The setting was about as picturesque as you can get for a race. Right in the heart of Vancouver, Vanier Park provides a panoramic view of downtown, Stanley Park, and the North Shore mountains. West Coast Cycling choose a great venue to showcase cyclocross to the uninitiated on a gorgeous autumn day – a popular multi-use path skirts the park, providing plenty of gawking opportunities for those passing by.
The weather was a big change from last year where heavy rain and wind pounded racers and turned the park into a muddy mess. It seemed unlikely that the Vancouver Parks Board would allow the race to return, but thankfully they did. Along with the change in weather, this year’s course route underwent slight modifications. The tight corners of previous years were replaced by wide, open lines. Combined with big straights and only two forced dismounts for a set of stairs and a set of barriers, the pace was high and lap times fast. The elite men clocked in their fastest lap at around 5:40. For a 60 minute race, that makes for a lot of laps.
The sun was shining and the smell of burgers on the BBQ contributed to a festive atmosphere. Team and sponsor tents lined the finish where spectators of all ages cheered on the riders. The prime spot for good natured heckling was the uphill barriers where more than one rider, myself included, mistimed the sweeping uphill dismount and stumbled over the planks. There were even a few ill advised marshmallow hand ups on the course, but I’m not sure if there were many takers.
After my failed start position from Burnaby Foreshore CX I paid better attention to the time and showed up early to staging. It paid off with a third row call-up, which was important because of the massive group. By the time we were ready to start, 61 riders had filled the starting line, making a good start crucial. With heavy legs from the previous day’s race facing the prospect of a course that required more power than I could likely produce, my expectations were low. I was feeling uninspired, but once the whistle went I was determined to go as hard as I could for as long as I could.
I surprised myself with a good start and a few strong laps. Unlike in Whistler where I had to watch out for every blemish on the course, the wide open grass of the Vanier race allowed me to put my head down and pedal. With my gaze fixed on my stem, I gritted my teeth and tried to hang on with the faster riders. For three laps I powered through before I blew up and slowly started fading back into the pack. Thankfully, my good start put me in a decent position and I finished 29th out of 61. Not as high as I would have liked, but a solid mid pack ride in a large group.
After the sweat had dried and my pain face subsided I joined the line up for the the free BBQ provided for racers and was pleased to be upgraded to a double burger. Podiums and draw prizes were awarded. Shortly after I found myself sitting on a patio overlooking False Creek in my shorts and t-shirt, soaking up the sun and enjoying a well deserved beer with friends. Given that at this time last year I was trying to fend off hypothermia after the race, cyclocross in October never felt so good.