Most people who live in the South Okanagan know it’s a magnet for cyclists.
But how many residents know that Penticton is home to a former Canadian Olympic cyclist and top professional bike racer? And how many know that this same man is the driving force behind a rare competition designed to inspire young riders, the next generation of top Canadian cyclists?
Welcome to the Hayman Classic, a bike race that draws many of the country’s finest young cycling athletes to the South Okanagan for three days of speed and endurance over courses in Penticton, Oliver and, for the first time, over the dips and rises of Area 27, Canada’s newest motor speedway.
The man behind all this is Ron Hayman, a trim and active 62 year old. In 1972 he was the youngest member of the Canadian team at the Munich Olympics. Later he rode in Europe and the United States as a professional with the fabled 7-Eleven cycling team.
Today his focus is on the champions of the future, cyclists aged 13 to 19 who, he argues forcefully, are underserved by a sport that caters overwhelmingly to adult and senior riders.
Hayman is a self-effacing man, but the pride is evident when he talks about what will happen in early June over the three days of the Hayman Classic.
“We will have the cream of the junior categories of road cycling come to the Okanagan,” said Hayman.
To date, over 75 young cyclists have registered, most from B.C., but also from Alberta, Ontario and Yukon. Riders from Saskatchewan and Manitoba are also expected to sign on.
This is how it will unfold:
● Friday, June 9, 9:30 a.m: From Okanagan Falls, riders will race north on East Side Road for 10 kilometres then grind up a painfully steep grade to Skaha Bluffs or the vistas of Painted Rock Winery overlooking Okanagan Lake. The finishing point is determined by age;
For those who haven’t been there, this is a golden opportunity to visit Area 27, Canada’s newest motor speedway, a multi-million dollar circuit of sinuous asphalt nestled in the hills east of Oliver. In the late afternoon, when the sleek cars are gone, the 4.8-kilometre track will fill with young cyclists riding a set number of laps determined by age; the older they are, the more laps they ride. The competition will run from 4 to 8 p.m., with food and refreshments provided by Earls catering.
Bill Drossos, president and general manager of Area27, said their venue will make it easy for spectators to watch.
“It brings a lot of excitement. It’s something they have never been able to do on a scale like this,” said Drossos, who was contacted by Hayman on the use of the track.
● Saturday, June 10, 8:30 a.m: This event, a criterium, takes place on Riverside Drive in Penticton. The course consists of tight corners and open straightaways that test braking, acceleration and bike-handling skills.
● Sunday, June 11, 8 a.m: The final event is a thrilling, multi-lap road race out of Oliver that features long, hard climbs and sharp, fast descents with speeds of 80 kilometres an hour or more. This is not for the faint of heart.
While these races are intended for experienced junior riders, this year’s edition of the Hayman Classic will feature a special event for novice riders ages 7 to 12. It will start at 5:15 p.m. on June 9 and will also be run on the speedway at Area 27. These youngsters will ride multiple laps of a 1.2-km circuit.
Hayman says the thinking behind the novice race is simple – to offer beginners a taste of what fzun cycling can be.
“It’s a great way to access the sport.” he says.
Chris Prowse, a veteran cyclist and co-owner of the Bike Barn in Penticton, describes the Hayman Classic as a top-notch event for young cyclists and the Okanagan Valley.
For the riders, he says, it provides a “true taste of what a well-run stage race is like.”
And once they’ve been here, he adds, they tend to return. The Classic “exposes them to an amazing cycling area … and they often come back to training camps and to ride.”
Young riders, of course, are likely to return with their parents, so there’s a multiplier effect for the local economy that could ripple over many years.
This is the third edition of the Hayman Classic and the future looks bright.
At this point, it seems likely that Cycling Canada, the sport’s governing body, will add the Classic to its national junior racing calendar for 2018 and beyond.
This would give it coast-to-coast prominence and likely draw young cyclists from Quebec and Atlantic Canada, says Hayman.
“That’s where it’s going to grow.”