It’s been a solid few months for the cycling community in Winnipeg. In September, the new bike lane on Sherbrook Street was unveiled, and hundreds of cyclists bike jammed it around town for Nuit Blanche. Most recently, Bike Winnipeg revealed that five out of eight candidates who ran for municipal office wanted to see a doubling of investment in cycling routes. It’s a mighty good time for Winnipeg’s inaugural hosting of the Canadian Cyclocross Championship (the first national event was hosted in Toronto in 1997, and there’s been annual contests since).
“Cyclocross is a discipline that can really be fun for everyone,” says Ian Hall, a co-chair of the event who’s been involved in cyclocross for 15 years as a racer and organizer. “It doesn’t matter if you’re fast or slow, or new to the sport or have a ton of experience. It’s not quite the same as some other kinds of bike racing, where if you’re not having a good day you really get punished for that.”
For the uninitiated, cyclocross might seem a bit overwhelming: there’s the traditional aspect of a road race, but with a sprinkling of obstacles including sand pits, barriers and sharp corners, requiring cyclists to dismount and remount their bikes on the regular. Races range from 30 to 60 minutes long, depending on the competition’s category. There’s around 30 events over the three-and-a-half days.
As a result, the event requires a massive amount of volunteerism and commitment to pull off: there’s a core group of 15 organizers, with over 200 volunteers for the event itself (it’ll take a full day with between 40 and 50 people to physically construct the track). While Winnipeg’s hosted many cyclocross events in the past - usually between 6 and 10 a year, Hall says landing the nationals required a mountain of work and collaboration with Tourism Winnipeg for the bid.
“I expect that its significance of the event will be proven and grow over time,” Hall says. “For one thing, it’s drawn a lot of cooperation and network building out of the cycling community with so many partners and volunteers involved. There’s the whole exposure opportunity around having an elite event right downtown. This is the first time we’ve seen this level of elite cycling since the ’99 Pan Am Games.”
Hall emphasizes that the vibe of the weekend is that of a big party. He encourages spectators to dress warm and bring noisemakers. There’ll be announcers calling the race, allowing everyone to keep up with the chaos. A beer garden’s also being set up; Half Pints Brewing Company has concocted a special Belgian IPA for the tournament titled “Dead Ringer.” It’ll be a pretty perfect event to cap off the season.
“It’s a celebration for both the sport and activity of cycling,” Hall says. “Both have grown so much that I think Winnipeg can now call itself a bike city, with credit to the (University of Winnipeg) Bike Lab and Ice Riders. Also Ciclovia and Bike Winnipeg and bike jams. This event feeds off that energy, and I hope it contributes to it too.”
The Canadian Cyclocross Championship is on Friday, Oct. 24 to Sunday, Oct. 26. The University Race, which is part of Friday’s Kick Cancer Cyclocross Derby, can feature up to 30 riders per school (Hall mentions that there’s a lot of tough talk coming from Canadian Mennonite University).