Athletes are getting ready for the biggest cycling event to hit Winnipeg in over 20 years.
Local superstars like Danick Vandale, Anna Schappert, Willem Boresma and Chris Prendergast are laying it all on the line, as they take on some of the biggest racers from all over North America during the Shimano Canadian Cyclocross Championships to be held at the Forks this weekend.
The last time Winnipeg saw this level of competitive cycling was when the historic Downtown District hosted international superstar riders and local prodigies, like Clara Hughes, for the running of the Cobblestone Classic Series.
The series ran from 1986 through 1994, but was scrapped in 1995 due to the lack of a major sponsor. Both Coors and Canadian Tire were the previous sponsors.
Local racers and supportive citizens still comment on how they would wish the series to come back. Everyone that can remember the series would describe it as being an icon for what it meant to bring Winnipeggers together in the celebration of cycling sport.
“The Cobblestone Classic was such a major tradition in Winnipeg,” says Steve Scoles, who will be the announcer this weekend at the Forks. Steve also raced in the classic Cobblestone series back in the day.
“It was always amazing to race in front of such a large number of spectators right in your hometown.”
Now, Winnipeg can revisit all of the splendor and glory of days past with this weekend’s races.
Scoles adds, “The Canadian Cyclocross championships at the Forks really has the potential to regain that kind of cycling tradition in Winnipeg. The location is as good as it gets for a cyclocross race.”
Clara Hughes competed in the 1990 Cobblestone Classic and finished with an exceptional 7th place in the Women’s Road Race. These races give local people the chance to compete and be recognized for the talent they have.
“It’s great to have such a large event in the heart of Winnipeg” says Chris Prendergast, who races for the H & R Block Amateur Team. “We have such an awesome and dedicated group of organizers here. I think their passion will really blow away racers coming in from outside of Winnipeg.”
“It’s the biggest event to hit Winnipeg in a long time,” says Anna Schappert, a local sportswoman who attends the University of Manitoba’s Mechanical Engineering Program. “There are many talented females here in Manitoba, and these races will show that we can compete with the world.”
“Nationals to me means everything,” says Canada’s current Under 19 National Cyclocross Champion, Portage la Prairie’s Willem Boresma. “To have it in my home province where everybody is cheering is sweet. I do not have to deal with the problems of travel, and the benefit of racing on my home track all support my attempt at having the best race of my career!
I know that Nationals will be a great thing for Cyclocross here in Manitoba, and I hope I can benefit with a great result this weekend.”
The National festivities will start on Thursday night with a film called, Working Dogs, held at Winnipeg’s Cinematheque. This film gives a rare glimpse into the psyche and dynamic of both a sled dog pack and an elite athlete – both have their own unwavering drive.
The racing events start Friday at 10:00 a.m., with the media/celebrity race, and the exciting Fast and Female clinic at 5:30 p.m., where top Canadian athletes are engaged in an intimate and interactive environment with local racers. Cost for the Fast and Female clinic is $30.
The Friday night open race goes at 7:00 p.m. and has over 80 racers registered. Entrants do not need to have Manitoba Cycling Association licenses, but need to have a safe bicycle and helmet. For those who are interested, here is the registration link.
There are also open category races on Saturday and Sunday, and these have the same costs and regulations.
Details on the weekend’s events can be found here.
All photos by Gregory McNeill