We may no longer boast to those entering Edmonton that we are a “City of Champions”, but we truly are. Pan American and National Cyclocross Women’s Master Champions to be exact.
November 3 & 11 saw international and national cyclocross athletes alike battling tire to tire for the Pan-American and National Cyclocross Championships respectively. And while Ontario may have hosted both, it was Alberta who brought home the hardware. Shiny hardware. Gold and Bronze hardware. Silver Goose hardware.
Preparing for back to back national and international level cyclocross race weekends is a significant feat, but Edmonton’s own Sarah Gilchrist and Caitlin Callahan were up to the challenge. Caitlin the defending Masters A National Champion and Sarah the relative rookie both worked hard this season, raced with grit and determination, and it was Gilchrist who earned the top podium step bringing home both Pan-Am AND National Champion Masters Women’s gold.
Traveling to Ontario to race at this level demands organization, focus, and preparation from every athlete. But, traveling solo and juggling 3 and a half year old twin girls, luggage, and a bike bag, presents a different set of challenges. Luckily, traveling with her own young cheering squad in tow is second nature for Sarah as well as a source of motivation.
The first race to tackle was the Silver Goose which served this year as the Pan-American Championships and the first time its been held north of the 49th. The course offered a great mix of everything: technical sections, sand, mud, long straight sections, climbs, off camber, and a double stairs run up, and Sarah was super excited to share the course and the day with riders she usually only watches on tv. With less experience riding through sand and ruts she wasn’t the fastest on some of the technical sections, but she was able to put power down and make up time in other areas of the 3km circuit. Playing leapfrog with Joanne Grogan - BMB Racing (eventual runner up), Sarah made her move at the start of the last lap and put in enough distance to hold off Grogan by 10 seconds. Her Gold medal was accompanied by the impressive Silver Goose trophy - talk about bringing home the hardware!
A week later Sarah lined up again, this time to contest for the National Women’s Master A Cyclocross Champion title, but found herself in a very different scenario. It had snowed the day before, and without mud tires she was left to navigate the snow, mud, ice mix with less than ideal treads. A compounding challenge was her race started 1 minute after the Masters 55+ and 65+ men’s races which put over 67 people on the racecourse at the same time. Many of the male racers were slower (some much slower) than those at the front of her race, so she had to work hard to pass numerous riders. While an unfamiliar challenge (Alberta’s women’s racers average around 20 racers), Sarah maneuvered with quick precision and again won gold, finishing ahead of many of the men who had started before her. This time, in addition to her second gold medal she was also awarded one of the special course stakes, which sadly didn’t fit in any of her luggage and had to remain in Ontario.
With two gold medals in one week Sarah was set to fair well in her first Elite race the day following her Nationals win. She had a decent start considering she started in the third of four rows...but her race went pear-shaped with a flat about 500 meters in, malfunctioning shifting preventing her from using her desperately needed easier gears, and ill-matched treads (and no pit bike) for the far muddier course. But as she puts it “That’s cross racing!”.
Alberta continued to represent as Caitlin brought some hardware home of her own winning National Champion Masters Women’s bronze and a very respectful fourth place Pan-Am finish.
Those who know Sarah and Caitlin will attest to their kind, humble, and down-to-earth natures, especially when it comes to racing. None of them known to toot their own horns, even when national and international champions jerseys now hang amongst their usual cycling kit so we’ll boast for them - way to go ladies!
**For those unfamiliar with the unique world of Cyclocross (commonly known as “Cross”), the format (shorter race time, viewer/family friendly, usually easy to get to since they are in local city parks) is special because it allows people that love cycling and that are keen to compete a (relatively) easy way to race bikes and also do it well. These same aspects of cross suit racing as a Master really well since the time investment to train and go to events is not overwhelming, and racing in the Masters category allows one to race against their peers who are also trying to balance racing with managing a family/career/other obligations. The diversity of competitors in Masters racing for cyclocross is also really unique and interesting demographically - it's a mix of former professionals, those that may have raced at a younger age and are getting back into it now, and also some that are just getting into racing for the first time.