Fortunately, RedBull offered to get Spring going with a bike race set at the iconic Ontario Place (familiarize yourself with it here) that is a modified version of an classic bike race series originating in Toronto: the Alley Cat races. These races see urban areas turned into impromptu race circuits that pit bike messengers against each-other for bragging rights. This modern version was open to the public and all skill-levels bringing the once underground and secretive races to the masses in a classic format with a new setting. Having a proper race course and an event supported by the city of Toronto meant everyone was safe with first-aid on site and a properly marked course with marshals to ensure a level playing field with little to no danger of injury for the riders. This brings the fixed-gear, urban cyclist movement to the forefront; in turn promoting cycling, friendly competition and also bringing awareness to cycling safety on the streets of Toronto.
The race had only two categories: Fixed/Track and Open. That meant that if you owned a bicycle you were eligible to participate in the sprint around the course to throw your hat in the ring to see who was fastest. 200 riders from all over the province brought their track bikes, urban fixed-gear, carbon road racers, BMXs and even downhill mountain bikes to race, which made the competition exciting and fun to watch.
Adding to the atmosphere of the race was a full vendor village to check out new products, food trucks and a live DJ to tie everything together. To pass the time, spectators were treated to some action-packed bicycle polo to help fill time between heats. If you have even the slightest interest in the sport, do yourself a favor and see it live. The bikes are
modified to make maneuverability easier, the players padded up for protection and all bets were off as the teams battled it out in the rink.
The 3.7km loop challenged racers of all skill-levels and this was the first event held at Ontario Place since it closed in 2011, making it extra special and with a course unlike most, proved to be a worthy venue. Road races are typically built around endurance, not speed and athletes are usually doing 100+km races, not 3.7km sprints which makes for a more entertaining watch and allows for hasty decisions on the course – it’s balls out or last place.
Under the spring sun, the riders whipped around the course trying to best other racers lap times. When to put the power down, when to brake and navigate the tight turns can make or break your lap time. Instead of a longer road race where your mistakes can average out, on the small course they add up quickly and will sink you if too many errors are made.
The venue offered plenty of bike-porn, riders of all ages, sizes and disciplines which was refreshing to see; instead of the typical messenger crowd or the bike-du-jour downtown riders, Race The Place’s purpose was to bridge the divide between the “underground” cool of professional messengers to the weekend warrior who loves cycling as much as anyone but just doesn’t know the right people. Nobody cares who you are here and a love for cycling ties it all together.
Race The Place is hopefully the first of many public access urban bike sprints – Short, fast, sweet and to the point with a mixed bag of talent, ridership and interests all
coming together under the April sunshine to lay it all out on the pavement of Toronto’s iconic lakeshore to hopefully more unique and challenging courses all over the city in years to come.
For more info and race results click here