By Victoria Klassen & Dan Plouffe
It was a showcase moment for local cycling as the nation’s capital hosted the Global Relay Canadian Road Championships from June 25-29, with Ottawa riders flexing their muscles to win a pile of prizes on their home courses.
“Ottawa cycling is getting stronger and stronger,” notes Ottawa Bicycle Club president Jenny Moore. “I think it starts with the people of all ages that have got into biking. We’re very blessed here as recreational cyclists to have so many trails, and I know a lot of people who commute to work with their bikes.
“That’s a very different kind of cycling compared to this, but it gets the culture going.”
Ottawa’s headliners included:
Though he had the most mediocre result out of the star locals, Mike Woods nonetheless made the biggest news of the bunch when he was unveiled as a member of Canada’s Olympic team on June 29 in Aylmer.
It was a day the former record-setting middle distance runner had been waiting for since age 9.
“I remember watching (Ottawa’s) Glenroy Gilbert and Donovan Bailey just smash it at the ’96 Olympics, and that really stuck in my mind,” Woods pinpoints. “I remember watching that as a kid and thinking, ‘I want to to go to the Olympics.’
“Pretty much since then, I’ve set my goal to be an Olympian. It’s pretty crazy. I’m almost 30 now, and I’ve still managed to keep that dream alive even though at some points, it seemed like it was completely foolish to have that dream.”
Two spots behind 18-year-old Manotick rider Derek Gee, Woods’ 14th-place time trial result at nationals was “one of my worst days on a bike, to be honest,” but for someone whose athletic career was in limbo following recurrent foot fractures and had little bike riding experience, that’s quite the progression.
Initially, Woods didn’t think he’d be at nationals period, since it was around the time of the Tour de France, and the Spain-based rider stood a good chance of making his Tour debut with the Cannondale Pro Cycling Team. But then an early-May crash left Woods on the sidelines with a badly broken wrist, and the nationals became a reasonable less-demanding option.
“There were a lot of things that had to go wrong and a lot of things that had to go right to find myself in this position,” notes the Hillcrest High School grad who enjoyed the luxury of riding straight home after finishing his race. “I really wanted to do the race because it was literally right in my backyard. It’s really great that the Ottawa cycling community has put it on, and I really wanted to be a part of it.”
The forced break from racing had a silver lining as it pertains to Rio – Woods has been able to get a solid block of training in, including riding 250 km from Sutton, Que. to Stowe, VT and back on terrain similar to the Olympic course.
“It was basically a mock Rio race,” explains the climbing specialist. “I had a really good training session. I felt really strong, and I think it bodes well for how I’m going to do in Rio.”
Give Matteo Dal-Cin the prize for the most dramatic moment of nationals.
The 25-year-old was part of a four-man breakaway in the men’s road race and was heading towards the finish line with the tiniest of leads when he crashed.
Dal-Cin says he saw a small gap and attacked in the last corner, but his front wheel lost contact with the ground.
“I hit the curb and tumbled over it somehow avoiding breaking anything other than my helmet which took a huge hit and was in pieces after the crash,” recounts Dal-Cin, who’d been riding high leading up to nationals, having become the first Canadian to ever win the Redlands Bicycle Classic stage race in California, its 32nd edition held earlier this year from Apr. 6-10.
It took Dal-Cin several minutes to get back up, but the crowd roared thunderously as the local cyclist crossed the finish line in 10th place, with raw skin on his shoulder exposed through his torn shirt.
“I’m super grateful to my team for allowing me the opportunity to be in a position to try for the win at nationals when it was in my hometown,” underlines the Silber Pro Cycling rider. “It was really a special experience and I hope that next year when the race comes back for its second edition in Ottawa that I can improve on my performance from this weekend.”
One of Dal-Cin’s Silber teammates is fellow Ottawa native Alex Cataford. The local pair have grown closer being on the same team for the past few years, and lived together last winter in California.
Cataford, along with the rest of the peloton, was pulled from the men’s road race when the breakaway group was seconds away from lapping them, so was right there to witness the disastrous crash.
“Your heart sinks, really,” signals the 22-year-old from Kanata. “Especially in the last corner like that when the race is going to be decided right then. It’s tough to see, but stuff happens and you’ve just got to roll with it and move on to the next one.”
Cataford knows a thing or two about crashing. In 2014, he was hit by a car while training, leaving him with a broken jaw, broken C6 vertebrae, 10 missing teeth and a severe concussion.
Katherine Maine, an 18-year-old from Ottawa, is living a similar reality at present. The Rally Cycling rookie has competed in some of North America’s biggest races this season – including a finish close to leaders in the early-June Grand Prix Cycliste Gatineau – but missed nationals due to a concussion from a crash during a criterium event in Minnesota.
Cataford, for his part, showed he’s most definitely back in form in the individual time trial event on June 28 through Gatineau Park, taking the elite men’s silver medal.
“It’s a bit of a surprise to podium, but I’m super happy to put in the best ride I could,” says Cataford, who enjoyed the hometown advantage that came from having rode the course “countless” times.
“When I started riding as a junior with the Ottawa Bicycle Club, we’d do practices there twice a week,” he adds. “So it’s kind of cool experiencing this in my hometown.”
Ottawa is the new home for Robbi Weldon. The nation’s capital inherited the three-time Paralympian (including Vancouver and Sochi as a nordic skier) and London 2012 road race champion when she moved from Thunder Bay with her family in January.
Ottawa offered more accessible transit for the athlete with a visual impairment, improved access to training facilities with Cycling Canada in town, and closer proximity to her (sighted) tandem bike pilot, former national team member Audrey Lemieux of Montreal.
Weldon, who cruised to victory in her class and rode alongside two men’s tandems at nationals, also endured a long comeback trail from a crash – the better part of two years after she was struck by a car at a World Cup in 2013.
“It’s really tough when you’re at the top of world and winning gold in London and winning World Cups just weeks before that accident,” reflects the 40-year-old. “And then your world is turned upside down. Your body is in the best shape of its life, and then to not be able to do any physical training for months – very huge impact on the physiological and mental aspect.”
She’d had a devastating crash, and in her back pocket was the biggest prize available in her sport, but Weldon refused to entertain the idea of calling it a career.
“My kids are a big inspiration, and the people around me, my family,” she explains. “All the support helped me through those tough times.”
Ariane Bonhomme had to rediscover her drive. The Ottawa Bicycle Club athlete from Gatineau competed in both the track and road cycling World Championships in her final year of junior, but her transition to the senior ranks was rough, struggling with her health, fitness, performance, and simply loving the sport.
“I put too much pressure on myself to perform, instead of just trying to have fun and grow in the sport,” reflects the 21-year-old. “But now I approach the race more as, ‘let’s have fun and race my heart out,’ instead of, ‘I need to win, I need to win, I need to win.’”
And sure enough, she won. Bonhomme topped the women’s under-23 class in both the road race and individual time trial races at nationals. Even better, her Cyclery-Opus teammates won the elite women’s titles in both events too.
World Championships medallist Annie Foreman-Mackey rode solo to win the road race and Olympic medallist Tara Whitten was the fastest in the time trial.
“Having the big win and the U23 win at the same time at home, it’s more than we could ever imagine,” smiles Bonhomme, a four-year member of the Ottawa-based squad. “It’s the greatest team I’ve been a part of. Everybody is selfless.
“We trust in each other, we have faith in each other, and we know if we work together, we can come home with the win. And Annie’s win and my win are the whole team’s win.
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