By Martin Cleary
Ottawa Bicycle Club’s Ella Smith went to her second Canadian cyclo-cross championships late last month with her trusted bike, plenty of confidence in her skills, but no end-result projections.
A girls’ U15 bronze medallist the last time nationals were staged in 2019, you’d think she might push for another call to the podium or a win in the U17 division. Not this time, as she had other options for her single race during the 2022 nationals in Victoria’s Layritz Park.
Since her U17 division was one of three age groups not classified as a Canadian championship race, Smith, 15, decided to move up to the junior class for riders two and three years older.
Not only did she want to test herself against older competition, but also she wanted national cycling officials to take notice of her, if she had a good race.
Smith, a Grade 10 student/athlete at Nepean High School, can put a Mission Accomplished stamp on her 2022 national championships as she won the bronze medal in the girls’ junior race, which was scheduled to be held over a gruelling 40-minute period.
Cyclo-cross is an adventure race and is staged on a variety of surfaces – pavement, wooded trails, grass, hills, etc. The riders follow a short two- or three-kilometre loop filled with multiple corners and will likely need to carry their bikes at some point over difficult terrain. Racing in September through November can also bring cold and muddy challenges.
“I didn’t have high expectations. (But) my race was good,” Smith said in a phone interview. “I didn’t know where I’d place. But it felt pretty decent. I could ride the more technical parts better than the other girls.”
Smith was strong and proficient on the hills, attacking them at different angles, as well as other challenging features, while some of the other riders showed their power on the longer stretches.
The mass start race saw Smith in the second half of the 12-rider field at the beginning, but she worked her way up to third and maintained that position.
Race favourite Isabella Holmgren of Stimulus Orbea placed first in 39 minutes, 26.51 seconds, while Rafaelle Carrier took second at 40:03.84 and Smith claimed third at 40:08.72.
By racing up an age group, Smith gained some valuable competition experience and put her name out there as an up-and-coming junior rider.
Canada will send a team of junior, U23 and elite racers to the 2023 world championships Feb. 3-5 at Hoogerheide, The Netherlands. But Smith won’t be considered for the team because she doesn’t meet the junior-age requirement. She’s too young.
The day after the Canadian championship, Smith attacked the course again and won the junior women’s Trek Bear Crossing Grand Prix.
“I was used to the course from the day before and I won,” she added. “It was tough and muddy that day. There were a lot of places where I could have messed up, but I didn’t. I felt good.”
The Canadian championship and the Grand Prix races made for a satisfying conclusion to her season, which was filled with race wins.
“It was a successful season, especially with nationals at the end,” Smith said. “In the Eastern Ontario Series, I also felt I had a strong season.”
Smith was the top girls’ U17 rider in the Eastern Ontario Cyclo-cross Series, winning seven of the eight races that were held in locations like Long Sault, North Gower and Brockville and earning the overall Series title. At the Ontario championships in Kitchener-Waterloo, she was the girls’ U17 gold medallist on a long course around a water park. She covered the five-loop layout in 42:38 for a comfortable victory as six of the nine starters didn’t finish.
The Smith family is a cycling family. Ella started competitive cycling about five years ago and joined the Ottawa Bicycle Club, where she experienced the road and cyclo-cross disciplines.
“I like the road, but road (racing) is very tactical. I like to race by myself and not think constantly about others. In cyclo-cross, I can get better each lap,” she explained.
Smith certainly proved this season she’s getting better with each lap.
More OBC athletes hit top-10
Meanwhile, Ottawa Bicycle Club’s Duarte Filipe placed fifth in the men’s junior race at the Canadian cyclo-cross championships, while Ride with Rendall p/b Biemme athletes Alexander Woodford and Hugo Brisebois were sixth and ninth respectively.
In the men’s masters 55-64 class, Robert Orange was fifth and Michael Woodford claimed seventh for Ride with Rendall p/b Biemme.
At the Trek Bear Crossing Grand Prix, Filipe was second in the men’s junior race, while the men’s elite race saw Brisebois finish ninth and Alexander Woodford take 10th.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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