By Jake Williams
In 2003, when Nanaimo, B.C., cyclocross racer Wendy Simms qualified for world cyclocross championships, her partner Normon Thibault and a group of friends jumped into action to help Simms prepare for racing in Europe. Three weeks before flying to France, cyclocross came to the town on Vancouver Island.
“It was invite-only. I think we had like six people,” Thibault recalls. Today, he still remembers that the course was way too long, with massive straightaways and ample use of the local BMX track. After that little race in Beban Park, Thibault and others continued to organize events. Then, in 2006, they launched the Cross on the Rock series, which has become a staple for anyone racing ’cross on Vancouver Island.
Fifteen years later, Cross on the Rock races can attract more than 400 racers: everyone from the denim-vested heckling hooligans to up-and-coming pros. “Our first year, we averaged 65 racers. Early days, when we had small numbers, the quality of racing was always good,” Thibault says. With a passion for racing, the organizer enjoys a challenging course and competition, with egos checked at the door. “We remind people all the time that it’s a fun atmosphere we’re providing. No matter your category, our main focus is to have a good time,” he says.
Throughout the years, there have been some memorable races, like the one called Children of the Corn. “After the second race of the day, it just started pouring,” Thibault says. “During the expert race, the corn field was insane – people were sinking up to their knees. Racers were losing their shoes, never to be seen again. We were throwing ropes to help get them out.”
Emilly Johnston started racing COTR at the age of 11. In 2019, she was crowned junior national cyclocross champion. She says that COTR got her hooked on ’cross right away. “The thing that makes it so special really is its community feel,” she says. “You can make a super greasy pass and the person you just passed will be like, ‘Woah! That was crazy. Nice one!’” As Johnston ramps up her racing career, she’s committed to racing COTR for as long as it’s running.
Dayna Seaward, a member of Last Call Racing, comes over from Vancouver to escape the more serious UCI racing taking place on the mainland. She likes the more technical, mountain bike-inspired courses, especially when handups are encouraged. Also, she applauds COTR for being family-friendly. “You get the mom, the dad and the kids coming out to race, which is great to see,” Seaward says.
Thibault takes pride in getting kids hooked on ’cross. He attributes much of the success of the series overall to the growing kids races. Thibault often sees more than 70 kids registered to tear around the dialed-down version of the course on race day to chase each other and prizes.
With the future of Cross on the Rock uncertain because of COVID-19 complications, Thibault still hopes both new and experienced racers will return to the series for a dose of seriously good – and fun – cyclocross racing, when the time is right.
This story originally appeared in the October/November 2020 issue of Canadian Cycling Magazine. After a year delay, Cross on the Rock is starting that 15th season on Sept. 19 in Cumberland, B.C.