Anika Todd’s first bike was a Christmas gift from her ex-boyfriend two years ago.
The 23-year-old Victoria product has come a long way since then, winning silver in the elite pro women’s time trial at the national cycling championships in St. George’s, Que., on June 20. Todd was one of two local bike shop employees to surprise at the nationals, as Russ Hay’s bike mechanic Curtis Dearden, 29, won the men’s time trial the same day.
But Dearden’s story is different. Although equally impressive, the former UBC rower has been at cycling for years, having previously attended the nationals, whereas Todd started racing in 2013.
“(My ex-boyfriend) wanted to go pro but I wasn’t a cyclist at the time and didn’t ride that bike he gave me very often,” Todd says.
That bike is a not-so-shabby Cervelo Soloist (the same Canadian made bikes that Ryder Hesjedal’s team rides) and for a long time it sat around mostly, unused until last summer when Todd finally decided to take it out for a casual “coffee shop ride” with the Tripleshot Cycling club. (Tripleshot refers to the number of espresso shots the club’s cyclists prefer in their morning Americano.)
One ride turned into more and it was clear she showed promise on the bike, keeping pace with Tripleshot’s A group. And it turns out you never know who you’re going to meet when you go for a group ride in Victoria.
For Todd, it was happenstance that Peter Lawless is also a key member of Tripleshot. The lawyer and cycling fanatic is also the coach of three
-time Paralympic wheelchair gold-medalist Michelle Stillwell.
He suggested Todd might be good in a race.
“Frankly (Todd) needed new people to crush,’ Lawless said.
“The Tripleshot A group is a pretty competitive and pretty fast bunch of folks who really mean business (or as much business as you can mean at 6 a.m. on a weekday) and Todd was keeping up just fine.”
As time went on she wasn’t just a participant but an animator of the ride.
“it was easy math that she start racing.” he said.
Historically Todd has always been a strong athlete. During high school in Germany (dad was stationed there with the Canadian Forces) Todd was on the varsity track, cross country and wrestling teams and credits her wrestling coach for her building her discipline and mental toughness.
“I think thats what has made me excel at cycling. Some of it is obviously fitness and natural ability but ultimately it comes down to who will suffer more and who will push their body further. Who will be aggressive and not give up,” she said.
All that aside, Todd only started racing six months ago. During the same stretch of time she also finished her honours degree at UVic in biology, where she researched retinal development on a cellular and molecular level. Academically, she’s thinking medical school or post-graduate studies. On the bike, it’s a different approach.
“I don’t think (my cycling progress) too much. Lawless sends me a four-week training schedule for a race and I follow it. I just ride the bike, he makes the decisions,” she added, smiling.
So far it’s led to multiple successes for Todd, including a win in her first time trial event, Race the Ridge in Maple Ridge on April 27.
As a newbie in Category 3 and 4, and on a road bike, Todd won the Race the Ridge TT by 10 minutes. She since accumulated enough points for the elite Cat. 1-2 in B.C. and about two months ago received word the national cycling championships would be a reality.
The rolling 27-kilometre TT route outside of St. George’s played to her strengths as she finished 20 seconds back of champion Joelle Numainville, a previous winner from Laval, Que.
“Because you’re on you’re own in the time trial you don’t really know if you’re doing well overall but you kind of know you’re riding well,” Todd said.
One tipoff was catching and passing three riders ahead of her, as each TT start is staggered a minute apart.
“I really started to think I was doing well when I saw (Olympic track cycling bronze medalist) Gillian Carleton up ahead. By keeping her in my sights it was a good sign.”
Turns out Carleton, also from Victoria, suffered a flat and had to swap bikes mid race, ditching her time trial bike for her road bike. For Carleton it was a serious setback, but also a sign of what’s next for Todd. Carleton’s race would have been over if she didn’t have a team van following her.
Because Todd was one of the first riders in the time trial, she had to wait anxiously at the finish line for the rest of the racers to come in. “One after another crossed the line and my time still stood.”
Next up for Todd is B.C. Superweek, a collaboration of nine different races around the Lower Mainland July 5 to 14, including the Gastown Grand Prix, a criterium with an $8,000 purse to the women’s winner.
At 29, Dearden’s not sure what lies ahead aside from continuing to race locally.
“The goal was to win at nationals and now I have to figure out what’s next. Pro cyclists are away from home a lot, so I’m still trying to figure that out,” he said.
With a four month old daughter, Dearden refocused his training efforts this year on the time trial, though he’s competed in some local stage races this season.
“You don’t have to spend as much time training for time trial as you do for 200 km road race.”
An interesting note about Dearden’s accomplishment is that 36-year-old Svein Tuft of Langley has won eight of the past nine national time trial championships. The only year Tuft didn’t win the Canadian TT was when Ryder Hesjedal won it. Both are competing in the Tour de France this year, with Tuft making his debut.
THE BOYFRIEND BIKE
Toddy’s boyfriend bike is still sitting in the garage though it will likely find a new home.
Todd’s since upgraded with a pair of Trek bikes from Pro City Racing in Vic West, where she’s a sales rep. Her Speed Concept 7 time trial bike was a gift from the shop and came in handy at the TT nationals. Her road bike is a Trek Madron, the same brand ridden by the Black Press sponsored Cops for Cancer Tour de Rock cyclists who will traverse Vancouver Island in September.