August 20, 2016 (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) – Canada’s Catharine Pendrel delivered an inspirational and dramatic comeback to capture the Olympic medal she was after as she crossed the finish line in third to take home the bronze for Canada in the 29.67km women’s MTB XCO race in Rio on Saturday. She was followed across the line by teammate Emily Batty in fourth place.
The women’s race had tremendous depth, with at least six strong medal contenders on the start line. For Pendrel, one of the contenders, the day got off to a tough start as she got caught in a crash at the end of the start loop before the riders headed out for six laps of the Olympic course. She suddenly found herself in 25th out of the 29 starters and over 50 seconds back.
Rissveds attacked, and as Neff faded, Batty surged and was joined by Pendrel as they soon dropped Katerina Nash (Czech Republic) and Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Norway) from their chase group.
Suddenly Pendrel was in the bronze medal position with Batty in fourth as they caught Neff as well and the chase was on for the silver as Wloszczowska was unable to respond to a last lap attack from Rissveds, and looked to be in danger of being caught by Pendrel.
The Canadian star battled to within 20 seconds of Wloszczowska and the silver medal before slowing slightly on the last lap and suffering a small crash. Batty also surged near the end and came within two seconds of catching Pendrel at the finish line.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Pendrel. “Before the race I would have been happy with my career if I didn’t have an Olympic medal, but I’m sure happy that I do! It’s such a feeling, and we’ve worked so hard for this for so many years, with my coach and my team and my husband, that it’s just amazing that it came together.”
“At the beginning of the race, getting in the crash and then my shifting stopped working … I just thought ‘everything is going wrong!’. But I’m used to having bad starts and I know I can work my way up through the field. We had prepared for every scenario, and Dan [Proulx, national coach] was great at reminding me that in La Bresse [French World Cup] I went from a minute-forty back to a silver medal, so I knew that I could close the gap and that’s what I set about doing today.
“It was a best case scenario coming into the finish because I knew if I wasn’t bronze that Emily would be. I almost took myself out of bronze at the finish [in a crash], but I am just so happy that it came together on the day. It was emotional, physical and it was just such a relief to cross the line..”
“As much as I wanted to get a medal for myself, I also wanted to help Team Canada. It’s exciting and it bolsters all of us when we do well. In cycling we have such a strong program and I feel it is only getting better. We’re a strong nation and cycling is definitely a Canadian sport. We’ve seen this success and we’re going to keep building on it.”
“I’m so filled with mixed emotions right now,” admitted Batty. “After London’s experience with a broken collarbone to now, finishing literally ten feet off the podium … it’s some heartbreak. So I’m happy, but also really sad.”
“My preparation was amazing, and I’m so thankful for the [Cycling Canada] federation and especially my husband, Adam, who’s been coaching me all this way. I raced clean and felt strong. It went pretty much according to plan and I was in the top five off the start loop, so from that point on I knew I was going to be a contender for the medals,” she added.
“That was an amazing day for Canada. Catharine and Emily were incredible out there! That was definitely one of the wildest women’s MTB races ever. I’m so proud of how they fought,” said Dan Proulx, Canadian MTB National Coach.
“Catharine battled back from a 1-minute deficit. We’d actually planned for situations like that but you always hope you’ll never have to think about that at the Olympics. At the La Bresse World Cup she came back from a minute and forty second gap so we knew it was still possible to get into medal contention despite the crash in the start loop. Catharine showed tremendous grit. Typically any mistake at an Olympics will cost you a medal. But she had the horsepower and the will to fight all the way. It paid off.
“We have such a good team dynamic here in Rio. When athletes are happy and energized they simply perform well. All week it’s been an incredible vibe. It’s definitely one of the best teams I’ve ever worked with. Each of the riders has contributed greatly to the team’s success,” he concluded.
“There are so many strong girls,” said Wloszczowska. “I am happy to be on the podium. It was an incredibly hard race, and I felt strong right from the start. At the beginning I felt like I was a little bit better than the others, but Jenny attacked and I was really suffering. I was hoping for victory but Jenny was super strong, so I’m happy with silver.”
“I cannot believe it,” said Rissveds. “I just came here a week ago, and then I crashed in training [on Wednesday] and ended up with six stitches in my knee and four in my elbow, and I thought it was not going to work at all for the race. I like this course, but I was a little bit scared after that. After a few laps in the race I felt better and started to enjoy it.”
This is Canada’s first MTB XCO medal since Marie-Helene Premont won silver in Athens back in 2004 where Lori-Ann Muenzer claimed Canada’s first Olympic gold medal with her victory on the track. Prior to the Games in Athens Canada’s Alison Sydor won MTB silver at the Olympic in Atlanta back in 1996 where Canada took home a record five medals with Clara Hughes winning two bronze (ITT and RR), Brian Walton taking silver (Track) and Curt Harnett also winning bronze (Track).
With files from Cycling Canada and the UCI.