I’ve just returned from Montreal, Canada after competing at the 17th Unicycle World Championships and Convention, or Unicon. This is the biggest event in unicycling, with over 1100 competitors from 34 countries taking part in the 2 yearly event. We had a small team from New Zealand, with myself competing in the distance racing events.
It was a fairly successful Unicon. The standard has improved every year since I attended my first one in Tokyo 2004 (Unicon 12), and since my marathon world title in Switzerland 2006. It is good to be competitive 10yrs after your first one.
I decided to race standard class (with limits on wheelsize and gearing), to try a new challenge and to get back to the basics of why I enjoy unicycling. Since 2004, we have seen the emergence of everything from geared hubs to disc brakes and handlebars. It is getting ridiculous having to lug a heavy 36″ geared unicycle to the other side the world…I got into unicycling because of the elegance and simplicity. A bike is faster, weighs less, and has ten times as many gear ratios, so I have no reason to ride a clunky geared unicycle for pleasure.
My first serious race was the 10km standard (24″ wheel, 125mm cranks). This was run as a criterium next to the Olympic Park in Montreal. The 10km standard is fast and furious with top riders revving their unicycles to well over 180rpm. I had a slow start, but gradually crept up the field to sit behind two French brothers (Adrien and Jerome Caire), and two lead riders (Noah Leber and Christoph Hartmann) well ahead. It was a fun tactical race with me drafting the riders trying to figure out how I’m going to win the race for third. I rolled out of the final corner first, but it came down to a sprint to the line with Adrien Caire edging ahead for third place. So a fourth place finish but an age group gold medal (30-39yrs) for my ever first standard race, and under the 30min mark with a time of 29min 24s.
The next big race for me was the cross country, but with a course set up more for downhill riders, I was happy to pace other riders for a mid-field finish. A bit of a disappointment as most riders ended up walking 30-40% of the course. The setting at Mt Tremblant was amazing though- it’s a ski village about 2hrs drive from Montreal. I enjoyed the views and the delicious ice-creams instead.
What the cross-country lacked was made up entirely by the Cyclocross race. It was set in the park next to the track racing, which meant lots of bumpy grass, a couple of short sharp climbs and some stairs to content with. The coolest thing is the twirly whirly spiral at the centre of the course- it took several laps to nail it smoothly. The Le Mans style start was fun, but again I had a slow start with at least 10 riders ahead on the first lap. I gradually picked them off one by one, until I was sure I was in third place, chasing Czech rider Jakub Rulf, but crossed the line only to find another rider (Johannes Gabbert) had finished 2secs ahead…if only I’d known! So another fourth placing but good enough for another age group (30-39yrs) gold.
The last and final race for me was the Marathon standard (700c wheel). A last minute course change meant the race was shifted from the city to the Formula 1 race track on Île Notre-Dame, a man-made island on the St Lawrence river in Montreal. As you can imagine, this made for very fast racing with an almost entirely flat course and sweeping corners. Although hills are more my thing, I was thrilled with this 4.3km course.
The start went a little bit better this time, I was in the lead group off the line. The great thing with standard racing is that girls are almost competitive with guys, particularly on flat courses, because it comes down to cadence. It doesn’t matter what gender you are, so long as you can pedal fast! And that’s what we found, with one of the Japanese girls riding 65mm cranks opening up a gap with another Japanese girl, a German rider (Rolf Leonhardt) and myself in the chase group. We caught her after three laps, and then settled into a good rhythm. I was losing a lot of time on the corners, so I focused on cutting a good line through each turn. By the 7th lap, I noticed Rolf had slowed, so I attacked and immediately opened up a gap. Unfortunately the only thing I succeeded in doing was drop the Japanese (Asahi and Nanami Takada), with Rolf chasing back onto my wheel. By the final lap I knew I was in trouble, as Rolf can sprint very well (he races track). We rounded the last corner with Rolf gapping me, a little early and I caught him a few hundred metres from the line, but he went again and won the Marathon championship title by fraction of a second! So a silver medal for me and yet another age group (30-39) gold.
It was one of my favourite Unicons, and I enjoyed seeing Montreal with my mum who came as support crew! We ended up buying a few too many bottles of Maple syrup so feel free to drop by my place for waffles and pancakes if you’re in town.