Taking the world by bike

Finding out near the end of the year that he qualified for the Canadian National Team for the 2011 Cyclocross World Championships was certainly one of the greatest highlights of Craig Richey’s year.

Craig Richey has followed his dream of cyclocross racing all the way across the Atlantic to set up home in Belgium.

Craig Richey has followed his dream of cyclocross racing all the way across the Atlantic to set up home in Belgium.

Finding out near the end of the year that he qualified for the Canadian National Team for the 2011 Cyclocross World Championships was certainly one of the greatest highlights of Craig Richey’s year.

Growing up in Smithers provided the perfect start to his career as a professional cyclocross racer, Richey wrote in an e-mail to The Interior News. As a kid, he and his friends would bike around town, until grade eight when the group got more into mountain biking and would head up to the trails on the Bluff fairly regularly.

“I did my first ever mountain bike race at Call Lake,” Richey wrote. “I had fun, but bonked hard and got dead last.”

It definitely didn’t stop him, or his passion for the sport and in Grade 11 he landed his “dream job”, working at McBike after school. His boss Peter Krause was really supportive for kids who wanted to get more in depth in mountain biking.

In the summers after that, he spent a considerable amount of time practicing, although most of his focus was spent on cross country skiing and wrestling. Two years later he faced the decision of either going to the University of Calgary for advancing his wrestling abilities, or to the University of Victoria, where he could get more into cycling, given the year-round opportunity to ride. In the end, UVic was where he chose to go.

“If you want to be a competitive cyclist, or triathlete, then Victoria is the best place in Canada,” he said. “Since a huge portion of Canada’s elite level cyclists call Victoria home, there are lots of great group rides and local mid-week training races most of the year.”

A great many of them, he stated, that he was in over the next seven years. In his first year, he joined the Triathlon club, purchased a road bike, got a coach, and started getting serious. In the fall, he started to do more cross racing, and by 2008 he was a provincial champion at mountain biking, and placed 35th at a World Cup.

“The last couple of years my results have stabilized and I figured I needed to shake things if I wanted to take my racing to the next level,” Richey wrote.

And so, with this in mind, he quit his full time job in advertising and decided to focus on cyclocross, a sport where one does multiple laps on a short (between 2.5 and 3.5 kilometres) track featuring a variety of surfaces, often requiring one to dismount to go around obstacles.

“The attraction to cyclocross is that it suits my body type, plays to my strengths and combines aspects of road and mountain bike racing,” Richey stated. “The sport is also rapidly growing in popularity, so there will be lots of opportunities over the next couple of years.”

As a cyclocross racer, he found that to get big race experience, he’d have to move, so in November, 2010 he decided to move to Europe — Belgium in particular — to be more central. One of the bigger challenges with cyclocross is the huge amount of travel required, Richey said, but by moving it’s made the logistics of traveling with two bikes and added equipment that much easier.

“Belgium is so much different than North America,” Richey said. “In Belgium, cycling is the big show. Cyclocross here is like hockey in Canada.”

A main spectator sport, races can be host to upwards of 20,000, in addition to being televised. Considering the weather can sometimes be pretty horrendous, given that most of these races are in the fall and early winter, that’s quite something, Richey stated, compared to Canada, or even the U.S. where it remains a fringe sport.

It’s been quite the place for him, quite challenging. Whereas in North America he would often lead the race, in Europe it’s more about not being lapped, he stated. That’s the amount of tough competition there is, and what he’s training to overcome.

Since learning of his place on the Canadian team, he’s been very busy, he stated, who just in the last week participated in five pro races to warm up for the big challenge at the end of the month.

It can be a very demanding sport, one which requires the utmost of training to get past the muddy and extremely technical courses at the high speeds required to place. A challenge, but a very rewarding one, he stated.

The biggest reward? “The feeling you get when you put everything together and have the perfect race.”