With the Rio 2016 team being announced later today here’s our look at Canada’s entries for the MTB Worlds and the contenders for the four slots – two women and two men – going to the Olympic Games in August.
MTB Worlds Preview
The Canadian team is substantial in this Olympic year to give younger riders an opportunity to test themselves at the top event on the UCI calendar which is XCO only as the Downhill, not yet part of the Games, will hold it’s championships in Sept. in Val di Sole, Italy.
Batty is eager for her first major victory as an Elite while Pendrel will be looking for her third championship title. When asked about her form leading into the championships, Pendrel replied, “I feel strong physically and technically. i love the course in Czech so am excited to have the World championships there.” The two contenders feel the women to beat are Jolanda Neff (Sui) Stockli and current Series leader Annika Langvad (Den) Specialized Racing XC.
“I do believe that a great day could result in victory for one of our ladies. La Bresse was an epic battle between Jolanda, Catharine, and Emily (who took 1st, 2nd and 3rd respectively) and Worlds could shape up to be the same,” added Smith.
Courtney, B.C.-veteran, Geoff Kabush, hasn’t has the season he was hoping for, in part due to an early season concussion. He’s hoping his form is there for Worlds though telling us, “After a good month of training and a great double win at the Carson City Offroad I am excited to be heading to Nove Mesto. I love the Czech Republic and the course so I am hoping for some great legs. I’m still challenged by my poor ranking and start position but I’m motivated to give it my all.”
Another three racers will take to the start line as Evan Guthrie (Peachland, BC), Evan McNeely (Kingston, ON) and Andrew L’Esperance (Halifax, NS) complete the Elite men’s team.
Rio Bound ?
Cycling Canada has the challenge of picking only two women and two men from this talent pool – Canada’s women are ranked 3rd and the men are 10th thus securing a second spot for Rio with strong riding this season.
Smith is one of many who are outspoken about three possible slots for men and only two for women. “It is wrong. Whatever arguments are used to justify giving women a maximum of two spots and men a maximum of three, there is no denying that it is gender discrimination. Plain and simple.
“This short-sighted attitude towards the sport is not only hampering the depth of the field at the Olympics, but it also harms the future of the women’s side of the sport. A smaller Olympic field leads to less exposure, and less desire to put money into the women’s side. Not to mention how this makes our sport look to young girls who we could be encouraging to get involved,” explains Smith.
While it’s clear the two spots will go to Pendrel and Batty this year, Smith has her sights set four years out and hopes to qualify for the 2020 Games, and beyond of course. Younger racers like Fleury will have similar goals. Walter has been steadily improving over the past few years and would also represent the nation well.
The choice isn’t as clear on the men’s side. Three men stand out as they’re been the ones contributing the most to the national standing. Gagné, Bouchard and Zandstra and all had top 20 finishes this season although it’s Gagné who sits in the best position for both Worlds and Olympics.
Kabush has ruled himself out based on results and likes the idea of others getting a chance for the Olympic experience. He has had two 9th place finishes in the three occasions that he’s been selected. He summarized his experiences this way: “A lot goes into the chase for the Olympics and I definitely have some mixed memories from my experiences. My first Olympics, Sydney in 2000, is still a highlight as a dream realized for the first time. I had an amazing time, a career highlight finishing 9th which really launched myself on to the international scene.
“I do have tough memories from 2004 when I got cheated out of a spot by Seamus [McGrath] and Ryder [Hesjedal] who were taking EPO (both admitted to having doped at that time in their careers). 2008 was also a tough Olympic memory as I double flatted after putting in so much effort and having a great season besides Beijing. My last and most likely final memory in London 2012 was great as I rose to the occasion and had the best ride of my season and finished 9th. Regardless of the final results I always enjoyed the process and how chasing the Olympics always pushed me to a higher level.”
On June 29 the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC), the Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC) and Cycling Canada Cyclisme will officially announce the 19 athletes nominated to compete at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and the 12 athletes nominated to compete at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
While it’s not certain who will be there for the announcement at four of those athletes will be missing as they’re busy getting ready for MTB Worlds this weekend. We wish all selected athletes and contenders the best in Rio and with the rest of the season.