After a wild and snowy first year, Canadian cyclocross national championships return to Peterborough, Ont. this weekend. The first year delivered excellent racing, and deserving champions as racers battled through snow, mud and tricky off cambres.
Organizers are back with another excellent course, and the weather looks like it’s joining the party too. No snow, yet, but steady rain over the last few days has left the Nicholls Oval Park well saturated, primed for perfect cyclocross race conditions.
Elite Women – Rochette on a roll
In the men’s and women’s races, the defending champions return as the odds on favourites. Maghalie Rochette (Specialized X Feedback Sports) has been having a standout year, since deciding to focus solely on cyclocross. The Canadian and Pan American champion won her first Cyclocross World Cup in September, at Jingle Cross. Rochette has backed that up with more C1 and C2 wins in North America, and sits 6th overall in the UCI cyclocross standings.
Rochette hasn’t been the lone Canadian at these races, though. Both Jenn Jackson, of the re-branded Giant-Easton p/b Transitions Life Care team, and Ruby West (Pivot-Maxxis) have been posting top-1o results at North American races. West, who was third last week behind Rochette at Kings CX in Cincinnati, will be working to defend her under-23 national title this weekend in Peterborough. That leaves Jackson to take on Rochette in Saturday’s championship race at Nicholls Oval.
Last year’s bronze medallist, Sandra Walter (Liv International) will be back on the skinny tires this weekend, too. After a busy mountain bike season, the Coquitlam, B.C. racer hasn’t had as much time on the cross bike. That hasn’t slowed Walter down much in the past, though, and the experienced racer is always a podium threat any time she lines up at nationals.
Elite Men – van den Ham looks to defend
Like in the women’s race, it is the returning national champion that looks poised to defend the maple leaf jersey. Michael van den Ham (Giant-Easton p/b Transitions Life Care) has been the most active Canadian on the cyclocross circuit, both North American and Internationally. With some strong results in C1 and C2 races, van den Ham is carrying good race fitness into Saturday’s race.
Van den Ham is also one of the only riders who has fully committed to racing cyclocross this season. That doesn’t mean he’ll be unchallenged though. While Geoff Kabush (Yeti-Maxxis) won’t return to try for an 8th consecutive CX national’s podium, there is a solid field looking to upset the returning champion. Like West in the women’s field, Gunnar Holmgren will be skipping the elite race to defend his under-23 championship in Peterborough.
Marc-André Fortier (Pivot Cycles-OTE) stands as the most likely to challenge van den Ham on Saturday. Fortier was third last year in Peterborough, behind van den Ham and Kabush. The cross-country mountain biker has plenty of speed, and his bike handling skills will play well on the technical Peterborough course. Last year, he turned this into a second place behind Holmgren, and ahead of van den Ham, on the C2 Sunday race in Peterborough.