A Canadian in Paris (Ontario) - Q&A With Evan Russell, Canada’s First Gravel National Champion
Posted by Andrew Davidson on May 1, 2023
Canada’s first-ever gravel national championships took place Sunday, April 30th as part of the 29th edition of Ontario’s, Paris-Ancaster spring classic. The championship event saw roughly 400 racers line up to do battle with the gruelling elements over a 108km parcours. The Men’s title was claimed by rising Canadian talent, Evan Russell, the 21-year old from BC who currently races with the UK-based Saint-Piran UCI Pro Continental road team, in addition to stints with the Canadian national cyclocross program. 4iiii has recently partnered with Evan, to support his on-road and off-road ambitions. We caught up with him recently to find out how his historic win went down.
Congrats on becoming Canada’s first-ever men’s gravel national champion! That’s incredibly cool to go down in the history books as the first to wear the maple leaf jersey in this ever-growing discipline. How would you describe the race unfolding for you?
Thanks, it was a usual gravel race start, riding at a tempo pace. I attacked about 30km in with one other guy and stayed away for about 45km . Once a select lead group had come back together I made sure to be the first to enter three of the gravel sectors in front of the pack, which helps avoid getting popped. It soon became attack after attack in gravel sections, which broke up the group significantly. I struggled at one point and it put me in a bad position coming out of a sector and had to chase for multiple km s to catch back up to the group. At this point it was down to eight guys and were attacking each other constantly. Adam Roberge and Curtis White got away at one point and had built a 45sec lead with just 5km to go. I attacked my group into a mud section and came out with huge gap, put my head down and motored as fast as I could, caught Adam and immediately attacked. I caught up to Curtis, and the final climb to the finish line was a race between us.
Curtis White took a narrow victory, but as an American wasn’t eligible for the Canadian title, which went to Evan as the first Canadian finisher.
“Gravel” is a pretty loose term when it comes to capturing the terrain that these races often include. How would you best describe what looked like an epic course on Sunday?
The course was a real mixture of cyclocross, road and gravel. No one was fully confident in their tire choice because there were so many different conditions on the course, it was making the best of it with what you had.
What was your bike set-up for the race (bike, tires, gearing, etc) and would you have changed anything in retrospect?
I was riding my Specialized Crux and running Schwalbe G-One R tires with cush-core inserts, on Easton cross wheels. I had a Shimano GRX groupset, equipped with a 4iiii PRECISION 3 left-sided power meter. If I could do anything different I would perhaps change my tire combo to more of a file tread tire.
Do you plan on competing in any other gravel events this year, where you’d get to fly the flag/jersey?
Yes, I’ll be racing the Belgian Waffle Ride in the Cowichan Valley on May 28th and a mixture of races in the fall on Vancouver Island and throughout mainland BC.
The conditions of the Paris-Ancaster course looked similar to the 2022 Canadian Cyclocross National Championships, where I watched your battle with Luke Valenti for the U23 title. How did the nature of the terrain/weather factor into the end result for you?
The Canadian Cyclocross Nationals this past fall in Saanich, BC, was actually the first big cx race I had competed in. As a West-coaster the rainier and muddier the course conditions, the better! A combination of races like that and attending the “Christmas ‘Cross” block of races in Europe, with team Canada, helped me fine tune my technical skills.
As is the way with the new wave of cycling talent coming up in the world, you successfully ply your cycling skills in multiple disciplines of racing, road, cyclocross, and gravel (mtb?)… how do you find this approach benefits you? Are you aiming to pursue one discipline more than the others in the future?
Having CX and mountain bike skills certainly benefits my road and gravel riding/racing, as I’m better able to avoid crashes, make tighter/technical turns, and just finesse the bike better. Road racing has always been my main goal, but I’m definitely pursuing CX and gravel more these days.
We’re pumped to have you riding with our 4iiii power meters, we can see from your Strava upload that it was a big sustained wattage day to win the first gravel championships (260W avg power, 289W NP for 3hrs!). How would you compare that type of effort to the demands of the road racing you’ve been doing in Europe?
It had some similarities to races I’ve done this year, the gravel nationals course reminded me of the Rutland-Melton CiCle Classic (England), having gravel sections with lots of punchy climbs and fast rolling roads. However it was the complete opposite to a race I did a couple of weeks ago, a Dutch race, which was completely flat and had us going 45kms/hr the whole time.
If you were to play “coach” and give us a few ideas for the types of training rides and/or intervals that would be beneficial to prepare for an event like Paris-Ancaster, for say an intermediate rider, what would they be?
I’d suggest doing one long ride per week at similar or greater duration than the length of the race you’re training for, so get out for 5-6 hours if you’re expecting your race finish time to be around 5 hours. Mix in some skill sessions - ride your cx bike like a mountain bike, get out on some trails with your cross bike, work on corners and handling over varied terrain. Throw in a few interval sessions, something like 6x4 mins in your VO2 max range (above threshold).
Your 2023 season is off to a great start, what are some of your big goals for the remainder of it?
The aim for the rest of the season is to show up strong for the Canadian Road Nationals in Edmonton, AB (June 23-26), attend the Gravel World Championships in Veneto, Italy (October 8), get a top-5 result at the Belgian Waffle Race and compete in more road stage races.
Thanks for taking the time to share some insight on gravel nationals and the exciting adventures that lay ahead, all of us at 4iiii will be cheering you on as you power through your wide-ranging race season!