Toronto Hustle – Hold Fast ep. IV
“Crits are the battleground for modern day gladiators. Corralled along the barriers, riders are jamming their front wheels as far forward as possible – every inch counts. More than 30,000 fans line the course, banging the barriers with one hand, cellphones recording with the other. The noise is deafening – few races can match this atmosphere.”
In our second trip across the continent, Toronto Hustle found themselves in Vancouver to take part in North America’s largest and most competitive criterium series, BC Superweek. Spanning nearly two weeks, BC Superweek offers 9 professional races in 10 days with a total prize purse of $140,000. Increasingly, the series is becoming a global affair with 13 different nationalities participating, a growing women’s professional field, races for kids and a number of para-events. With the exception of the UCI Delta Road Race, and the Tour de White Rock, the balance of the series is comprised of criterium races.
The format is raw and exposed – you can feel the nerves and tension as the riders stage on the startline. With nearly 200 cyclists packed against the fencing, positioning is critical as riders negotiate a series of technical turns, launch attacks, and sprint for primes. For spectators, these crits provide a display of courage, speed, technical acumen and horsepower as riders explore the limits of their physical abilities and take calculated risks.
The crown jewel of the series is the Gastown Grand Prix. Since 1973, the GGP has attracted some of the sport’s biggest protagonists including Davis Phinney, Alex Steida, Lance Armstrong, Christian Meier and Svein Tuft. As the only criterium in Canada with official UCI status, even the professional teams have this event marked on their calendars, and the depth of the field continues to grow.
Every race needs an identity. Gastown Grand Prix cuts through the heart of Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood, dating back to a single tavern founded in 1867 – the streets are cobbled and grand Victorian architecture provides a romantic backdrop for Vancouver’s thriving fashion scene, art galleries, and local culinary fare. The backside of the course abuts Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside – one of Canada’s most challenged neighbourhoods. It’s a hard place. Drug abuse is rife and many strife with mental health issues. The contrast is stark and abrupt – it serves as an uncomfortable but important reminder about the growing inequality seen in many of our urban centres.
The criterium is the coliseum for modern day gladiators. Riders are corralled along the barriers, jamming their front wheels as far forward as possible – every inch counts. More than 30,000 fans line the course, banging the barriers with one hand, cellphones recording with the other. The noise is deafening – few races can match this atmosphere. Gastown’s four corner course features cobbles, chicanes, and a tight hairpin turn. The narrow roads, length of the straightaways and size of the field make it nearly impossible to move up in the wind, so pack skills are key to survival. Gastown Grand Prix is always a race of attrition.
Despite Cylance putting their entire squad on the front for Justin Williams, they couldn’t match the leg speed of Rally Cycling’s defending champion Eric Young, who came over top of their train to secure back-to-back wins. BC Superweek is an important measuring stick. All of the top continental directors are in attendance, scouting talent and evaluating potential. Performance in the moment is everything. It’s critical for developing riders to race against top ranked professionals, if for nothing else other than to defy the odds which are, quite naturally, stacked against them. For Toronto Hustle, 9 races in 10 days is a great opportunity to refine race craft – the subtle nuances, the corrections, the recalculations that riders take away from each race can be incorporated into strategy the very next day. No cooling off period, no waiting a week before you can correct course.
Absent the fire power of the professional outfits, we raced as aggressively as we could hoping to put a rider in what would become a winning move. We never found that move – all week, successive attacks were gobbled up by a hungry peloton. The pressure for results felt by pure professionals is lacking in our camp. Our riders are motivated by the emotional connection we share as teammates and our collective experiences on the bike. Despite not winning, these make the crits worthwhile for us.
Words: Brad Bradford Video: Lossless Creative