Olympians ready to hit the trails again at Bear Mountain

When we last checked this rivalry, Catharine Pendrel was outracing Emily Batty to the finish line last summer in Rio to take the bronze medal at the 2016 Olympic Games while shunting her fellow Canadian to an agonizing fourth place.

The two will renew the battle today in Langford at the 2017 season-starting Canada Cup race, part of the Bear Mountain Bike Festival which is expected to attract 500 participants and up to 5,000 fans.

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It is sounding like a pattern. Pendrel will be attempting to reprise her role in last year’s Canada Cup women’s race on Bear Mountain when she won and left second place to Batty.

Racing begins today at 8:30 a.m. with the UCI Junior Series. The senior women are off at a 12:30 p.m. start time and senior men at 2:30 p.m. along the six-kilometre course which loops Bear Mountain and kick starts the 2017 racing season.

Canadian Olympians competing will include Pendrel, Batty, defending Bear Mountain men’s race-champion Raphael Gagne, Leandre Bouchard and three-time Victoria-based Olympian Geoff Kabush from Courtenay. Other Canadian internationals racing include Derek Zandstra, Andrew L’esperance, Haley Smith and Evan Guthrie.

“Every major name in Canadian cross-country mountain biking is here,” said Jon Watkin, director of cycling for Bear Mountain.

Giving the Canadian juniors a run today will be 10 riders from the U.S. junior national training team.

These have been familiar grey and wet conditions this week for Pendrel, the University of Victoria graduate now based in Kamloops, who began her mountain-biking career on trails all over the Lower Island even before Bear Mountain was developed and became home of the national mountain-bike training centre. From those tentative early-morning Island rides, the native of Harvey Station, N.B., rose to become the two-time women’s world champion, Pan Am Games and Commonwealth Games gold medallist and three-time Olympian.

So, a sloppy Island track is hardly something that will deter Pendrel today. She may just revel in it for old time’s sake and use it again as home-Island advantage against Oshawa, Ontario’s Batty.

“It’s crazy busy up here with lots of mountain bikes and lots of mud,” said Watkin.

“We’ll be keeping a close eye on the weather. But mountain bikers are tough competitors. They don’t care.”

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

Twitter.com/tc_vicsports

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