Canadian cyclists confident investment in equipment, venue will pay off
Women's team feels it has the tools to close the gap with strong British team
MILTON, Ont. — When it comes to the women's team pursuit in track cycling, Great Britain is the gold standard.
At the Rio Olympics last summer, the Brits won for the second consecutive time — setting the world record on three separate occasions during the competition.
Canada duplicated its performance in London with a bronze medal in a national record time of four minutes, 14.627 seconds — nearly 4.5 seconds off the benchmark set by Great Britain.
As a veteran of the past two Canadian Olympic squads, Laura Brown has seen plenty of progress since her early days but knows there's still plenty of work ahead to get to where they want to be.
"The past few years we've been constantly trying to close that gap on the Brits and the U.S. — other teams like Australia we have, so we're making those gains," said Brown, a member of the national team since 2009. "But at the same time, a lot of countries are getting faster. It's not like we get better and they stay stagnant."
All in the details
Brown, 30, from Vancouver, sees the time in between Olympic Games as a good opportunity to take a step back and evaluate everything, because it's not just one simple fix that will bridge the distance.
Jasmin Duehring has been a mainstay on both bronze-medal teams and knows that even the smallest details can separate the good and the best.
"A tough part of track cycling — which was a little bit of our a downfall — is how much technology is a part of it and innovation in terms of aerodynamics, the bike, equipment itself. I think that's where really we lacked a little bit compared to other teams," said Duehring, 25, of Vancouver.
In June, Cycling Canada announced a multi-year partnership with Canadian bike manufacturer Argon 18.
The hope is that by working directly together with athletes like Brown and Duehring, the manufacturer will be able to produce a bike that best suits their needs — efficient with more speed.
"Our goal is to place our best athletes on the fastest equipment in Tokyo in 2020," said Craig Griffin, head coach for Cycling Canada's women's track endurance program. "Our partnership with Argon will facilitate that goal through a collaborative effort, developing, and engineering a bike that will complement the complete 'aero package' we are working towards."
Established in 2015 for the Pan Am Games, the Mattamy National Cycling Centre in Milton, Ont., is now the home training base for the track cycling team.
Unlike previous years, athletes will have full access to the facility and all its benefits for a full four-year cycle in between Olympics.
"We spent the first two years of the quadrennial training in Los Angeles, Calif., where you'd have your handful of athletes and one coach, one mechanic, maybe a videographer," Duehring said. "Now we're able to come here every single training camp.
"We have our strength trainers, our nutritionists who not only are able to give us feedback but are able to observe and learn how they can tailor what they do to help us achieve our goals."
With all staff under one roof, athletes can receive instant critique.
All training sessions are filmed and it's as easy as coming off the track and going into the velodrome's infield to view video and metrics measured from the same training interval.
"It's not even the next day, 15 minutes later we know what we need to do better or what we did well," Brown said. "If you have an issue or you're interested in something, you just have to walk down the hall. Everybody is here so it makes it easier for everyone behind the scenes to collaborate more."
Plenty of belief, motivation
Seeing such a large investment in herself and her teammates further motivates Brown and she's excited to see the fruits of their labour pay off.
"It inspires me to be better when you see how many people are invested in your performance. They're here because of us and you want to do your best [with] every opportunity as they are investing in you," Brown said.
Duehring sees no reason why Canada shouldn't be right there with the Brits. She believes they've got the talent and all the tools to succeed, it's just a matter of laying it all together on the track.
"We know that in terms of the riders, the staff of our bigger team in general — we have everything we need. It's about getting those little details on par with team GB. But we know we're strong enough as riders to challenge them," Duehring said.