Road To The Olympic Games

Canada shut out in cycling

Mountain bikers Marie-Hélène Prémont and Catharine Pendrel, along with BMX rider Sam Cools were all targeted at the begining of the Beijing Games as potential podium finishers because of past international success.

Canada's medal chances in cycling rested on the shoulders of three women.

Mountain bikers Marie-Hélène Prémont and Catharine Pendrel, along with BMX rider Sam Cools were all targeted at the begining of the Beijing Games as potential podium winners because of past international success.

No cyclist had more pressure placed on her than Prémont as she was one of the few gold-medal favourites for Canada.

The expectations were justified.

Prémont, who won a silver medal at the 2004 Athens Games, reached the podium in all seven World Cup events, including two victories. She also led the World Cup standings by a sizeable margin, making a victory in Beijing a distinct possibility.

However, just before Prémont travelled to Beijing, she admitted to CBC Sports that she worries about things out of her control, such as a broken chain or flat tire.

Those revealing comments from the Château-Richer, Que., native couldn't have been more eerie.

Prémont pulled out of the race after losing control of her bike on the second of six laps on the 4.5-kilometre Laoshan course.

Prémont briefly was in fifth place at the end of the first lap. But during the second lap she began experiencing difficulty breathing and started hyperventilating, according to a Canadian team official, causing her to lose control of her bike.

"It's the worst thing that could happen, having to stop at the Olympics," she said. "I've never stopped any race since I began. Even when I fell or broke something I always finish.

"Here it was a physical problem. I couldn't do anything else."

The result was far better for her teammate, Pendrel, who earned her first career World Cup win just before the Olympics.

Still, she just missed winning a bronze medal after a fourth-place finish.

Pendrel of Kamloops, B.C., moved into the bronze-medal spot on the fourth lap and was still clinging to it late in the final loop before she was overtaken by Irina Kalentyeva of Russia.

"It was an awesome race," said Pendrel, 27, who received congratulations from her husband and family by the finish area. "I had a bit of trouble shifting on the last climb and Irina was right on my wheel. I had to put a foot down. She got by me and that was bronze."

Then there's Cools, whose sport was making its Olympic debut. The Airdrie, Alta., native was a five-time world junior champion and a racing prodijgy since she was three.

Cools has never duplicated her success at the junior level after competing for three seasons on the women's elite division, yet was still targeted as a medal hopeful.

However, Beijing proved to be too much for Cools. Although she advanced to the final, Cools crashed seconds into the race. She was shaken up, but eventually got back on her bike and cross the finish line in the event.

"I'm alive, I can walk, that's all the matters," said Cools, 22, who officially received a DNF. "It was frustrating when I was dusting myself off but really, I was there."