The mountain bikers that will wear the Maple Leaf at this summer’s Olympic Games in China are not taking any chances. The four-member team, led by 2004 Olympic silver medallist Marie-Helene Premont of Chateau-Richer, Que., will train in Canada and won’t arrive in Beijing until a few days before their races.
It’s a move veteran racer Seamus McGrath of Millgrove, Ont., supports. He wants to avoid the searing heat and choking pollution expected to swirl around the Laoshan Mountain Bike Course as long as possible. “You can control everything at home,” McGrath said during a telephone conference call Friday. “You can control your diet, you get good sleep, good training. Basically you don’t want to change too much before the Olympic Games. Go with what you know.”
Also named to the team by the Canadian Cycling Association was Catharine Pendrel of Kamloops, B.C., and Geoff Kabush of Victoria. Premont is currently ranked third in the world by the International Cycling Union. The 31-year-old has won a medal at all five World Cup races this season and was fourth at the recent world championships in Italy. Premont may have slipped under the radar heading into Athens but knows she will be on everyone’s screen this year.
Pendrel, 28, has been a consistent top-10 performer on the World Cup the past two seasons. She is currently ranked 12th in the world. She rode the 4.6-kilometre Olympic course at last year’s test event, finishing seventh despite extremely hot and moist conditions
“I think it’s a good course for me,” said Pendrel. “It is very physically demanding. There is absolutely no rest on it. It’s pretty similar terrain to Kamloops, lots of steep climbs, dry, hard-packed soil. I think that will bode even better for the Canadians.”
Kabush, 31, and McGrath, 32, are both international veterans. Kabush won a World Cup bronze medal earlier this season. McGrath was ninth in the Athens Olympics and won a bronze at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in 2006.
Sean O’Donnell, the high performance manager for the Canadian Cycling Association, said both the men and women have podium potential. “We are very excited by these four athletes that are going to Beijing, I think we go into Beijing, on both the women’s and men’s side, with a strong chance of earning at least one medal in each event. It’s a very strong team, an experienced team. I think that bodes well for Canada.”
Many of the riders got their first taste of the air around Beijing at last year’s test event and were not impressed. American rider Adam Craig dropped out of the race, saying the pollution resulted in him “coughing, hacking, spitting up all sorts of gross stuff and feeling nauseous.”
Kabush said you can adapt to the heat but “there is no acclamation to pollution. I think the strategy for a lot of us is just going to be to avoid that as long as possible.”
When the team arrives they will use air filters in their rooms and possibly wear masks while training. To battle the heat, riders will don ice vests to cool their body temperatures before their events and will race dressed in light-weight, breathable clothing. Some Olympic athletes plan to train in countries near China prior to the Games.
The women’s cross country race is August 22 and the men’s race on August 23.
Not quite sure whether the video below will be anything like the course in Bejing but hopefully it will whet your appetite – bring the games on! Thanks to qcguy4 who put this video out on You Tube.