Can Gunnar Holmgren win a fourth Paris to Ancaster title this month?

Competitive field should make the 2019 P2A one to remember

Gunnar Holmgren is the Canadian cyclocross champion and had a successful foray into European recently to test his mettle in World Cup competition including a top-30 finish in the UCI Men’s U-23 Cyclocross World Championships in Spain. But around here, Holmgren, who cut his teeth on the Wednesday night race series at Hardwood Ski & Bike, is best known as the three-time defending champion of the Paris to Ancaster Bicycle Race.

The fabled bicycle race, which appeals to everyone from the cyclocross and mountain bike set to roadies and gravel merchants and everything in between, is scheduled for April 28 in Ancaster, Ont.

This year’s Paris to Ancaster is shaping up to be the most competitive in recent memory with numerous high-profile competitors and teams signing up including the Floyd’s Cycling Team, founded by former Lance Armstrong teammate turned nemesis, Floyd Landis.

Can Holmgren step up to this fierce challenge? To celebrate the spring classic, we checked in with Holmgren to suss out just how likely a four-peat is.

It sounds like this year is going to be a very competitive P2A event with UCI Continental team competitors in the mix. How are you feeling about the race?
First of all excited! P2A is already a very tactical race with all the different terrain and narrow sections. Usually, many alliances are formed and team racing isn’t very common but with all these teams racing now it should shake it up and add a new dynamic to the race. It’s going o be a different tactical race this year so I’ll have to race extra smart and maybe call on a few friends.

How is the competition generally?
The competition is generally quite good. Many cyclocross pros race even though it’s their offseason but the pro mountain bikers have already raced a few times so they are ready to go. Last year Jeremey Powers and Anthony Clark raced, and they are both high-level cyclocross pros from the states. Also, on the women side, there is lots of competition with some European pros making the trip over the pond to race.

What do you enjoy most about Paris To Ancaster?
I think I enjoy the atmosphere at P2A the most. It’s a unique event where all different types of riders come to race or ride on the same course. It’s also a brutal course and everyone is pretty tired at the end where there is good food and lots of stories to tell.

You’ve won three times in a row, what is the secret to your success?
Probably riding smart. There are a lot of sections where it pays to be at or near the front of the race. The course narrows up significantly going into the wooded sections and the group often strings out into a single file. Everyone caught behind has to accelerate hard out of the section to catch back up. I think also being able to ride the last mud chute quite quick is important. After that, it’s a long technical uphill drag to the finish and it’s difficult to close a gap.

How did you end up developing a love for cyclocross?
I raced mountain bikes for the first time in the second half of the 2013 season and had so much fun. At first, Cyclocross was a means of continuing to race my bike through the fall and into the winter but now that I’m able to race in Europe after the North American season, it’s become more serious. Cross has become a passion of mine mostly because of the unpredictability. You have to learn to be adaptable on the go while smashing your brains out. It’s kinda fun!

Any tips for those looking to get into the sport and aren’t sure what to expect?
‘Cross is difficult, unpredictable and challenging no matter your level but most of all it’s fun. No two courses are the same so each weekend you’re getting a different race experience. What sets cross apart from the other cycling disciplines is the atmosphere. The fans and the racers all share the same love for the sport and the everyone is laid back but still full tilt cheering on all of the racers.

Where do you like to ride in the Hamilton area?
I don't ride much in Hamilton or the GTA but I really enjoy the roads and the gravel in the Dundas Valley and Belfountain. I’ve also recently discovered a great park for practising ‘cross skills called Bronte beach. Lots of sand, a little descent and a pretty good run up.

What has been your biggest victory so far in your career?
I think my biggest victory so far has been my C2 win on the second day of the National Championships this year in Peterborough. After winning my category at the championship the day before, I got the chance to race the elite riders including the elite national champ. It made it extra special being in proper muddy cross conditions.

You headed to Europe after winning the U23 Canadian title in December. How has it been so far?
I just finished my ‘cross racing in Europe and it’s been a blast. Mostly packed full of learning experiences with a few good results here and there. We got to race 3 world cups, 3 more high-level races and the World Championships in Bogense. I’m extremely grateful for all the support P2A has given to the national team this year as it’s given more athletes a chance to race against the best in the world and in a great environment surrounded by knowledgeable staff.

Where did you first learn to ride?
I first learned to ride at Hardwood Ski and Bike during the Wednesday night race series. My whole family would race every week during the summer. When I was about 13 years old I raced the MTB National Championships at Hardwood that year and was hooked. Hardwood is a great place to learn how to ride mountain bikes and now, for me, its a great place to train. The MTB National championships are returning to Hardwood this year so I’m pretty excited about that.

Any mentors that steered you into racing?
After I raced at the Hardwood Nationals when I was 13, I asked my dad to start coaching me. From then on he’s been my mentor as well as my mother who used to race at a high level as well. It’s pretty awesome having your parents as your coaches!

(Photos: Instagram)


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