The goal for the Canadian juniors at the Cyclocross World Championships was simply to to learn as this was the first time at the big race for each of the three riders.
“The main focus is for them to learn, what it’s like for them to race in Europe and then take all that experience and bring it home and use that in their competitions, to make them that much stronger and that much smarter.” Soigneur and mechanic Alex Sanna explained the day prior to the race.
The three juniors wearing the Maple Leaf were Benjamin Perry, Karl Hoppner and Yohan Patry. For both Patry and Perry, the Worlds race was only their second cross race in Europe while Hoppner had been experienced Belgium cross since November.
Of course results in the race were important but there’s more to it than that for Sanna. “If they have a good clean race, in that there are no issues, mechanical, whatever and they walk away with I had fun in my first World Championships, that’s great.”
Canadian Jr National Champion Perry had enjoyed his first ever World Cup in Hoogerheide the weekend before. “It was interesting to see the money going into the sport and all the people there to watch.” he said about the experience. “The course was fun, I made some bad decisions like where to run, where to ride but aside from that I loved that course.”
In his third racing season, the 16-year old admits that this is the first season that he’s actually trained for cross. “The previous seasons I’ve done cross-country running and raced on the weekends. I just enjoyed it a lot more than running, ‘oh I don’t want to run today when I can ride my bike today’.”
Although he was looking for a to 40 finish, Perry suffered from two mechanical issues with his chain during the race and ultimately finished in 54th place.
Hoppner made his way to Belgium, along with Sanna, following the Canadian National Championships where he finished second. The 17-year old did his schooling online over the past two summers in order to have the semester off and focus on cross.
“It was all about this season, making sure I could come here without doing school and just go at it.” Hoppner explained.
He has been relishing the experience of racing against the best in Europe. “I’ve been getting better each race. My first World Cup I finished 45th, and Sunday at Hoogerheide I finished 34th. I’ve been moving up and I’ve also been racing the smaller races, the B races and I got my first podium last week. It was great, all the work is coming together.”
His goal for the race was a top 30 finish. “I haven’t done that yet this year but I’ve been pretty close. To do that here, it would be good.”
It was looking good for Hoppner during the race. After a good start, he started to move up making his way into the top 20 on the course but then he crashed. “I was right in the group where I wanted to be, 19th I think and then I crashed in the off-camber and I broke my break cable, I had to pit and then my pit bike there was only 18 PSI in the tires and I crashed twice again on that, then I got another bike and the same thing, not enough air in the tires. It’s disappointing.”
“I’m really happy with my season, everything was good, I had a great season despite today. It will still a great experience, it was fun.” It was still his best season ever for Hoppner who’s been racing for three years, and he’ll be back. “My long-term goal is to be over here racing full-time.”
For Patry, the goal going into the race was a top 40 finish after placing 45th at the Hoogerheide World Cup, his first ever cross race in Europe. In order to do that, he was looking for a good start and then luck. “With this course you never know what’s going to happen, it is the world championships. There will be a lot of crashes on the first lap.”
Patry has been racing bikes for most of his life. “It’s my sixth season racing cyclocross but I also race on the road and mountain bike, it’s my eleventh season.” He admits to preferring cyclocross.
The 16-year old had enjoyed his first World Cup. “I was a bit surprised, I was thinking that I would finish further back. It wasn’t extraordinary. It really was what I was expecting I watched a lot of videos on line before the race, to put me in the ambiance.”
Patry was the highest-placed Canadian, finishing in 35th position. “I started the race at the back of the group, and rode conservatively. I was also very lucky not to be involved in any crash,” he said after the race. “I am very satisfied with my race, and hope to come back at the Worlds next year.”
While the scene is certainly not as big in Canada than in it’s neighbor USA, it is growing and riders are looking to learn and shared in the information.
Growing in the Ottawa region. “When I started myself as mid-20s, a long time ago”, laughed Sanna, “there wasn’t that many, there was maybe 15 or 20 people total.” And now, the numbers are around 150 in the Southern Ontario series. “Ottawa is actually growing, the popularity is growing. It’s also growing because it’s growing in the US, and Europe, and a lot more Canadians and Americans are coming to Europe, bringing all the information back to North America.”
And in Quebec. “It’s starting to be more and more popular.” Patry said. “I remember that in my first years that I raced cyclocross in Quebec, we were about 30 riders now there’s around 120 riders.”
While the team suffered setbacks in Germany, everyone learned and you can bet that they’ll be back.