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Riders conquer tough terrain at Cyclocross

Forks transformed into rugged course

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John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press

Riders make a turn at the 2013 Manitoba Cyclocross Championships.

There were plenty of chills, thrills and spills Sunday at The Forks when the famous tourist attraction was transformed into a gruelling bike circuit for the Manitoba Cyclocross Championship.

"It's a very punishing course," said Anna Schappert, 22, a Canada Games mountain bike silver medallist who finished second in her division Sunday.

Spectators and supporters of riders in the 2013 Manitoba Cyclocross Championship lined the three-kilometre route that twisted its way through every type of terrain at The Forks. It took 25 volunteers 13 hours to prepare the circuit, race announcer Scott Scoles said.

Riders snaked their way through hairpin turns on the hill next to The Forks parkade, many wiping out crossing a gravel walkway, then getting right back on their bike to climb the "knoll of pain." Close to the riverwalk, the cyclists faced a sandpit -- a stretch that forced some riders off their bikes to slog through ankle-deep sand before carrying their bikes up a flight of stairs.

Volunteer crossing guards at points along the fenced Cyclocross route made sure visitors to the busy area didn't get run down by the racers.

"It's a lot of people to control," said a volunteer outside Travel Manitoba, waving a bright orange flag to warn the crossing guards nearby a racer was about to round the corner.

Sharp turns on slick cobblestones around Johnston Terminal caused a crash that involved several riders.

'You race really hard and have a good time, then relax and get together for a beer'

"They were yelling 'Whoa, whoa, whoa,' " said spectator Jim Backus. One racer didn't get up right away after having the wind knocked out of him. He laid on the ground for several minutes before getting up and walking away from the race.

Backus said he was there to holler at his friend Brad Gauthier, who was riding in a championship race.

"You come out to heckle riders," said Backus, whose caught the cyclocross bug and wants to start racing next year. "I want to be the fat guy getting heckled next year," he said with a laugh.

Cyclocross is not necessarily for elite cyclists or the intensely competitive, said racer Daniel Enns.

"People don't take it quite as seriously," he said before winning the championship's over-30 division.

"It's not stodgy -- you don't need the best equipment to get into cyclocross," he said, standing astride his bike an hour before his big race. He was cheering for the men and women, young and old, paunchy and slim in an earlier race as they exited the dreaded sandpit and schlepped their bikes up the stone stairs.

"The sand is going to be the most challenging part," Enns predicted. "When you're in it, it's the worst thing ever."

When the race is over, you're so glad you did it, he said. "You race really hard and have a good time, then relax and get together for a beer."

Enns finished second overall and first in the 30-plus age category.

The eight-lap championship race was won by Chris Prendergast in the 19-to-23 age group. Aaron Carter took the junior men's title and Jayson Gillespie took the senior men's title.

Before the main event, riders aged three to 59 raced along the route.

Three-year-old Hugo Wiebe competed in his first mini-cyclocross Sunday, including a ride up the knoll of pain.

"Every day I practise," said Hugo, whose year-old baby sister, Petra, watched him and their parents Dana, 40, and Greg, 47 compete.

It's fun to watch, said 10-year-old Sam Stephanson. He was keeping watch for his dad, Scott, at a corner where a half-dozen riders in the span of a few minutes wiped out crossing a gravel walkway. Scott Stephanson raced by without incident. Sam said his dad was well prepared for Sunday's Cyclocross.

"Two years ago, my dad started to eat healthy and get in shape." Now he teaches a spin class and races cyclocross, he said.

Thanks to people like Stephanson, the sport has grown in Manitoba. Schappert said when she got involved four years ago, she'd see 50 people sign up for an event. On Sunday, close to 200 took part.

It's become so popular, the Manitoba Cycling Association has put in a bid to host the 2014 Canadian Cyclocross Championships at The Forks. A decision is expected within the next week, said Scoles.

"Hopefully this weekend next year, it'll be here," said Schappert.

What if there's snow?

"We'll still do it."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 4, 2013 A6

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