The epic Paris to Ancaster Bicycle Race returns
The legend of the Paris To Ancaster Bike Race continues to grow and draw people from across North America to small-town southwestern Ontario. P2A was there at the centre of the cyclocross boom a decade ago, and it is at the centre of things once again when it comes to gravel racing with news that the event will host the 2023 Canadian Gravel Championships. And, the best thing is that any and all weekend warriors and two-wheeled aficionados of all shapes and sizes have a place at P2A and can not only be there but be on course when the magic happens April 29-30.
What is P2A you ask? It’s not simple to describe, except to say if you know, you know.
“The classic way we describe it is as the worst roads and farmlands we can find between Paris and Ancaster. It’s a combination of rail trails, gravel roads, and pavement where necessary. The real stars of the course are the sections of private property that we are allowed to use one day a year, or you could just call it a gravel race,” says Tim Farrar, one of the race co-founders along with John Thorpe. “When we started gravel races didn't exist. So we've always had a tough time figuring it out.”
This year’s event features four races including the Cento (this 110km route is also being used by the Canadian Gravel Championships), the P2A Classic that runs from Cambridge to Ancaster (70km), the P2A Bréve from St. George to Ancaster (45km) and the P2A Family Fun Ride. The 100K route was added in 2022 for the first time, in keeping with the popularity of the distance with gravel racers across North America.
“We had been attracting more of the top North American teams looking to have their riders in the past two years ago when we last had it,” says co-founder John Thorpe. “So that was part of the reason we got the 100K as it will become the race event. The classic event, the 70K, will always be there, but our elite competitors can do the 100k. The idea was to make it a little more epic.”
Organizers suggest that first-time participants sign up for the Bréve or Family Fun Ride before attempting the longer races. There is a good chance of getting covered in mud whichever you choose. It wouldn’t be P2A without it. The race is within reach for many cyclists and weekend warrior types looking for a new adventure. Both the 45K and the 70K are designed around people who don’t train full-time.
“To be fit enough to ride I think you don't have to be putting in 10 or 15 hours a week on the bike to be ready,” Farrar says. “But you do have to be ready to ride, you know, 30 kilometres an hour for a couple of hours. And if you can do that on the road, you're probably fit enough to do Paris Ancaster on a gravel, cyclocross, or mountain bike.”
There is also the Xert training program for those looking to get ready for race day. It’s a program that was implemented during the virtual events that combine a software platform with actual race footage so when you’re going up a hill you’ll feel it. It’s nice that way.
Of course, it wouldn’t be P2A without some big-name cyclists of all disciplines taking part. The reigning champ of the 100K is Michael van den Ham, the national champion in cyclocross from 2017 to 2019. Another athlete who has long been a big part of Paris to Ancaster is Gunnar Holmgren. He competes at the World Cup level in mountain bike and cyclocross, but cut his teeth charging the P2A mud chutes “I think I enjoy the atmosphere at P2A the most,” he says. “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.”
On the women's side, last year's winner Maghalie Rochette, who just finished a strong ninth at the world Cyclocross Championships, will be back. She will be looking to add the first-ever National Gravel Championship jersey to her collection.
For more information or to register, head to the P2A website here.