“I was just like ‘everything is going wrong’.”
With a little help from her friends, otherwise known as her coach and mechanic, the two-time world champion was able to pull herself from 15th place onto the podium.
“You know, it definitely wasn’t ideal,” Pendrel said of her early race mishap when she rubbed wheels with another competitor during the start loop. “Before we started the first lap, I was on the dirt.”
“But I’ve been in positions where I had a bad start,” she later added. “Actually I went right back to Beijing where I was 25th off the start and I was able to get myself into a fourth position, seven seconds off bronze, so I knew I could get myself into a medal position.”
She also had much more recent experience to rely on. During a World Cup race in La Bresse, France in late May, she was able to overcome a one minute 40 second deficit to claim silver, something coach Dan Proulx reminded her of.
“We had prepared for every scenario,” said Pendrel. “So I knew that I could close a gap and that’s just what I set about doing today.”
But in a case of Murphy’s Law, Pendrel had subsequent gear trouble.
“My shifting actually stopped working, so the whole first climb I had to do it in one gear,” she said. “And then when I got back through I was able to get it fixed in the feed zone. So I just had to stop for a little bit. My mechanic was on it, he fixed it right away and then I was back out.”
From that point on, Pendrel found her groove. In a six-lap race, each lap over 4.85km, she gradually worked her way through the field. In 15th place after the first lap, she moved her way up to 12th, and then eighth, before passing fellow Canadian Emily Batty to find herself in fourth place after lap four.
“When I did work up there, I saw that the girls really weren’t that far ahead and I knew the gap was closeable,” said Pendrel.
Heading into the penultimate lap, Pendrel was trailing Sweden’s Jenny Rissveds and Poland’s Maja Wloszczowska, both of whom had been at the front for most of the race. But they had dropped another early frontrunner, Switzerland’s Jolanda Neff. And that’s who Pendrel was able to reel in before passing into third place, with Batty just behind her.
As she approached the finish line, Pendrel began looking back over her shoulder to see where her teammate was. It was only at the beginning of July that Batty had sprinted her way to a bronze medal at the world championships.
“I saw her coming and I know she has a better sprint kick than me,” said Pendrel. “But you know what, if I had crashed myself out of bronze and she got it, I would’ve been extremely happy for her too.”
But it was Pendrel who ended up on the podium, a much different result than four years ago at London 2012 when she went into the Olympic race as the reigning world champion but finished ninth.
“It’s a polar opposite experience,” she said. “I felt so much more relaxed and confident going into this race, even though I went into London as a much more dominant rider. I just felt more capable and confident coming into this because I knew how to perform on the day.”
The Olympic medal had been the one accolade missing from Pendrel’s illustrious career. In addition to her two world titles, she won the overall World Cup title in 2010 and 2012 and has a pair of medals from the Pan Am Games.
“I thought before the race I still would’ve been happy with my career if I didn’t have an Olympic medal, but I’m sure happy that I do. It’s a pretty special feeling.”