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London 2012 Olympic Games Wrap – Can Cycling Get Back on Track for Rio?

by Laura Robinson

August 12, 2012 (London, UK) – The London 2012 Olympics Games of the 30th Olympiad ended with a spectacular musical closing ceremony as the official Games flag was handed over to Rio de Janeiro, the host city of the next Games in 2016.

Canadian cycling fans have many wonderful memories from these Games, and while there were disappointments, we have the wonderful highlight of the Women’s Team Pursuit bringing home the bronze in a tightly contested race against Australia to remember these London Games by.

This historic achievement must be remembered and celebrated as the Team Pursuit finally became an Olympic event for women – it first appeared for men in 1908 – and the competition was fierce, with the world record lowering with each round of qualifications.

As a nation we hoped for more and can’t forget that as well as we strive to reach our goals. Tara Whitten, who lead the Women’s Team Pursuit squad, also placed fourth in the Omnium. As the world Omnium champion in 2010 and 2011 she had her sights set on a podium finish as did Zach Bell, a silver medalist at the 2012 Track World Championships. But Whitten’s 4th place and Bell’s 8th place finish were not the results the athletes or Cycling Canada expected.

There were high hopes for a medal in the women’s time trial as well from legendary Olympian, Clara Hughes. Her 5th place finish, like Whitten’s and Bell, was the result of giving 100%, but still fell short of hopes and expectations. Between the women’s road team and Giro champ, Ryder Hesjedal, on the men’s side (albeit with no team to help him in the road race), there were hopes for more than one top-ten result.

The Canadian women’s MTB team was ranked #1 coming into the Games but things began to unravel unexpectedly with Emily Batty breaking her collarbone in a fall while training only days before the race. Then reigning Elite Women’s MTB Champ, Catharine Pendrel, had what she described as a race she had never experienced, as she watched riders go by her and couldn’t answer back. She finished 9th at over 3 minutes behind the leaders while Batty finished well back in 24th.

Geoff Kabush’s fantastic 8th place result on Sunday as the Games came to a close gave us a hint at what is possible when everything comes together for a rider. This was Kabush’s third Olympics and was a top result for him this season along with being the best Canadian Olympic men’s MTB result – achieved against the world’s top riders who set a blistering fast pace.

Should Canada have produced more medals? Should we be happy with the results we achieved… and when does the debriefing start to figure out what happened and do our best to prevent it from happening again?

National Mountain Bike coach, Dan Proulx, says it has already started. Before the men’s race he said an analysis of the team had already commenced and will go full steam in September. So what happened to Pendrel? His explanation was a bit different from the world champ, who couldn’t quite put her finger on why she had none of her usual aggression and why she was unable to answer back when cyclists started passing her.

Proulx mentioned the wind (it was quite a breezy day) as a factor. “Once she got behind, and that gap opened, it was hard with the wind to close it. It’s psychological too. When you have the gold medal as a goal and then you see that it isn’t happening, it’s really hard to keep riding hard in the field.”

Proulx also said that the first two laps were really fast and Pendrel prefers to ease off after the start and then work up her speed. The race did start fast as expected and Pendrel was around 10th following the very short start loop when the real laps began. As usual she moved up to join the leaders through the first lap so things seemed to be going as planned. She took over the lead from Julie Bresset (FRA) on the second lap but couldn’t hold the pace it seemed and settled into third behind Sabine Spitz (GER). It was during the third lap that the wheels started to come off as her teammate Georgia Gould (USA) passed her and soon after Pendrel found herself in 8th.

When she tried to explain what went wrong to journalists after the race she said she thought the first two laps were slow and her husband told her the same from the side of the course. But she wasn’t able to react and speed up, instead she dropped further back. The laps times were around 15 min but Pendrel’s time on Lap three was almost a minute slower (49s) than the leaders – so did she go out too fast?  The wind wasn’t affecting other riders’ ability to move up like Sweden’s Alexandra Engen, who was 15th and ended up 6th or Poland’s Aleksandra Dawidowicz who went from 12th to 7th.

Coming up with answers is what the debriefing is all about but clearly something did not go as planned for too many of Canada’s top riders who have shown that they can produce and win against the world’s best on the international playing field. Our top riders are usually at the top of their game, hence their top-level world ranking, but somehow it wasn’t in the cards for them to deliver what they are capable of on race day at London 2012.

Jacques Landry, director of high performance commented, “I think we’ve shown over the last four years that we have a system that works. Moving forward – look at Britain. British Cycling started their run for the podium in 2000. What we need is sustained funding. We’ve had pretty good results at world cups and world championships, but we’re always on our hind legs wondering if we’re getting funding next year. I think overall Canada has achieved what it wanted to which was top 12 at the Olympics – I think we were 11th or 10th. (the CBC has Canada in 13th whereas the IOC lists Canada as 36th).

“For cycling I would like to see the funding continue. It depends on the Harper government. Our Olympic heroes inspire – people look up to them and health is greatly tied into the sport system. Funders have to be patient. You can’t look at only one quadrennial.”

Here’s a brief summary of total government funding for cycling, since Beijing 2008, which is targeted to those disciplines/events with the highest podium potential: women’s mountain bike; track cycling – women’s team pursuit and Omnium; BMX; and road.

– 2008/2009 Funding $848,520
– 2009/2010 Funding $1,380,000
– 2010/2011 Funding $1,793,200
– 2011/2012 Funding $2,298,000

Quad Total 2008-2012 = $6,319,720.

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