Hugo Barrette's gut feeling set him towards track cycling career
'There was just this feeling of being free on my bike,’ says Canadian Olympian
MILTON, ONT. — Hugo Barrette has come a long way from the small community of Iles de la Madeleine — an archipelago floating near Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia but part of Quebec.
He's an Olympian, a two-time Pan Am Games champion, and at 26, one of the veterans on the Canadian track cycling team.
Last weekend, Barrette added another three titles at the Canadian Track championships.
It's been quite the adventure thus far for Barrette and he isn't ready to slow down anytime soon.
"I live for these moments. As a young kid, I learned so much and [had] some experiences that I'll never forget and I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world," Barrette said.
"I'm so glad I am where I am right now in my career but I always keep in my mind what it took to get there and I think that's what motivates me to go forward and go even faster."
Two years ago, Barrette nearly died during a routine training session for an International Cycling Union (UCI) World Cup event. He was travelling at 80 km/h when he lost control of his bicycle and crashed into a guardrail.
Had Barrette not turned his head at the last second, he would've collided head-on, and it's very likely he wouldn't be here today.
"When I woke up, I knew if I had hit it face first I probably wouldn't have woke up," Barrette wrote in his Players' Own Voice piece to CBC Sports. "After the crash, I was just happy to be alive, just happy to be able to look forward and get back on my bike, which is the thing I love to do the most in the world."
Barrette suffered two broken lumbar vertebrae, a broken nose, split lip, concussion, dislocated neck, and severe contusions throughout his body.
Miraculously, Barrette was back on a bicycle two weeks later and managed to defy the odds and qualify for the Rio Olympics.
It was clear he was still as passionate about cycling as he was when he first discovered the sport as a teenager.
"At 15, I was a hockey player. I was training a lot on my bike in the summer to train for hockey and there was just this feeling of being free on my bike. I loved it. That's what made me fall in love [with cycling]," Barrette recalled.
Two years later, Barrette finished high school and left his hometown for Montreal to pursue his cycling dreams.
He never took part in a cycling race but knew he liked it and that gut feeling was all that Barrette needed.
"It was a risk but I thought it was more of an adventure. I left the island, I left my hometown — but that was a choice moreover than a sacrifice. I was determined to go out and become the best cyclist that I could," Barrette said.
Barrette began his cycling career doing road races before realizing that track cycling suited him best.
While he didn't know it at the time, the decision led Barrette to a lengthy career that he still currently enjoys.
It was at Barrette's first road race where he met Patrick Gauthier — the director of a cycling team — who would shape his career for the years to come.
At the time, you needed to be part of a track cycling team in order to do races and Gauthier made a gut decision — just as Barrette once did — to give him a chance.
"I came out of the island, didn't know how to ride my bike — I was just a newbie and didn't have a team. He took me under his wing, taught me everything, [and] introduced me to track [cycling] despite the fact that I didn't know anything. He just saw that I had a passion for the sport and that was enough for him to welcome me in his team," Barrette said.
Setting an example
On a relatively young national team, Barrette is now doing the same for newcomers.
Tegan Cochrane is one of those fresh faces and she's been very thankful to have teammates like Barrette who are willing to lend a helping hand and allow them to pick their brain.
"I try to give them as much advice and insight. I've been in the biggest races in the sport, so I can give them some pointers. Sometimes it's just [the] little things I see, I'll tell them and I'm glad to hear that they appreciate it," Barrette said.
This December, the Mattamy National Cycling Centre in Milton will play host to a World Cup event as part of a three-year agreement with the UCI.
It's one of five stops on the circuit and the first to be held in Canada since 1989.
The opportunity to compete on home soil is an exciting prospect for Barrette and his teammates. He's hopeful that a strong performance can help track cycling leave a lasting impression on the children in attendance.
"I think the World Cup is really gonna set a stage for those young kids to see what it's about — to show kids an exciting sport. I think there's going be a real boom even after the first World Cup," Barrette said.