Catharine Pendrel has already mastered the 4.7-kilometre London Olympic mountain bike course in a test event last August. The next time she tackles it, a gold medal is on the line. Defending world champion Pendrel, of Kamloops, B.C., and Emily Batty, of Brooklin, Ont., members of the world-leading Canadian women’s mountain bike squad, and male riders Geoff Kabush, a seven-time Canadian champ from Courtenay, B.C., and Max Plaxton, of Victoria, have been nominated to chase gold in mountain biking for the 2012 Canadian Olympic team.
The nominations came Wednesday, made by Cycling Canada in collaboration with the Canadian Olympic Committee at Mont-Sainte-Anne, Que. Canada qualified the maximum two spots for the women’s race, and two spots for the men’s race, Cycling Canada’s statement said.
The Canadian mountain bike program has been led for four years by head coach Dan Proulx, of Victoria, who will lead the team in London.
“We have a very strong team,” Proulx said. “Each of the riders has proven themselves among the best in the world. … I know they will ride with courage in London.” The men’s field is 50 strong, the women’s 30.
Canada has won two Olympic mountain-bike medals. Alison Sydor won the silver medal at the 1996 Games in Atlanta, while Marie-Hélène Prémont took silver at the 2004 Games in Athens.
Pendrel, who rides professionally for Team Luna Pro, won the London Olympic test event by a handy 56 seconds before a crowd of 5,000 last year. The 550-acre Hadleigh Farm site in Essex has a 172-metre change in elevation. Canadian women have ridden over the course wearing helmet-mounted cameras to study its intricacies.
Pendrel placed fourth in Beijing, won four consecutive Canadian titles and won the 2011 world mountain-bike championship.
“I am thrilled to be representing Canada at the 2012 Olympics in London, and will do my best to give Canada a performance to cheer for and be proud of,” said Pendrel, who is in contention for the 2012 UCI World Cup leader’s jersey. She currently is in second place.
Batty, who rides for Team Subaru-Trek, has had a rapid rise among cycling’s elite. The four-time under-23 Canadian champion (2007-10), was eighth in the World Cup standings last year, her rookie season. This season, Batty mounted her first World Cup podium by taking second place in South Africa.
“This is hopefully the beginning to an amazing path in sport. … I am confident the Canadian mountain-bike team will be doing something special in London 2012 this year,” she said. Batty is in fifth place in the World Cup standings.
Kabush, who rides pro for SCOTT-3RoxRacing, is the most experienced Canadian mountain biker. It will be his third Olympics. He finished ninth in Sydney, and 20th in Beijing.
“The Olympic Games stands out above all events in the sporting world. … I’m extremely motivated and focused and I’m heading to London with a lot of confidence. The Canadian mountain-bike team is the strongest I’ve ever seen.”
Plaxton, a Canadian who competes on the UCI World Cup tour for Specialized Racing USA, is the two-time Canadian Champion in the elite category, and has enjoyed a rise in the last two years, winning in 2011 the USA Pro XCT Series.
At the 2012 World Cup in La Bresse, France, Plaxton broke into the top-10 for the first time. He is 23rd overall in points.
“I’ve worked extremely hard the last four years to make this goal a reality. I’m excited about both the experience and the challenge of racing the world’s best mountain bikers in London,” Plaxton said.
The mountain bike races will be held the last two days of the London Games, on August 11 for the women’s race and August 12 for the men’s race.