In a way, Catharine Pendrel is going back to where it all began.
Pendrel, who has been one of Canada’s top mountain bikers over the past decade, won at the 2007 Pan Am Games in Rio – her first international gold medal while representing her country.
Nine years later, Pendrel is once again preparing to race for Canada in Rio – but this time on a much bigger stage. The Kamloops resident will be one of Canada’s mountain bikers – and a medal threat – at Rio 2016.
“The Olympics are just like another bike race except for the fact that there’s a lot more attention, pressure and those things,” she said. “What I’ve learned is that your first Olympics as an underdog is a beautiful experience where you try and do your best. Going as a medal favourite is a lot more difficult. Most of the pressure comes from yourself. Going into my third Olympics, it’s about finding that spot where you can go in with the energy and the focus of just wanting to do your best while also having the capacity to medal.”
Rio hosted a mountain bike test event back in October, where Pendrel was able to try out the course. There are a lot of similarities between the Rio 2016 course and the one used at London 2012 – the big difference will be the temperature.
“One of the biggest challenges for riders will be the humidity,” said Pendrel. “It will be very hot. There’s zero sun protection. It’ll offer some good physical challenges with two major climbs and then some rock gardens and jump features and things like that.”
While Pendrel said Rio is “most likely” her final Olympics, she hasn’t completely ruled out trying to reach another. At age 35, she’s begun to think about her post-cycling career, taking some physiotherapy classes.
The two-time world champion grew up in the small village of Harvey Station, New Brunswick and first got into the sport when her older brother, Geoff, gave her one of his old bikes. After watching some girls compete for Canada Games spots at New Brunswick’s Woolastoock Park, she was hooked.
After meeting her husband and coach at the University of Victoria, Pendrel has remained in British Columbia, now living in Kamloops – a city known around the world for its mountain biking.
While Pendrel has yet to medal at the Olympics, she has been at the top of the mountain bike world twice, winning gold in 2014 and previously in2011. She also won gold at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and silver at last year’s Pan Am Games.
In May, Pendrel finished second at a World Cup race in La Bresse, France. That podium finish came a week after going third at a race in Albstadt, Germany.
Before turning her attention to Rio, Pendrel will focus on the 2016 Mountain Bike World Championships in the Czech Republic, which take place June 28 – July 3.
“I’m feeling pretty good. I’ve had really solid preparation and I’m excited to go and see what I can do.”
Rio 2016 mountain biking will take place August 20-21 at the Mountain Bike Centre in the Deodoro zone.