With less than a year to go before the London Olympics, Canadian women cyclists were stalking the podium at Tuesday’s Elite Time Trials race at the 2011 UCI Road World Championships in Copenhagen, Denmark, riding to three spots in the top seven.
Tara Whitten posted the best results for the strong Canadian contingent finishing in fourth place, while Clara Hughes took the fifth position in her comeback year and newcomer Rhae Shaw provided the surprise result for Canada with a seventh place finish.
In what she described as “the best Time Trials race of my career”, Whitten excelled in the last quarter of the race, improving her result from last year from seventh to fourth.
“I know my performance was there. It’s incredible to have three Canadian women in the top 10. It’s really exciting to have that camaraderie, and to show that Canada can be a dominant force in cycling,” said Whitten of Edmonton.
“Things are moving in the right direction for the program, for Canadian cycling. It’s a great time to be in that position a year before the Olympics. Not only we have success, but we also have depth. It’s also motivating to be just off the podium. You know you’re right up there, and that you still have something to prove,” Whitten said.
Clara Hughes of Glen Sutton, Que., in her first Road Cycling World Championships race since 1999, also demonstrated the depth of Canadian cycling with a fifth place. Hughes, who had an early start time in the race, posted a very fast time in decent weather conditions, and remained untouched at the top until Whitten crossed the line to dislodge her as race leader.
“I am pretty satisfied with my ride. It’s my first time racing at world championships since 1999, and I did everything I could. I think we had a great day as a team, and it’s a great sign of where things are going, in the right directions. I know things could have been better and I know Tara and Rhae think the same, but definitely, these results are a step in the right direction,” said Hughes.
This season, Hughes captured two races at the 2011 UCI Pan-American Championships in Medellin, Colombia, and in doing so received an automatic invitation to these world championships. At the Canadian Championships, she went on to win the time trials race to be crowned Canadian champion in the discipline. In addition, Hughes won the UCI Chrono Gatineau, an international race in Gatineau, Que.
“I knew I could be in the top five, realistically. Anything in the upper part of that would have been fantastic. With the conditions, I did everything that I could and I have to be satisfied with my efforts, my approach. I did everything I could to prepare for this year, and I know there are a lot of things I can do to be stronger next year.
Hughes is making a stellar and noticeable comeback to cycling after a brilliant speedskating career. Hughes previously won the silver medal in Time Trials event at the 1995 World Championships. Hughes won two medals in road cycling at the Olympic Games: two bronze medals in Atlanta, in the Road Race and the Time Trials race.
Rhae-Christie Shaw – of Amherstburg, Ont. but with a U.S. residence in Seattle -- finished seventh in her first ever participation at a major cycling event. Shaw, 35 years of age and former advisor to the Chief Technology Officer at Microsoft Corporation in Seattle, is a convert from Triathlon/Ironman, a sport she competitively participated in for seven years prior to her cycling career.
“Today was just an amazing experience. From the beginning of the day, Team Canada just really set me up to enjoy it, have a good ride. I felt confident, and just went out and pedalled my bike as fast as I could,” said Shaw. “I am rooming with Tara Whitten here in Denmark, and she reminded me that there’s never an second opportunity to race your first world championships. As a rookie to the sport, to be around a three-time World Champion, is definitely inspiring.”
At the 2011 Canadian Championships, Shaw finished third of the time trials, third in the criterium and ninth in the road race.
The Canadian women will take once more to the streets of Copenhagen for the women’s road race, Saturday. The 2011 UCI Road World Championships continues tomorrow with the presentation of the men’s Elite Time Trials race. Svein Tuft of Langley, B.C., the 2008 silver medallist in the discipline, is the only Canadian entered in the race.