The Canadian National Mountain Bike team is gearing up for a weekend full of racing at Bear Mountain in Langford.
The third annual Bear Mountain Bike Festival, hosted by the City of Langford and Tourism Victoria, is an off-road bicycle event being held on March 30 and 31.
The National MTB Series Canada Cup — designed to provide competitive opportunities to cyclists — will also be taking place and will be a great opportunity for the team to get back into the groove of racing again, according to head coach Dan Proulx.
“Canada is a really strong mountain bike nation so it’s a great opportunity to just test out fitness and test out some new tactics with the team,” Proulx said. “It is an opportunity for athletes to see where their legs are at and see how the winter of training worked for them.”
Proulx said he’s hoping to see some big improvements from the team, which features athletes who are Olympic medalists, Commonwealth Games medalists and world champions.
Many team members have their eyes set on the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo as they collect points to earn qualification spots on the Canadian Olympic team.
However, this weekend is really just a preparation race for the athletes, many of whom are excited to be cycling in warmer weather.
Leandre Bouchard, a 26-year-old team member from Alma, Que., said he welcomes the sunshine and trails on Bear Mountain.
“In Quebec, we still have a lot of snow so it’s really cool to be able to ride outside and have a real technical race,” Bouchard said. “I think that here on Bear Mountain we have better trails [that are] more rough.”
Bouchard is a three-time U23 national champion who made his elite world championship debut in 2015. He posted a 13th place finish at the Rio 2016 test event in October, qualifying to compete in the Olympics in 2016.
Bouchard has been on the national team since 2010 and said he is looking forward to winning his first Canada Cup.
“I’m looking forward to having a great battle with my Canadian teammates,” Bouchard said. “We’re often in opposition so the opportunity to know each other and develop relationships is great.”
The team also features Olympic bronze medalist Catharine Pendrel, Commonwealth Games bronze medalist Haley Smith and Canadian Junior National MTB Champions Carter Woods and Emily Johnston.
Twenty-two-year-old Smith said she is working towards qualifying for her first Olympic team while 38-year-old Catharine Pendrel is hoping to make it to her fourth Olympics. Both athletes said the weekend races will be a great way to get back into the season, earn points and tune up as the season begins again.
“It’s an opportunity for all of us because there’s points up for grabs and that’s something we’re all looking for to help Team Canada stay in the top two in the world,” Pendrel said.
Smith joked that she will be chasing Pendrel on the trails this weekend but said there is a real sense of camaraderie amongst the team, despite them competing against each other.
“We’re all accumulating points to send riders to the Olympics for Canada,” Smith said.
The 2019 Bear Mountain Bike Festival will take place on March 30 and 31 with various events from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day at the Westin Bear Mountain Golf Resort and Spa.
There will be more than 500 participants competing in the Canada Cup and short track races.