By Scott Kelly
Competitors from across Ontario and the US met in Toronto over the weekend to battle it out on the slopes of Centennial ski hill at the first annual Toronto UCI C2 International Pro-Am Cyclo-cross Race weekend. It would be the first time this year that all of Ontario's top riders, along with a few American wildcards, would converge in one place.
On Saturday, racers were faced with a long, flat challenging course that was a serpentine affair which rewarded riders who could push a big gears.
Buoyed by a first lap prime, Saturday's elite men's race was fast from the gun. Mike Garrigan (Epic Ride/Jetpower), newly crowned Canadian National Cyclo-cross champion, took the money for being the first through the beer tent barriers. Unfortunately what momentum he had was hindered by an early puncture.
A group containing all the favourites quickly formed and the race was on. Positions would change but it was still very much anyone's race until the closing laps when Greg Reain (Ride with Rendall) decided to make his move. It was a course suited to his style of riding and when Reain went, no one could respond. Reain finished thirty seconds clear of second placed Osmond Bakker (Stevens Cross) with Nathan Chown (Handlebars CC) rolling in for third.
In the elite women's race pre-race favourite and reigning Canadian National champion Wendy Simms (Kona-Yourkey.com) led from start to finish. Owing much to her strong legs and flawless riding she was simply the class of the field. Knowing the UCI points would earn her a favourable spot on the start line at next weekend's USGP in New Jersey; Simms was out for the win. Natasha Elliot (Stevens Cross) continued her strong cross campaign in second place and Jennifer Stephenson (Team Ultralink) in third.
Sunday's course treated racers to the classic rolling up and down grind that is a ski hill course and with it, came a new set of challenges. Gone were the windy flat stretches and off camber sections that played so strongly in Greg Reain's favour on Saturday; climbing was the theme of the day, favouring Southern Ontario series leader Andrew Watson.
Like the previous day, the competition was fierce from the gun. Almost immediately riders were fighting for lines and for places. Again there was a prime on offer for the first rider to the barriers and Mike Garrigan claimed it for the second time in the process earning himself a brand new pressure washer.
It didn't take long for a split to happen and when it did it was Watson and Garrigan making amends for their mechanical difficulties on Saturday. Working together they distanced themselves from a hard-charging field. With several laps to go, Watson went to work on the climbs. Watson flew up the slopes of Centennial Park riding towards a deserved win. Garrigan was able to hold on for second with previous day's winner Reain coming in for third.
In the women's race Wendy Simms was again favoured for the win and she came up with the goods. Simms again proved why she is one of the premiere Cyclo-cross riders in North America. She appeared just as adept on the hills as on the flats and she climbed and descended in a class all her own. Trading spots on the podium from the previous day were Jennifer Stephenson in second and Natasha Elliot in third.