By Sam Loveys
Fresh off his four second-place finishes at the Giro d’Italia, Ottawa native Derek Gee returned home for the annual Preston Street Criterium bicycle races on Father’s Day Sunday, and luckily for the racers, he would not be competing this year.
The 2017 elite race winner at Preston Street returned as an honoured guest to greet current competitors and enjoy the rambunctious atmosphere in Little Italy.
“It’s incredibly special to have this type of reception from the community that did so much for me,” highlights Gee. “It’s a little unexpected, but it really means a lot to me. I’m really glad I could make it back to Preston Street.”
Near the main stage, Gee was all smiles as he was surrounded by fans excited to meet him. His appearance helped spark a newfound interest in the sport and event itself.
“Our numbers have never been higher in terms of participation,” notes organizer Doug Corner. “We got a good turnout from the crowd. I know people are here to see Derek Gee. It’s a big factor for sure.
“Back in 2017 he won by himself, solo. It’s an objective for lots of riders to cross the line by themselves and that’s what he did.”
Gee is coming off a rookie performance for the ages at the Giro d’Italia, one of the world’s most prestigious Grand Tours alongside the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España.
After 21 race days, the Israel-Premier Tech athlete finished as the second best cyclist in the points and mountain classifications, and earned the most combative rider award while placing 22nd in the general classification.
Like Mike Woods before him, Gee is proud to represent the Ottawa community at high level races around the world.
“To be able to show the caliber of athlete that a community like this can produce, it means a lot to be racing up on the world stage. It’s really special to represent a community like this,” signals Gee, who competed at the Tokyo Olympics in track cycling. “The biggest thing about being back is the community – they did so much for me when I was growing up as a cyclist.
“I’ve raced against nearly everybody here at some point from when I was nine or 10 up until I was 18. To be back and see the people and thank them for everything they did and my development is definitely something I’ve missed.”
Up next for Gee are the Canadian road championships out west in Alberta from June 23-26.
“You’re seeing more and more high-level riders coming out of Canada and I’m really glad to be a part of that,” adds the Ottawa Bicycle Club product.
Outside of Derek Gee’s special appearance, the annual Preston Street event was as popular as ever.
“What we say with the Bike Races is we are putting on a party and a bike race breaks out,” smiles Corner. “You see a lot of social activity going on, so people come for both aspects.”
Taking place at the end of Italian week, local residents could be seen on their front porches sitting in lawn chairs to watch the racers circle the 1 km course looping down Preston, Anderson, Rochester and Gladstone streets. Many more were enjoying the vast array of local restaurants and Italian cuisine in Little Italy while watching the bikes from patios.
“We’re guests in this neighborhood, so we want to treat it very well. This way when we come back for another year. They welcome us with open arms,” Corner recounts.
The races themselves last all day, featuring all ages from five all the way up to 60. At the end of the day are the master and elite races, which consists of the highest level riders in the area. Contrary to what you might expect, however, these are not the most popular races of the day.
“It’s the kids who are five and six years old,” highlights Corner. “They race about 150 meters and it’s so cute. They have streamers on their bikes, fancy helmets, they’re all dressed up and they get cheered on from beginning to end.
“I’ve had many people say that over the years it’s the most fun part of the day. They’re without a doubt the most popular race of the day among the spectators.”
Nicolas Cote (iBike) won the men’s elite race, followed by Matt Sherar (Ascent Cycling), Brett Stoppa (OBC and XSpeed United Continental) and Olympic speed skater/track cyclist Vincent De Haître, who returned home from his training base in Calgary to race and congratulate Tokyo teammate Gee on his success at the Giro.
OBC product Laury Milette (Grand Est-Komugi-La Fabrique) topped the elite women’s field, while other category winners included Antony D’Angelo (OBC, U17M), Lea De Broeck (Cuisses Or, U15F), Carter Deveer (OBC, U15M), Mélodie Aikman (Cuisses Or, U13F), Benjamin Brule (Ride With Rendall p/b Biemme, U13M), Anna Keyserlingk (OBC, U11F) Daniel Duarte (OBC, U11M), Frédérique Beauregard (Laprai Cycle, U9F) and Yan Mercier (Cuisses Or, U9M).
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