When Catharine Pendrel bumped into Canadian cycling teammate Raphael Gagne at the Commonwealth Games, Gagne made a point of thanking her.
It seems not only is Pendrel one of the world’s best mountain bikers, but one of the most generous as well.
The 33-year-old from Kamloops, B.C., led Canada to a 1-2 finish in cross-country mountain biking at the Commonwealth Games on Tuesday, taking the lead from the opening lap and never looking back.
Pendrel absolutely crushed the field to cross in one hour 39 minutes 29 seconds, a minute and 10 seconds ahead of silver medallist Emily Batty of Brooklin, Ont. Australia’s Rebecca Henderson was third.
Max Plaxton of Victoria was fourth in the men’s race.
“Everyone who’s watched me race knows I just like to go hard from the start. . . When you get some space between you and other riders, you just go for it,” Pendrel said. “It feels amazing to win the gold for Canada.”
The reigning world champion decided this year to decline Sport Canada’s funding — the $1,500 a month she would normally receive as part of the athlete carding system. The money was split into three development cards of $500 apiece. Gagne told Pendrel he thought he was one of the three recipients.
“That was really cool to feel like I was helping one of those guys,” Pendrel said.
“I felt that it could make a bigger impact in one of the up-and-coming rider’s life,” she added, pointing out that she is a semipro athlete — she rides for Luna Pro Team. “I just knew just how big it was to receive that carding the first time, not just financially but emotionally, to know that you’ve reached that level where your country wants to invest in you. And that’s really special.
“I wanted another athlete to have that experience.”
Gagne finished seventh in the men’s race Tuesday, and praised Pendrel for her gesture.
“Catharine did that so that’s really generous from her,” he said. “That opens up other spots for younger athletes like me so obviously that’s super cool from her.”
The last time many Canadians saw Pendrel was at the 2012 London Olympics where she went in as a favourite but faded to ninth, tearfully apologizing to fans back home.
The two-time world champion said the disappointment of that performance stung for some time.
“But what it comes down to: I didn’t have a good day. There’s so much more to look forward to and opportunities to do well for Canada,” she added — particularly, next summer’s Pan American Games in Toronto and the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“I got so much positive feedback that I realized, even a bad day for me can still be inspiring, and I’ll just keep inspiring people to ride their bike and to reach for big goals, and not be afraid to risk failing to be incredible.”
On Tuesday, Pendrel, wearing earrings made from links of a bike chain — a gift from a young girl from New Brunswick — led from the outset. She was already more than a minute ahead after the first lap of the 31.95-kilometre course that twisted and turned around Cathkin Braes Country Park.
A coach handed her a Canadian flag near the finish line, and she waved it as she crossed for gold, keeping intact a gold-medal streak for Canadian women.
Canada’s Chrissy Redden won the title in 2002 in Manchester, England, where the sport made its Commonwealth debut, and Marie-Helene Premont took the title in 2006 in Melbourne, Australia. There was no mountain bike four years ago at the Games in New Delhi, India.
“I was trying to ignore the fact that Canada has never not gotten gold in mountain bike at the Commonwealth Games,” Pendrel said, laughing. “I really didn’t want that pressure before coming into this, but I knew with how quick Emily was going as well, that we had a strong chance.”
The 26-year-old Batty battled Henderson for the entire race until the Canadian pulled away on the final lap.
“I was feeling strong, I knew Catharine was up the road and I knew it as going to be hard to catch her,” Batty said. “I came here for gold, but silver is the next best thing.”
Batty, who narrowly lost to Pendrel at the recent Canadian championships, said she’s benefited from the tradition of strong female mountain bikers in Canada.
“It really helps. We’ve always been a top-ranked country for the women’s cross-country mountain biking and it puts the bar really high for our development program and it is really inspiring,” she said. “Not long ago I was looking up to the top Canadian women and now being one is really inspiring.
“I just gave myself goosebumps saying that,” she added, laughing. “We really feed off each other, and push each other.”
Hundreds of fans turned out to watch the mountain bike racing, despite dark clouds, periodic rain and blustery winds. The riders had to negotiate a tricky course that featured the Brig O’Doom, Broken Biscuits, and Clyde Climb — all named by local schoolchildren.
Anton Cooper of New Zealand won the men’s 37.15-kilometre race, followed by teammate Samuel Gaze. Daniel McConnell of Australia won the bronze.