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MTB Worlds Preview and Rio 2016 Contenders

by Peter Kraiker
Catharine Pendrel  ©  Andrew Rogers
June 29, 2016 (Nove Mesto, CZE) – While Canadian roadies are focused on the 2016 Road Nationals, mountain bikers across the country and the world over have their eyes on Nove Mesto in the Czech Republic as the world’s best including a 28-strong Team Canada gather for the 2016 MTB World Championships June 29-July 3.

Dan Proulx  ©  pedalmag.com
The MTB Worlds kick off today with the Eliminator but Canada has no entries in it this year or tomorrow’s Team Relay. “We won’t be entering a team in the Relay or the Eliminator this year,” said Dan Proulx, Team Canada MTB head coach. “Our focus is on XCO only this year.”

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.

Emily Batty  ©  Peter Kraiker
It’s no surprise the women’s squad will be led by Catharine Pendrel (Luna Pro) and Emily Batty (Trek Factory). These two are consistently in the hunt for a podium spot in every race. Both are ranked in the top 10 overall in this year’s UCI World Cup series. They are joined by Haley Smith from Ontario, Coquitlam BC-native Sandra Walter, and Quebec racers Rebecca Beaumont and Cindy Montambault.

Haley Smith  ©  Andrew Rogers file photo

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.

Sandra Walter  ©  Peter Kraiker
Smith also feeling confident in her condition and while she knows she won’t get a great start position she’s “excited to see how many ladies I can reel in. Nove Mesto is definitely one of my favourite courses,” she told Pedal. She also pegged Neff and Langvad as the ones to beat.

“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.

Raphael Gagne  ©  Andrew Rogers
For the men, Canadian Elite Men’s champion Raphaël Gagné (Quebec, QC) likely has the best shot at a strong result as long as he can take advantage of his start position of 18th. Derek Zandstra (Trenton, ON) and Quebec’s Léandre Bouchard have also had top-20 results this World Cup season and will be looking for every opportunity to do better.

Leandre Bouchard  ©  Michal Cerveny

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.”

Geoff Kabush  ©  Peter Kraiker

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.

Fleury  ©  Michal Cerveny
The U23 and Junior teams also have some strong riders looking for good results. Catherine Fleury from Alma, QC has already been on the podium this year with a 2nd in Cairns, AUS at round #1 and is sitting in 8th overall.

Soren Meeuwisse  ©  Michal Cerveny file photo
She’ll have Soren Meeuwisse (Orillia, ON) and Fredérique Trudel (Breakeyville, QC) racing with her. Trudel finished 18th at last year’s Worlds while Meeeuwisse raced as a Junior and has had promising results in the U23 category.

Catharine Fleury  ©  Andrew Rogers
Four women make up the junior women’s team including Emily Handford from West Vancouver, B.C., Sidney McGills from Edmonton, AB, Erica Leonard, who hails from Barrie, ON, and Sophieanne Samson will represent Quebec.

Quinton Disera  ©  Peter Kraiker
The Barrie, ON, Disera brothers Quinton (Junior), and Peter (U23) category will be two riders to watch for as they’ve had strong results at home.

Peter Disera  ©  Michal Cerveny
Gunnar Holmgren from nearby Orillia is another strong junior as are Sean Fincham (Squamish, B.C.) and Victor Verneault from St-Félicien, QC. Round out the U23 squad for Canada are reigning national champ, Alexandre Vialle (Prévost, QC), Marc-André Fortier (Victoriaville, QC) and Marc-Antoine Nadon (Timmins, ON).

Alexandre Vialle  ©  Michal Cerveny

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.

Haley Smith  ©  Jon Watkin

“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.

Pendrel and Batty  ©
Batty Pendrel on the 2014 Commonweath Games podium in Glasgow  ©  Guy Swarbrick
Canada has a lot of talented women vying for a future spot. While Pendrel will certainly be aiming for the elusive Olympic gold in Rio she also praised the the national program under Proulx, saying, “We have a very strong National team program.  We started the year with a fantastic training camp at our new training Centre at Bear Mountain in Victoria, B.C.  This allowed Head Coach, Dan Proulx, to see where all of the athletes were at and how we could improve.  In an Olympic year the focus is on the top tier athletes, however with the additional of the NextGen program we are starting to fill some of the gaps in the development program that used to exist,” commented Pendrel.

Derek Zandstra  ©  Michal Cerveny

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.

Bouchard and Gagne training in Guatemala  ©  courtesy of Raphael Gagne
Proulx will have had to give the second spot more thought and it will come down to whether Bouchard or Zandstra is peaking at the right time. The decision has already been made though as the selections will be announced today just before the XCO events at the Worlds.

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.

Canada's Kabush finishes a stellar 8th at London 2012  ©  Heinz Ruckemann

“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.

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