For the Centurion Next Wave road cycling team this past weekend was a case of something old, something new and something from last year at the annual Blue Mountain Centurion event. Just like last year, bad weather was a factor causing organizers to cancel the 100-mile event this year as heavy rain and thunderstorms were forecasted. As a result all 900 cyclists on Saturday participated in the 50-mile event. Fortunately the weather improved markedly for Sunday’s 25-mile event, with light winds and sunny skies.
Centurion Blue Mountain marks the final road race of the season for the Centurion Next Wave Cycling Team. The team was discovered at this race three year’s ago when they rode impressively as a team of 14 and 15 year-olds and made a huge impression on race organizers. This led to Centurion Cycling becoming the team’s title sponsor. Now, three years later, it was impressive to see how the team has grown and get a glimpse of the up-and-coming cycling talent. Some of the original team members have now moved through cycling’s Junior (U19) ranks and will be moving on to other U23 teams. A number of athletes have now raced for Team Ontario and Team Canada, including Horseshoe’s Matt Staples who heads to the Road Cycling World Championships in Qatar in October. At the same time fresh young talent has emerged through the team’s youth cup ranks to fill the vacancies at the cadet (U17) and Junior levels.
The Centurion 50 mile event on Saturday saw the team amass its top riders in the front group right from the start. The front group quickly dwindled down to about 25 riders after they crested the second climb. By that time Gunnar Holmgren had bolted from the front of the pack to take a 17 second lead. He was eventually caught by competitors in the lead group which hit speeds topping 80 kph on the final descent off the escarpment. This allowed Matt Staples to take the front, after a small but minor crash in the field at the final turn about 3 km from the finish. Staples would get a gap on the field and hold it to the line to win the race, his final one with the team. Behind him teammates Graydon Staples and Gunnar Holmgren sprinted to complete the podium taking second and third in the sprint to the line.
Sunday’s 25 mile race would showcase the team’s up-and-coming talent. It was again a solid performance by the team in the front of the field. With over 400 cyclists participating, the race was again contested by 45 riders in the front pack which made it’s way up and down the Pretty River Parkway with an average speed in excess of 40 kph. About a third of the way into the race, Will Elliott (who races internationally for Team RaceClean) and 14 year-old little brother Richard Elliott (racing for Centurion Next Wave’s Youth Cup Team) raced away from the pack. Despite efforts to chase them down, the duo maintained a gap and (not surprisingly) would work well together until the end. It would be Richard Elliott’s first big win in his young cycling career as he crossed the finish line in first place, making him Centurion’s youngest-ever race winner. The peloton would arrive nearly a minute later led by Collingwood favourite PJ Kings (Team Sound Solutions) and Centurion Next Wave’s Noah Simms, Gunnar Holmgren and Colton Woods. Holmgren’s strong finish in both events earned him the title of overall winner of the Gran Centurion Stage Race, flanked on the podium by teammates Noah Simms and Colton Woods in second and third place.
Amongst the women, Dana Gilligan was back to defend her title. She would finish 12th amongst the women in the 50 mile race and 6th in the 25 mile race. Her combined time would be good enough for second overall. Local triathlete Jasmin Aggarwal, racing for Centurion Next Wave, also posted a great result in the 50 mile race finishing with the 5th fastest women’s time.
With the Centurion Next Wave’s men sweeping the podium in the 50 mile race, winning the 25 mile race and the overall podium and with the women taking second overall, the race was once again a huge success for the team and showcased local talent once again in a strong field of cyclists from all over Ontario. For some of the athletes the next few months will usher in some recovery time while others gear up for the fall’s cyclocross season. Meanwhile the team will start to plan and organize for next year’s races with hopes of similar success for local youth in 2017.
Photo 1: Matt Staples wins the Centurion 50 mile event while teammates Graydon Staples and Gunnar Holmgren sprint to round out the podium.
Picture 2: At 14 years of age Richard Elliott is Centurion’s youngest-ever race winner. He’s joined on the podium by brother Will Elliott (Team RaceClean) and PJ Kings (Team Sound Solutions).