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Brandon Sun - PRINT EDITION

Brandonite set to take on the world

Michael van den Ham is framed by his bike during a photo shoot at the Brandon Sun on Friday.

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Michael van den Ham is framed by his bike during a photo shoot at the Brandon Sun on Friday. (BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN)

Earlier this year, Michael van den Ham got the chance to compete against the world’s top cyclo-cross riders in his age group.

He’s planning to do it again in February, but this time in the sport’s heartland.

The 21-year-old Brandonite won the Canadian under-23 title last month at the national championships in Surrey, B.C., and earned an invitation to the world championships in cyclo-cross, a type of bicycle race where the riders compete on courses that cover various surfaces, including pavement, grass and trails, as well as obstacles that require them to get off their bikes and carry them to the other side.

Last year, van den Ham was fourth in the Canadian U23 championship and went on to place 31st in that same category at the worlds in Louisville, Ky.

The Louisville event marked the only time the worlds have been held outside of Europe, and with February’s championships to be contested on more traditional ground, Feb. 1-2 in Hoogerheide, Netherlands, van den Ham expects the excitement to hit a new level.

"That whole part of Europe there, primarly Belgium and the Netherlands, is where all the top cross racers are coming out of," said van den Ham, who is raising money for the trip right now, having held a fundraiser in Brandon on Friday, with another planned for Winnipeg on Sunday. "… So last year the worlds were in Louisville and that was a great experience for Americans and Canadians and we actually had a really good turnout. I think there was maybe 10 or 15 thousand fans out there and that was phenomenal.

"But this year in Hoogerheide there might be 60-, 70-, 80-thousand people watching the race and millions of others streaming it online. It’s like the Super Bowl out there."

Van den Ham’s success this season has required a significant level of commitment and sacrifice. A student at The King’s University College in Edmonton, where he trains under Cycle-Smart coach Shaun Adamson, he put his pursuit of his degree on hold for a semester, spending the fall in Boston.

There, van den Ham lived and trained with Adam Myerson, a professional cyclist and Cycle-Smart’s founder and head coach.

"That was a pretty big switch for me," said van den Ham, who has also had a busy road-racing schedule this year, representing Manitoba at the Canada Summer Games in Sherbrooke, Que. "This the first semester ever I’ve dedicated completely to bike racing. In the past I’ve always been balancing being a student, last year being on the student’s association, balanced those along with racing.

"So this year, going out there and completely dedicating myself to not just training properly, but eating properly and recovering and going to the bigger races that are available in New England really helped me progress to a bit of a higher level."

Facing tougher competition, van den Ham did not win as frequently as he did back home, but he saw the difference when he came back to Canada.

Not only did he move to the top of his age class, the next day he finished fifth in the B.C. Grand Prix, featuring elite riders of all ages, and beat a couple of the competitors who finished ahead of him in the U23 class last year.

"It was quite a bit of a risk to go to Boston and I got engaged during that time, so to leave my fiancée and leave my schooling behind for months, it was something that was weighing pretty heavily on me and I was asking myself ‘Is this going to be worth it, is this a good decision?’. But to be able to come back and win nationals, it was very exciting," he said.

"But in many ways it was also an affirmation, letting me know this was a good decision, this helped me with my cycling and it gave me an experience that I’m never going to forget."

» rhenders@brandonsun.com

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 21, 2013

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Earlier this year, Michael van den Ham got the chance to compete against the world’s top cyclo-cross riders in his age group.

He’s planning to do it again in February, but this time in the sport’s heartland.

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Earlier this year, Michael van den Ham got the chance to compete against the world’s top cyclo-cross riders in his age group.

He’s planning to do it again in February, but this time in the sport’s heartland.

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