Cycling

Olympic champion Kelsey Mitchell headlines UCI Track Nations Cup in Ontario

An innocuous conversation while on a trip to southeast Asia a few years ago got Kelsey Mitchell thinking about her future plans. After graduating from the University of Alberta, she wasn’t sure what would come next once she returned home from her three-month journey. 

Mattamy National Cycling Centre to host 4-day event starting Thursday at 7pm ET

Kelsey Mitchell, seen after winning a gold medal in Tokyo 2020 last August, will be one of the Canadian athletes to watch during the at the Milton Tissot UCI Track Nations Cup from May 12-15. (Christophe Ena/The Associated Press)

An innocuous conversation while on a trip to southeast Asia a few years ago got Kelsey Mitchell thinking about her future plans.

After graduating from the University of Alberta, she wasn't sure what would come next once she returned home from her three-month journey. 

Mitchell was feeling a little lost before her departure and came back "even more lost," she said. But a random chat with a guy at a party in southern Thailand gave her pause for thought. 

"He said to me, 'What are you going to do after this trip?" she recalled. "I was like, 'Oh you know, go back and get a job, buy a house, settle down and start a family. He was like, 'Oh that's so North American.' 

The conversation made her take a step back, Mitchell said.

"I was like, 'Maybe that's not my life choice right now,'" she said. "I have to figure out what makes me happy. 

"Apparently riding a bike in a circle every day makes me really happy."

A varsity soccer player at university, Mitchell transitioned to track cycling in 2017. She proved to be a quick study.

Mitchell won three medals at the national championship a year later. Pan Am gold followed in 2019 and Olympic gold came last year in Tokyo. Not a bad resume for an athlete who's entering her second quadrennial.

'The passion is strong'

"The passion is there and the passion is strong," she said Wednesday before a training session. "I want to do this for as long as I can and as long as my body is able to and I'm getting the results."

Her next task is a return to her home track at the Milton Tissot UCI Track Nations Cup outside Toronto. Mitchell and Tokyo bronze medallist Lauriane Genest are two of the headliners at the four-day competition starting Thursday.

Cyclists from Australia, Germany and the Netherlands are also good bets to reach the podium this week.

"We know that we have a lot of people who could be very strong so we have to be strong as well," said Canadian coach Franck Durivaux, who serves as the track sprint lead.

The Nations Cup is essentially a rebranded World Cup. Instead of the usual six-event tour, the track cycling circuit has been trimmed to three stops with stiffer competition. 

Mitchell, from Sherwood Park, Alta., kicked off the season last month in Glasgow by winning gold in women's sprint. She also took team sprint silver with Genest, from Levis, Que., and Sarah Orban of Calgary.

Mitchell is hoping to continue her strong form in front of a partisan crowd this week.

"I can't wait to look up and see the stands filled with people that I know, new faces and Canadian flags," she said.

Team pursuit qualifying will kick off the four-day schedule on Thursday morning. Finals for all disciplines will be held in the evenings.

Other Canadian athletes to watch include sprinter Nick Wammes of Bothwell, Ont., and endurance cyclists Mathias Guillemette of Trois-Rivieres, Que., and Dylan Bibic and Michael Foley, both of Milton, Ont.

This is the fourth year — and first since early 2020 — that the Mattamy National Cycling Centre has hosted Nations Cup/World Cup competition.

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