It says something about the emerging-but-still-niche popularity of ice cross downhill — a sport most people wouldn’t even know by name — that as 30 or so safety-vested journalists gathered Thursday at the mouth of the Rideau Canal to tour the Red Bull Crashed Ice track, Daniel Guolla stood among them, largely ignored.
The 26-year-old Ottawan has been competing on the Red Bull tour for the past three years and is the lone native son who will take part in next Saturday’s season-finale to determine the 2017 world champion.
Guolla, who works at Nordstrom in the nearby Rideau Centre, has been coming to the site every couple of days since construction began three weeks ago, and his appearance Thursday was pure happenstance. He likes watching the track take shape, and on each visit he visualizes the strategies he might employ during his races.
He likes the Ottawa track, he says, because the final 75-metre portion of it is a lot more challenging than many other tracks he’s been on, meaning that the races really won’t be over until they’re over, and each one could be won or lost in the final few metres.
He points to a pair of hillocks, or rollers, fairly close together in the final stretch. “They’re usually a lot smaller, and look at the space between them,” he says. “A lot of guys are going to try and jump that — I know I’ll try — and I guarantee you there’ll be at least 10 face-plants here. I just hope I’m not one of them.
“It’s a tricky course with a lot of bumps and turns, and this is the last stop (in the season), so guys will be putting it all on the line, trying to win. It’s a big show.”
There’s both good and bad news for Guolla, a former junior hockey player and downhill skier who immediately fell in love with ice cross when, as a 16-year-old, he watched it for the first time on TV.
The bad news is that he can’t win the world title this year. Red Bull’s competitive season this year consists of nine events — four major ones, including Ottawa’s, and five smaller ones — with athletes earning points based on how well they do at each. Even a first–place finish in next weekend’s competition won’t earn Guolla, who’s ranked 31st in men’s world standings and ninth in Canada, enough points to finish on top. In fact, he notes, only four men’s competitors have a shot at the championship: defending title-holder and current points leader Cameron Naasz from the U.S., fellow countryman Maxwell Dunne, Canadian Scott Croxall, and Austrian Marco Dallago. Naasz, Croxall and Dallago have each won the world title once.
The good news is that Guolla is competing in his home city in front of an expected crowd of 60,000 to 100,000 people, and the tropical weather that has recently befallen O-town won’t cause a cancellation. The 375-metre track is artificially cooled, with four chillers pumping 36,000 litres of salt-water brine through refrigerated mats underneath. According to Patrice Drouin, president of Gestev, the company building the track, there’s enough cooling power to make ice in weather up to about 20C. It will take four solid days, he adds, for his team of 20 icemakers to make the ice.
Organizers expect that the “bowl,” the area immediately surrounding the track along the Rideau Canal, will accommodate 18,000 to 20,000 spectators. Others, in Majors Hill Park, along Wellington Street and on York Street in the ByWard Market, will be able to watch on large TV monitors.
Ice cross downhill originated in Sweden in 2001, when Red Bull built its first course through Stockholm’s fish market. For nearly a decade, the sport’s races were one-off annual promotional events attracting mostly young hockey players looking to do something crazy and have a fun time on Red Bull’s dime.
In 2010, the energy drink company created the world championship points circuit that saw a weeding out of the weekend warriors in favour of athletes who, like Guolla, are devoted to the sport.
Competitors, racing in groups of four, wear helmets, chest guards, shoulder protection, elbow pads, pants with plastic padding, knee and shinbone protection, and gloves. Casual contact is permitted, but any interference via holding, pushing, or hitting, and any purposeful hindrance that slows an opponent results in disqualification.
This year marks the first junior championship event, for competitors age 16-21, which will take place next Friday evening. Saturday’s women’s championship will feature about 30 competitors, including former University of Ottawa Gee-Gees hockey player Dominique Lefebvre of Ottawa; the men’s will likely see 100 or more in Friday’s time trials, with the top 64 squaring off in bracketed heats each featuring four racers, with the top two qualifying for the next round. The four finalists in the men’s competition will have complete five races on Saturday.
“It’s fun,” says Guolla. “ I love that it’s competitive. I can compete against guys who are the best.
“(But) no one is doing this for the money. They’re all guys in their 20s who are taking the opportunity to travel and compete and have a lot of fun. Coming to these races is the most fun I have in my life.”
FACTS & NUMBERS
Course length: 375 metres
Width: 4 metres
Vertical drop: 35 metres
Total ice surface area: 1,500 sq. metres
Ice thickness: 12 cm.
Salt-water brine piped through the refrigeration system: 36,000 litres
Amount of scaffolding required: 300 tons.
Man-hours of labour required to build track and ice: 10,000
Estimated time for a competitor to complete the race: 35 seconds
Estimated top speed: 70 k/hr
Number of spectators that the “bowl,” or area along the Rideau Canal surrounding the track, is expected to hold Next Saturday night: 18,000 to 20,000
Total number of spectators expected to watch the event, either in the “bowl” or on Wellington Street, the ByWard Market or Majors Hill Park, where large-screen monitors will be set up: 60,000 to 100,000
Estimated number of spectators at the Crashed Ice event in Edmonton in 2015: 70,000
Largest crowd at a Crashed Ice event: 100,000+ annually in St. Paul, Minnesota
The ice used in Crashed Ice events is five times as dense as NHL ice
About 85 per cent of the wood used in constructing the track will be repurposed for other Ottawa 2017 events, and repurposed again for Habitat for Humanity projects.
Saturday’s races will be broadcast live on TVA, Sportsnet 360 and Red Bull TV, beginning at 8:30 p.m.
Article written by Bruce Deachman on the Ottawa Citizen Website. Follow the link to the original article here.