesky said. “The athletes we have talked to are also thrilled with the natural features and the complexity of the course design.”

Spectators, too, are in for a treat, he said. “The fact that the course offers incredible and numerous spectator options makes for an intense viewing spectacle.”

This year’s field is full of top names in Canadian mountain biking. In the elite women’s competition, Olympians Emily Batty of Trek Factory Racing and Catharine Pendrel of Clif Pro Team will ride for the podium, with Liv Giant’s Sandra Walter, Specialized Canada’s Catherine Fleury, Norco Factory’s Haley Smith and Equipe du Quebec’s Cindy Montambault also contending.

A similarly deep field on the men’s side will include defending champion Derek Zandstra of Cannondale-3Rox, teammate Raphaël Gagné, Léandre Bouchard of BH SR Suntour KMC, Evan Guthrie, and the twin pillars of Forward Racing, Andrew L’Esperance and Evan McNeely. Geoff Kabush, meanwhile, riding for Scott-Maxxis, is an unknown for the Canadian XCO championships, having retired from World Cup competition last year. But with a win at the B.C. Bike Race stage race, Kabush may yet seek to repeat past glories from 2010 and 2011, when he took first and second on the Canmore soil, respectively.

Speaking for Cycling Canada, Josh Peacock, competitions co-ordinator, noted the national cycling body’s excitement about returning to Canmore this year.

“Organizers have been hard at work over the past 12-plus months, creating brand new trails and features that will take advantage of the rugged terrain that the Canmore Nordic Centre is known for,” Peacock said. “Riders should expect a race loop full of punchy climbs and technical descents mixed with plenty of doubletrack for optimal passing opportunities.”

The championships get underway on Saturday with cadet (under-17), junior (under-19), under-23, elite and masters divisions competing. Racing comes to a conclusion on Sunday with the Team Relay event.