By Callum Fraser
Alex Cataford will be riding high when he comes back home for the Global Relay Canadian Road Cycling Championships June 25-29 in Ottawa.
The 22-year-old Ottawa native is fresh off the best pro performance of his career – a 2nd-place finish at the May 4-8 Tour of the Gila five-day continental stage race in New Mexico.
“That’s what we strive for as riders,” smiles the Silber Pro Cycling athlete. “I love the team and we’ve made some big steps forward this season.”
The podium performance represents a major leap from where Cataford was in 2014. That January, he was hit by a car while training in Tucson, AZ. The damage was a broken jaw, broken C6 vertebrae, 10 teeth knocked out and a severe concussion.
“I know I’ll never be back to where I was before (the crash),” signals Cataford, who will always have restrictions from a total of five plates and 40 screws installed during two surgeries. “But I keep improving.”
Cataford expects his best chance at a top result will come in the elite/under-23 men’s 36.8 km time trial event in Gatineau Park.
“Knowing the turns and hills and basically the course that we’ll be racing is definitely an advantage,” notes the 2020 Olympic hopeful who is currently finishing up an engineering physics degree at Queen’s University.
Solid local representation
On top of the June 28 time trial, the elite/U23 men have their road race on June 26, with the other categories riding the day before.
The men will complete a spectator-friendly 18 laps of a 10 km course starting at Tunney’s Pasture and looping around the Sir John A. MacDonald Parkway. The June 29 criterium event concludes the nationals in old Aylmer.
There will be another local contender to watch in the men’s competition – Cataford’s Silber teammate Matteo Dal-Cin, who turned heads earlier this season with a breakout performance at April’s Redlands Bicycle Classic in California.
The 25-year-old became the first-ever Canadian champion in the 34-year history of the continental pro cycling stage race in California when he finished atop the general classification standings over the course of the five-stage competition.
A pair of young local cyclists will be among the top contenders on the women’s side: Ottawa native Katherine Maine, an 18-year-old rookie on the Minnesota-based Rally Cycling pro team, and 21-year-old Ottawa Bicycle Club product Ariane Bonhomme – one of several strong entries from the Ottawa-based Cyclery-Opus team.
Both Maine and Bonhomme will also be in town to race for Canada at the June 2-3 Grand Prix Cycliste Gatineau road race and Chrono Gatineau time trial UCI events – the highest-level international women’s competitions sanctioned in Eastern Canada.
Woods eyeing success in Rio
With bigger fish to fry, World Tour cyclist Mike Woods won’t get to return home for the Canadian Championships, but it’s very likely his name will be called locally nonetheless when Cycling Canada plans to unveil its Olympic team in Aylmer on June 29.
Currently in his rookie season with Cannondale-Garmin, Woods was set to debut in the legendary Giro d’Italia until a crash knocked him out with a broken wrist. Now based overseas, the injury acted as one disincentive for Woods to race nationals, as did the prospect of a short turnaround between the June 11-19 Tour de Suisse and the July 2-24 Tour France, should he be selected to race for his team at the mecca of cycling.
But regardless, the 29-year-old runner-turned-biker has his mind set on the Summer Olympics in Brazil – unlike a lot of other professional riders.
“Typically the Tour (de France) is the be-all and end-all,” notes the former Ottawa Lions runner who still owns several junior middle distance records. “After the Tour, after the Giro, maybe after the Vuelta (a España) and maybe after some classics, then riders start thinking about the Olympics.
“Because I come from a running background and the Olympics is everything for track-and-field, it has a special place in my heart. And I think even just for Canadians it’s a bit bigger of a deal.”
By virtue of its profile, the steep and hilly Rio Olympic course favours Woods’ abilities as a climber. It’s also a single-day event – a contrast to cycling’s renowned multi-stage competitions.
“It’s definitely a different approach than what I’d do with a stage race,” indicates Woods, who made a spectacular World Tour debut back in January with a 5th-place general classification result at the Tour Down Under. “They tend to have a more relaxed vibe to them; guys are less stressed out. With the Olympics, you can’t make as many mistakes.”
The Olympics features a smaller field of 140 entrants than most pro races and fewer athletes from each nation available to employ team tactics, which could play into Woods’ hands as a climber who likes to grind his own way ahead of competitors in the mountains.
“The overall level of the peloton won’t be as good,” notes Woods, who’s looking at Rio as likely his lone opportunity for a solid Olympic finish, with a flatter course anticipated for Tokyo in 2020. “This course really suits me. It’s got hard, steep climbs with a sprint at the finish, so it will likely be a race amongst climbers, which I tend to do well at.”
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