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Pendrel secures Canada Cup win at Bear Mountain

Posted on March 6, 2016

It would be every Canadian mountain-biking fan’s dream to have what happened Saturday on Bear Mountain in the Canada Cup replicated this summer at the Rio Olympics.

With two-time world champion Catharine Pendrel currently No. 2 in the world and 2015 Pan Am Games champion Emily Batty world No. 7, that is not out of the realm of possibility at the five-ring circus in Rio.

Pendrel won the Canada Cup race on the Bear, an official Olympic points qualifier for Rio, while Batty was second.

“I felt great today and I enjoyed the challenging course,” said Pendrel, who got her start on the Island riding the adjacent Hartland trails.

“We [her and Batty] are propelling each other to be better and stronger.”

Batty crashed in the second of five 5.5-kilometre loops that made up Saturday’s women’s World Cup race. It brought back eerie reverberations from when she did the same in training just four days before the 2012 London Summer Olympics, breaking her collarbone, before gutting it out to place in the Olympic top-25.

“I brushed off today’s fall,” said Batty, who admitted to being a little sore.

She wasn’t using the crash as an excuse.

“Catharine opened up a gap right from the start,” said Batty.

Pendrel did so with a broken thumb. To compensate, all her handlebar gear switches were moved to her good-hand side.

They certainly grow them tough on the mountain trails of Canada.

“Our women have medal potential. On the day, it could be either one of them at Rio,” said national team head coach Dan Proulx of Victoria.

“Our men, meanwhile, are climbing up the ladder.”

Raphael Gagne of Quebec City won the men’s elite race Saturday, which was six loops of the Bear Mountain course. The torch has been passed from Max Plaxton of Victoria and three-time Olympian Geoff Kabush of Courtenay, the two men who represented Canada at the 2012 London Olympics.

“We are still trying to qualify two men’s spots for Rio and we are all chasing those points,” said Gagne.

“I was at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow two years ago, won gold at the Pan Am Games last year in Toronto . . . the next step is the Olympics,” Gagne added.

“It’s going to be a fair fight to grab those Olympic spots, as you can see by the fact there was only 10 seconds between the top-three [men’s finishers] today. I had to hold off Derek [Zandstra, who finished second].”

The national team training centre is now officially located at Bear Mountain under Proulx. Numerous riders from Ontario and Quebec have relocated to Victoria to train here. There were raves Saturday over the newly-constructed Bear Mountain course.

“The course was great, with good technical features,” said Gagne. “And there is a snowstorm in Quebec. It’s good to be here.”

Batty concurred.

“The hype is real. These are world-class trails,” said the native of Toronto. “I plan to spend quite a few weeks here each year.”

With the form charts for Rio 2016 pretty much formulated, the training centre is looking beyond that.

“The national centre is really about developing our young talent for Tokyo 2020 and 2024,” Proulx said.

A young prodigy to watch is 17-year-old Max McCulloch of Victoria, who wowed everybody with his riding Saturday.

“It’s amazing to see all these guys racing in my hometown,” said McCulloch. “The goal is to be up there with them one day.”

He might just get there.

Gagne went up to McCulloch after the race and said: “You are a heck of a rider.”

The Oak Bay kid responded: “That means the world to me. I really look up to [Gagne]. It’s amazing to be in this company.”

Story by: Cleeve Dheenshaw