By Martin Cleary
On the final day of April, the rains continued to fall in the early morning and the forecast was far from encouraging for a better day ahead.
Likewise, the sun had fled this Southern Ontario region and the cold, single-digit temperatures and overcast skies produced a defeatist atmosphere.
The asphalt roads were slick and once you headed off course into the unpaved roads, gravel and all sorts of wooded terrain, the mud was everywhere and all-consuming.
Sounds like a perfect day for a marathon cycle and the inaugural Canadian Gravel Cycling Championships, which were held in conjunction with the 29th annual Paris to Ancaster race, the longest gravel challenge in the country with 874 metres of climbing.
A sizable contingent of riders from the Ottawa Bicycle Club, The Cyclery Racing Team and Ride with Rendall braved the testy environmental elements for the Cento, 108.9 kilometres, the designated national championship race; the Classic, 65.5 kilometres; and the Breve, 42.9 kilometres.
The constant rain, chilling cold and frustrating muddy sections certainly didn’t make for the best conditions, but it certainly brought out the best in second-year OBC junior rider Addison Frank.
“It was very muddy. Every time I came off the pavement, my eyes would be filled with mud and I could barely see anything,” said Frank, 16, who was dealing with the flu three days after her impressive gravel race debut.
“It was really hard to focus and stay on the bike. I made sure I tried to stay on my bike as best I could.”
Frank did experience several falls during her long and tiring ride, which caused some of her energy-replacement food to get covered in mud and become not edible.
But there was a happy ending to her persistent pedalling.
Frank, 16, placed fourth in the women’s overall race and finished second in the women’s 17-18 junior class with a time of three hours, 36 minutes and 17 seconds for her 108.9-kilometre chilly challenge.
Devon Clarke of Collingwood, ON., and the Ottawa-based Cyclery Racing Team, won the women’s race and the coveted Maple Leaf jersey in 3:23:48. The men’s race winner was American Curtis White in 3:01:37 and top Canadian Evan Russell of Toronto and Victoria was second overall in 3:01:43.
Frank’s surprising result in the women’s standings also provided her with some prize money for placing in the top 15.
“I was pretty shocked by that (overall result),” the Grade 11 Nepean High School student added. “I didn’t expect to be that high. I knew there were a few women ahead of me.”
Frank is a quality two-sport athlete as cycling helps her cross-country skiing and cross-country skiing aids her cycling. Earlier this week, she was named to the Ontario cross-country junior women’s ski team for the second consecutive season.
At the Canadian nordic ski championships in March, she had two top-five results – a third in the skate sprint final and a fifth in the 15-kilometre classic race – and placed second overall in the category for girls born in 2006. She also represented Ontario at the 2023 Canada Winter Games and was fifth in the women’s sprint.
At the finish line of the national gravel championship just before noon, Frank’s once-clean racing uniform was completely covered in dark mud and all you could see was her bottom lip, red shoes and some red detailing on her outfit.
“It was frustrating, but I didn’t want to let it get to my head. I pushed through,” explained Frank, who seemed quite suited for her first gravel race.
“A lot of it had to do with my mindset. It was more a mental challenge than any road race. Having the mental strength, I was able to push myself.”
Frank is familiar with riding a bike under difficult conditions as she has been a mountain biker for more than a decade. She has enjoyed recreational rides over varying terrains, but never went into races.
In 2022, Frank decided to become a competitive road racer and found some early success. She was fourth in the Grand Prix Cycliste de Charlevoix and during a Quebec Cup race was first in the 70-kilometre road race and third in the time trial.
“It was easy to adapt because of my skiing,” Frank said about switching to her summer sport from her winter sport and producing good results.
“It (gravel nationals) was definitely different, but I really enjoyed it,” she continued. “By the end of the race, I had separated (from the other racers) and I was riding alone. I wasn’t used to that as a road racer.”
For the final 20 kilometres, she raced with tiring legs and used her mental toughness to handle the cold and the never-ending rain. When she raced on the paved roads, she was encouraged by cheering spectators, who were more numerous in the final five kilometres.
“I was really happy with my performance,” Frank said proudly. “I could have done things differently, but I learned from it.”
Father-son duo top Breve gravel race
Meanwhile, the 42.0-kilometre Breve race, the shortest of the three Paris to Ancaster challenges, belonged to the deVeer family of Ottawa.
OBC’s Carter deVeer, 14, won the overall race and the boys’ 11-14 age division in 1:35:10, and had enough time after crossing the finish line to watch his father Craig of The Cyclery Racing Team place second in 1:35.36.
The OBC also had two other riders in the top four of the boys’ 11-14 age class – Nevin Warner (second, 1:43:59) and Jaiden Tailor Lodha (fourth, 1:55:12). Warner also was fifth overall in the race.
“It was fun to finish first and I beat my dad. That was fun, too,” said Carter, who finished 10th in the same race in 2022 and knew he had a chance to win as some of last year’s riders had moved to longer races.
Carter rode the majority of the race with his father at the head of the pack with no one around them. The steep, 400-metre finishing hill determined their final results.
As Carter weaved his way up the hill around finishers from other races, Craig fell at the base of the hill before getting to the finish line.
Craig placed second overall and won the men’s 45-54 age class.
“I’ve done this race quite a few times, but this was definitely more trying conditions,” Craig explained. “It had rained for the last five days. It was very muddy and slick and hard to see. I tried to stay on my bike, focus and recover on the road, putting in some power.
“The finish was on a steep climb and on gravel. Cycling is all about power to weight. This winter wasn’t kind to me for weight. It was no contest (against Carter). He rode awesome. It was a proud moment, but it stung for me.”
The Breve race also saw Ben Sylvester of Ottawa win the men’s 35-44 category in 1:53:26, while Shawn Warner of Perth was third in 2:02:38.
Besides Frank’s fourth-place overall result in the women’s category, The Cyclery Racing Team had three top-10 placings: Jodi Wendland was sixth (first in women’s 35-33), 3:41:00; Skyler Goudswaard of Grimsby, ON., was eighth (fourth in women’s 19-34), 3:49:42; and Madeline LeBreton was 10th (fifth in women’s 19-34), 3:50:47.
Other notable results came from OBC’s Filip Duarte (eighth, men’s 17-18, 3:15:37), Ride with Rendall’s Remi Brisebois (10th, men’s 17-18, 3:21:10), The Cyclery’s Craig Hawkes (seventh, men’s 45-54, 3:21:33) and The Cyclery’s Sara Everson (ninth, women’s 19-34, 4:03:43).
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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 “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 firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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