The Best Grassroots Cyclocross Race You’ve Never Heard of

Leaves, vibrant golden and yellow, hang suspended in the air as a light breeze blows through Voyageur Park. The picturesque river valley banks glow with the colours of autumn on an unseasonably warm October day in the small town of Devon, Alberta.

20 degrees celsius is a luxury rarely afforded during October in the Province of Alberta, and although that temperature doesn’t exactly scream cyclocross weather, that’s exactly what’s happening.

Racers, gasping for air, break the silence of this fine autumn day. They hit the sandpit, lightly inflated tubulars digging in, throwing up sand in their wake, with an orange and yellow backdrop.

This is Alberta cyclocross during a mild autumn - a stark contrast to the snowy races that are often the norm in the province. The Puncheur Alberta Cup Cyclocross race has been taking place annually for years, but no year has featured warmth like this.

Yet, even under summer-like temperatures, it’s clear the seasons are changing. The vibrant foliage won’t let anybody forget that.

The transition from pleasant, warm summer days to the darker, cooler, damp days of autumn proves a suitable metaphor for the short-lived, yet impactful cycling initiative from the Town of Devon in years past.

There was a time when Devon enjoyed the spoils of a branding initiative known as Bike Town. They sought to expand cycling opportunities and events in the community while establishing the town as more than just another town built on oil.

Bike Town found itself home to the region's first mountain bike skills park, host of a youth mountain bike development program that sells out every year, and even garnered the attention of a UCI 2.1 international level road race.

Notable riders like Peter Sagan and Cadel Evans rolled out from the start line in Bike Town during the 2013 Tour of Alberta stage race. Not bad for a community that had mostly been known as just another bedroom community on the outskirts of the city of Edmonton.

Bike Town burned bright, just like the late morning sun at the Puncheur, but it also cast long shadows - shadows that allowed politicians to prey on the public desire for the status quo. The success of Bike Town brought enough change to scare a small, but vocal minority who did not want to see Devon grow. That pressure was enough to turn the tide of the town administration, and Bike Town would fizzle out after a few short years. 

Yet, even with Bike Town a memory, the cycling community that sprung forward from it continues on.

Today, the Devon Bicycle Association (DBA), has become a household name in the passionate Alberta cycling community.

From what was very likely North America’s, but at the very least Canada’s first official fat bike only race, to a storied youth mountain bike program, and XCO mountain bike races, the DBA has done more than anyone would have ever expected from a small town cycling club.

Of course, the Puncheur race, which has served as such a great metaphor for this story, cannot be forgotten. With a course featuring sections of riverfront beach, steep run ups, flowy downs, and, of course, plenty of twists and turns, it might just be the best grassroots cyclocross race you’ve never heard of.

Words & Photos: Evan Wishloff

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