Thursday, August 9, 2012

Canada's Pendrel to ride for gold

Daily News Sports Editor
Catharine Pendrel races for gold on
Saturday morning at the London

(Hugo Yuen/Kamloops Daily News)
What began as a search for new friends has taken Catharine Pendrel to the top of the mountain-biking world.
Pendrel was a student, and an aspiring mountain biker, at the University of Victoria when she decided to give triathlon a try.
“I got into triathlon when I moved to Victoria as a way to meet other cyclists and other athletes and to be active for life,” she says. On the first day of cycling practice, Pendrel met a guy by the name of Dan Proulx, who would become her coach, and another gent named Keith Wilson, who would become her husband.
She and Proulx have worked together since 2003; she and Wilson moved to Kamloops from Chase in May 2006 and were married in December 2006. As well as being her life partner, Wilson, a school teacher, oftentimes is her training partner.
“He has been instrumental in my success,” she says of her husband, adding that “joining the triathlon club and meeting those two hugely influential people in my life definitely helped me get to where I am today.”
Which is on top of the mountain.
Pendrel goes into the women’s cross-country mountain biking competition at the London Olympics as the world’s No. 1 female rider. The ride for gold begins Saturday at 4:30 a.m. PT.
Prior to the start of the Games, Sports Illustrated picked Pendrel to win the gold medal. If it happens, it will be a nice step up from the 2008 Games in Beijing where she finished fourth. But whereas she was inexperienced in many aspects of her sport, at least at the international level, that no longer is the case.
“I am a much more experienced traveller and racer than I was back in Beijing,” she says, touching on things such as jet lag, logistics and environment, all of which must be dealt with confidently if one is to have success on such a large stage.
“It has been a very steady training progression,” she adds. “Every year I saw I was more capable and just kept striving for higher and higher goals.”
She also is a veteran of the Canadian team, having been on it since 2003, something she feels gives her a leg up this time.
“In Beijing,” she recalls, “the staff and athletes were pretty new to each other in that working environment. This team has been working very much together over the last couple of years and growing as a team, so that’s another thing that will help us maintain a sense of normal while we’re there.”
It also should help that the Canadian team — it includes Emily Batty of Brooklin, Ont., and male riders Geoff Kabush of Courtenay and Max Plaxton of Victoria — familiarized itself with its London accommodations, a rented home rather than the athletes’ village, well in advance of the Games. As well, Pendrel has been on the Olympic course a couple of times, having raced on it last year — yes, she won — and having had two training days there this spring.
She has said “it’s a good course,” one she anticipates will be quite fast. Pendrel prides herself on her conditioning, and she expects the steep climbs to be to her advantage.
“I think the course gives me some tough climbs to separate people’s fitness levels” is how she puts it.
The 4.7-kilometre track, with its 172-metre elevation change, is on the 500-acre Hadleigh Farm in Essex, east of London.
Pendrel, who left Kamloops on July 24, tuned up for the Olympics by competing in a World Cup meet in Val d’Isere, France, on July 28. While she only managed to place ninth, that was good enough to allow her to clinch here second World Cup title in three years.
Competing in France allowed her to get her body acclimated time-wise. It also meant there would be limited travel and ample rest prior to the Olympic competition.
“We know the environment that we’re going into,” she says. “We’re very comfortable with that and I think we’ll be very well prepared.”
Pendrel, 31, was born in Fredericton, N.B. She was raised in Harvey Station, a village southwest of Fredericton, where her first love was horses; she was, in fact, competitive in the sport of dressage.
Her brother, Geoff, introduced her to mountain biking, a sport in which he was an elite rider.
Don’t think for a minute, however, that she was a natural. There were falls and scrapes and cuts and bruises.
“Catharine and I often joke because, no, I didn’t see (world champion potential) in her at first,” Proulx told Paul Hunter of the Toronto Star. “It took a lot of persistence and hard work over time. She had to bug me a bit to get me to coach her at first and luckily it all worked out. It just goes to show you, you can work hard and make something happen.”
It wasn’t long before she was starting to realize that this was something at which she could be quite good.
“There were several moments (when I realized) that I could be competitive outside of New Brunswick and outside of Canada,” she says.
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The first one — and perhaps the most important — was the 2006 Pan American Championships in Camboriu, Brazil. Pendrel learned just two weeks in advance that she would compete for Canada and then there were problems getting the travel arranged.
“By the time I finally got there,” she says, “I knew that I was going there to represent Canada and they had gone through so much to get me to that event that I wasn’t going to disappoint them. I was able to go out there and I got a silver medal for Canada.
“That was definitely thrilling. I realized that I really liked trying to get medals for Canada and that was quite motivating.”
From there, she went on to win at the 2007 Pan Am Games in Rio de Janeiro. She has won four straight Canadian championships, two World Cups in three years and the 2011 World championship.
The key to her success, as with seemingly all such athletes, is her relentless drive. She may be on top of the world, but that just isn’t enough. It is that hunger that drives her to train as much as five hours at a time at least five days a week.
“I got drawn into my sport because I just love it and it’s fun to do. It’s also fun to be good at something,” Pendrel says as she tries to explain her success. “When you see improvement, you keep striving for more improvement.
“Even though I’m world champion, there are still a million things that I see that I can do better. You don’t really get bored with it when there is always something to improve.”
That attitude is at least partially responsible for the improvement in her ‘game’ since Beijing, an improvement she says is “across the board.”
“I’m fitter,” she adds. “I can push more watts. I think I’m a better student of the sport so I’m looking for all the little games. I’m always pushing, whether I’m training with my husband or with the other athletes on the Canadian team.”
And don’t think for a moment that her success is simply a matter of training hard and then getting on a bike and riding hard. Communication also is a big part of it.
“Myself and my coach will discuss the best approach for each race and how to use my strengths and weaknesses,” she says.
That will happen again in London. You can count on it.
When Pendrel finished fourth in Beijing, she wasn’t at all disappointed. It had been hoped that she could get a top-five finish, which is exactly what she did.
That was then, however, and this is 2012. She wasn’t the world’s top-ranked rider then; she is now.
“Whenever you have expectations on you that can be a huge positive because it means that there are that many people who believe in you and your ability,” she says. “You need to harness those expectations and turn it into confidence, and that’s what I plan to do going into London.”
And after London . . . well, the 2016 Olympic Summer Games are scheduled for Rio de Janeiro, the site of her 2007 Pan American Games success.
“I won’t rule that out,” Pendrel says. “I will be 32 by the end of this year but that makes me only 36 in 2016 and the last Olympic gold medallist was 36 when she won.
“I feel like I’m still a developing rider. There is so much for me to learn and improve. As long as I keep loving riding my bike, then I will continue to do so.”

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