Moments after watching winners celebrate with outstretched arms and shouts of joy, a violent crash stunned spectators.
With three separate races converging on the finish line in front of the Hawkesville Community Centre on Broadway Street, there wasn’t enough room for racers jockeying for position.
One rider smashed into the scaffolding used to support the finish line banner, sending another barreling over top of his handlebars onto the asphalt.
“He was squeezed on the outside,” race organizer Blake Ellis said.
The finish line was 21-feet wide, in correspondence with international standards, but “the group was really wide, and they started to bunch to try to get positioning,” Ellis explained. “He had nowhere to go and he clipped his pedal on the barricade fencing.”
Despite being taken to hospital by ambulance, the riders only suffered minor injuries.
“He’s okay,” Ellis said of the rider who hit the scaffolding. “No broken bones, he just feels like he hit a Mack truck.”
Fortunately, the dozens of other competitors speeding through the vicinity of the accident got by unscathed.
Some 400 competitors rode in the 27th running of the event, which took place in Hawkesville for the first time on June 8.
A dozen age, gender and skill categories were staggered throughout the day, beginning at 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. Overcast skies and intermittent drizzle progressed to light rain in the afternoon, though the weather didn’t have much bearing on the races.
“Normally out here there is a west wind pushing you up the Hawkesville Hill, but today the wind was like five kilometres an hour so it really didn’t play too much of a factor,” explained Aaron Hamill after finishing 10th in the Elite Three level.
Without the course’s typical gusts, it was “harder for people to break away” from the pack, Hamill said.
“Normally going into a headwind, that’s where people can attack and make other people hurt.”
Still, sticking with the peloton has its advantages.
“It’s a lot different riding with a pack of 50, you’ve got people to ride behind to share the load,” Hamill said, about the importance of wind resistance.
Transitioning from the suburban route in Kitchener used in previous years to the rural Township of Wellesley brought new obstacles like road apples and turtle crossings, but also the scenic backdrop of the Conestogo River.
“Everything went really well,” Ellis said, noting the rave reviews given by riders of the new venue and the Hawkesville community.
“There was actually some Twitter activity regarding the baked goods, which people were really excited about.”
Even after a brutally harsh winter that beat up roads across the province, riders said the track conditions were excellent.
“(Work crews) fixed up the course really well,” Hamill said. “Coming out a month and a half a go there were a lot of pretty bad ruts and potholes and they filled most of them in and the course was in great shape.”
Paolina Allan won the women’s Elite One race by a commanding one minute and 36 seconds.
“As soon as we started, I wanted to get to the front and it was like gas was on the pedal,” she explained. “From the first climb it was just a constant attack. It was like playing between a cat and a mouse [between the peloton and Allan], that is what we were doing with each other, and it was like that for like two laps and even into the third lap, and then on the third lap I managed to get away on that nice corner out there and I kind of rolled through and thought that they would come but nobody came.”
She smiled and raised her arms in the air as she completed the 68.4 kilometre race.
“I was terrified I was going to cramp, or get a mechanical [problem],” she said, describing her thoughts during the final sprint. “Honestly, you never know until you cross that finish line.”
Waterloo’s Gaelen Merritt took the men’s Elite One race, while Olympic silver medalist and Tour de France veteran Steve Bauer finished nearly six minutes back in 25th place.
“Rolling alone into Hawkesville with the home crowd cheering in the pouring rain is my new fondest memory in cycling to date,” Merritt said.