Beloved spring bike race Paris to Ancaster comes up with unique virtual event
The Paris to Ancaster Bike Race is legendary. The spring event is a pioneer of gravel biking and has become one of the most popular bike races in the country. A testing ground where weekend warriors line up their lanky cabooses at the start line alongside professional road racers, mountain bikers and cyclocross racers. And nobody goes home until everyone is good and muddy and smiling from ear to ear. It is that epic.
This year, with the pandemic still not under control in Southern Ontario, the event is going virtual on April 24 and 25. But in true P2A style, this is not your typical virtual event.
The 2021 P2A experience includes the Virtual P2A, which will take all the mud, gravel and grit of the P2A online using the Xert smart training platform, and featuring a high-quality POV video of the actual race combined with a smart trainer.
“From a ‘high level’ point of view, we felt we had to do something this year, we couldn’t have two years without an event,” says co-race director John Thorpe. “We got talking to Ray VanderVeen and Armando Mastracci, both of whom are longtime participants of P2A. In the past, we had discussed some sort of virtual event as a winter training tool for P2A. Ray and Armando were able to take this idea and synch it with their existing training platform. I think the fact that they are both P2A guys, really helped create an experience which will look and feel like the real thing, without the mud.”
Participants will be able to feel the pain of the right hand turn onto Sharps Lane, coast along the rail trail, blast the mudslide, and cramp up on Martins Road Hill. The Xert platform provides onboard data including power output, heart-rate, speed and leaderboard style interactive features.
The Xert race will be held on April 24. Also, there is, naturally, an outdoor component so cyclists can get good and muddy.
Race organizers and pros such as three-time P2A winner Mike Garrigan and Sean Rupple of Superfly Racing and others have developed P2A-inspired gravel routes around Ontario.
“This developed over a few months – the basic idea being if we couldn’t bring hundreds of cyclists together to ride, maybe we could get hundreds riding separately, at the same time around the province,” says co-race director Tim Farrar. “At least this would give them something to work towards, and an unofficial start to the season."
Tim has worked with a variety of ride organizers, P2A riders, and bike shop owners across the province to come up with “p2a inspired” gravel routes.
Garrigan has mapped an 85-km route in the Dufferin County area that is 73 per cent gravel, 25 per cent tarmac and 2 per cent "other". According to P2A, in typical Garrigan fashion, “it will be longer and harder than the actual thing!”
Other routes are being developed in Ottawa, Toronto, Simcoe, Muskoka, Peterborough, Parry Sound, London, St Catharines, and Brant County with more to come. And, as Farrar explains, like P2A itself, designing the routes has become a family affair.
“Gunner Holmgren, who has won the race three times recently, and his dad Rob was 13th in 1996,” he says. “Along with the rest of the Holmgren family, they are designing the Simcoe county remote P2A ride. And Cyclocross pro Siobhan Kelly first saw the race from the seat of a stroller when her dad was riding. This year she’s designing the London area Not the P2A route.”
Participants signing up for the virtual P2A will also get exclusive access to GPS maps for the “Not The P2A” rides across Ontario. P2A will also be hosting a community feed on the event website so people can share their experiences and photos of their rides. It’s all an attempt to keep the P2A community together, despite how hard it has been over the past year cancelling not one but two of the popular spring classics.
Paris to Ancaster race directors breakdown virtual event
If it’s one thing the race directors are sure of, despite what’s happened in 2020 and 2021 is that P2A isn’t going anywhere and will be back in 2022.
“The cool part with P2A is how it comes back to you in so many ways – I can be talking to a non-cyclist and they will mention a cousin or other relative who is really into biking – and it is easy to say, well if he is into biking he will know P2A…and they will,” says Thorpe. “One of the times I realized this was when my 80-year-old mom heard about it from one of her (younger) friends. They were telling her about this crazy race, and she said – I think my son organizes that.”
Those who deferred their entry from last year will be able to register for free. If you register by April 9, Paris to Ancaster will mail you a commemorative number plate and an exclusive #P2A2021 swag bag (retail value $50).
Supporting the race this year is essential, and keeping that community spirit alive and well. Although P2A started as this unique and incredible Canadian bike race, it’s taken on a life of itself.
“I think the course is the key, at least originally it was,” Farrar says. “Now it is the people – the community of people who participate year after year.”
To register or for more information head to the P2A registration portal.