All four of Canada’s Rio 2016 mountain bike Olympians will be wearing the maple leaf this week in Cairns, Australia. They’d like nothing more than to trade it in for the rainbow jersey awarded to world champions.
Headlining the Canadian contingent down under are Catharine Pendrel and Emily Batty, currently ranked ninth and 11th in the world, respectively. Pendrel stood on one World Cup podium this season, placing third on home soil in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Quebec in early August while Batty finished just one spot behind her. Batty also posted a top-five finish in early July in Vallnord, Andorra.
Though they may not have had the number of World Cup podiums in 2017 that they have become accustomed to, both women have their tremendous past experiences to rely on. It was at last year’s worlds that Batty won bronze in a sprint finish for her first world championship medal. She went on to cross the line just behind bronze medallist Pendrel at Rio 2016. That was a most-welcome addition to Pendrel’s trophy case, which includes a pair of world titles from 2011 and 2014.
There will be a total of seven Canadian women competing in the elite cross-country event. Joining Pendrel and Batty are Haley Smith, Sandra Walter, Cindy Montambault, Catherine Fleury and Rebecca Beaumont.
Leading the way for the Canadian men’s team are Léandre Bouchard and Raphaël Gagné. Currently Canada’s top-ranked man at number 57 in the world, Bouchard earned his first career World Cup top-20 result on the Cairns course last season. Gagné would like to recapture some of the magic from his 2015 season when he won gold at the Pan Am Games in Toronto, posted a top-six finish on the World Cup and was the top-placed rider from outside of Europe at the world championships.
Three other men will also suit up for Canada in the elite cross-country race. Veteran Derek Zandstra is a two-time Pan Am Games team member who was Canada’s top man at the 2014 World Championships. Andrew L’Esperance and Evan McNeely round out the squad.
This is the 28th edition of the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships, but the first time in 21 years that they’ve been hosted in Cairns, which sits in the rainforest region of Australia’s north east coast and is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. A total of 527 riders from 46 nations are expected to compete in the Olympic cross-country and non-Olympic downhill events in elite, under-23 and junior categories.
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Canada’s cross-country riders will first take to the course on Wednesday in the team relay. Each team feature five riders (one each of elite man, elite woman, under-23 man, junior man, under-23 or junior woman) who each complete a lap of the 4.31km circuit before handing off to the next team member.
The Olympic cross-country events will take centre stage on Saturday September 9.