Elite cyclists gear up for Bear Mountain bike fest

Canada’s mountain-biking bookends, in terms of career arc, will be racing Saturday in the annual UCI Bear Mountain Canada Cup.

Olympic qualifying has begun and riders will be looking to pick up points for Tokyo 2020.

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Catharine Pendrel, who would be 39 in Tokyo, could be on beam to ride in her fourth Olympic Games.

“I take it year by year,” said the two-time UCI women’s world champion and 2016 Rio Olympics bronze medallist.

“I’m excited about this year and performing well to gain the points to send the maximum three Canadian women’s racers to Tokyo next year.”

Observers are amazed by Pendrel’s longevity in the sport, especially after a 2018 season in which she broke her arm in a fall.

“Catharine definitely still has the physical capacity, and the passion is still there,” said Canadian national team head coach Dan Proulx of Victoria.

“Combine those two things and she has a great shot at going to another Olympics.”

She could be joined in Tokyo by 25-year-old rising Canadian performer Haley Smith, who won her first multi-sport Games international medal with bronze in the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia.

Pendrel won gold medals in the 2015 Glasgow Commonwealth Games and 2007 Rio Pan American Games and knows how important it is to have success in the lower-level Games before going for the big prize at the Olympics.

“Last year was a breakthrough for me and gave me belief in myself,” said Smith, an Ontarian, who trains at the Canadian national mountain biking centre on Bear Mountain.

“I went to the start line [in Gold Coast] feeling I didn’t belong but came away with a sense of confidence and belonging.”

The jitters of being in her first multi-sport international Games, with athletes from so many different sports, soon evaporated. Smith, who suffered from anorexia as a teen, also overcame the initial hesitation of eating in a communal setting.

“[Smith] has such amazing potential,” said New Brunswick-native Pendrel, a former Island triathlete, who began her cycling career on the Hartland trails when she was a University of Victoria student.

Success within a program has a tendency to feed off itself.

“I have learned so much from watching Catharine,” said Smith.

The Canada Cup elite men’s and women’s races are part of the overall Bear Mountain Bike Festival, with action Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The more than 500 participants will carry on into Sunday racing, which includes the free Kids Bike Day.


> More details online: victoriabikerace.com/bear-mountain

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