More than 200 bike racers took to the streets of Ottawa’s Little Italy Sunday for the 45th edition of the Preston Street Criterium sponsored by eQ Homes and the Preston Street BIA.
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Racing included age-class events for riders aged 6 to 60, capped off with the with feature elite women’s and elite men’s races.
In the elite women’s event, with defending champion Ariane Bonhomme competing out of town, the clear favourite was 2015 winner Joëlle Numainville (Cylance Pro Cycling). The 29-year-old professional from Montreal made a last-minute decision to drive to Ottawa to vie for the $1,000 first prize, as well as getting a final tuneup before the Canadian Championships, to be held in Ottawa next weekend.
Miriam Brouwer (Rise Racing) was the first rider to launch hostilities, taking off solo on the fourth lap. Six laps later, four riders bridged across: Numainville, Sara Giovanetti (The Cyclery-4iiii), Karlee Gendron (Rise Racing) and Simone Boilard (Desjardins Ford).
The five riders worked well enough together in the blustery conditions to extend their lead to over a minute by lap 19, when Brouwer launched another attack. She was quickly brought back, but the acceleration meant the break was on the point of lapping the field at the same time as the skies opened up with a short but heavy rain shower.
The slick conditions quickly claimed a victim as Giovanetti slid out in one of the rain-soaked corners; she quickly got back in the race but as the break caught the peloton Giovanetti was struggling in the corners and was dropped after a series of attacks lifted the pace.
With five laps to go, Rise Racing put one of their lapped riders on the front to discourage attacks and attempt to foil Numainville, but she was simply too strong in the final sprint and won by a bike length from Gendron and Boilard.
“I knew my form was really good coming into this race so I was confident I would win,” said Numainville, who has spent most of the season competing on the European professional circuit.
The roads were completely dry for the elite men’s race thanks to gusting winds and a temperature of 28C, making for very muggy conditions.
The field was stacked with favourites, including three former winners: 2016 champ Anton Varabei (Toronto Hustle); 2009 and 2013 winner Derrick St. John (Ride With Rendall); and 2008 winner Osmond Bakker (The Bandits Cycling Team).
The pace from the gun was as hot as the weather, with a continuous series of breakaways that were unable to gain more than 10 seconds on the main field for the first half-hour of racing. Among the most active riders in the early running were William Goodfellow (Veloselect) and Varabei, but Ed Veal (RealDeal Racing), Derek Gee (Team RaceClean) and St. John were all keeping a close eye on things.
Finally, after 20 laps a group of four eked out a 15-second advantage: Goodfellow, St. John, Mark Brouwer (Ascent Cycling) and Kyle Boorsma (Ascent Cycling). They were soon joined by Gee, Stephen Keeping (Transports Lacombe/DeVinci), Yuri Hrycaj (Toronto Hustle) and Mike Little (Ascent Cycling) to form a group of eight that hovered 10 to 15 seconds ahead of the field.
But the chasers did not give them much leeway, and a big reshuffle happened 10 laps later. From the chaos another break emerged, made up of Varabei, Brouwer, Max Rubarth (Transports Lacombe/DeVinci), St. John, Gee, Benoit Boulay (Toronto Hustle) and Goodfellow. The break did not work well together and didn’t gain more than 30 seconds on the field until Gee launched an attack with six laps to go.
Gee, 19, hails from Osgoode just outside Ottawa and is a member of Canada’s men’s team pursuit program that won a track cycling world cup earlier this year. This effort was tailor made for him and he put his head down and poured everything into his six-kilometre race for the line, taking time out of the chasers each lap and winning solo 15 seconds ahead of Varabei, who outsprinted St. John for second.
“I made the attack on instinct,” said a delighted Gee after the finish. “I didn’t know if I could stay away — I was racing scared all the way to the line.”
Bike Race Ottawa would like to thank the sponsors and volunteers who made this event possible. The Preston Street Criterium will be back in 2018 on its traditional Father’s Day date: June 17.