Field of Play: Women's team pursuit next big thing
Canadian quartet has track cycling buzzing
The sport most likely to experience a rapid growth spurt as a result of the TO2015 Pan American Games is track cycling. It's simply because of the emergence of the brand new velodrome in Milton, Ont., as a centrepiece venue.
When it comes to this country, it's a one-of-a-kind proposition.
- Canada's cycling team full of gold medal threats
- Canada takes bronze in women's team pursuit at track cycling worlds
It's world class in its dimensions, in the quality of its construction, and the steeply banked oval has already become a magnet attracting the best pedal, as well as medal, potential from across the land.
"As a Canadian athlete of any kind, to have a first-rate facility at home is huge," says Kate O'Brien, a former bobsledder who will race in the team sprint with fellow Calgarian Monique Sullivan. "When you come inside and realize that it's yours and there for the taking, it's very cool."
The hottest prospect for Canadian cycling gold at the Pan Am Games comes in the form of a group rather than an individual. The women's team pursuit that will jet around the hardwood track has already proven itself to be a contender whenever and wherever it races.
A pursuit is one of cycling's most exciting events pitting two teams of four riders in a rhythmic blur of speed and synchronicity over 4,000 metres. The teams travel in close proximity and the lead rider will periodically peel off to rejoin the team at the rear of the train.
The purpose is to share the work load. The winning team in this head-to-head confrontation is the one whose final rider pushes her wheel across the finish line first.
Foursomes advance in a knockout format with the survivor claiming top prize in a desperate do-or-die tournament. There are no second chances in a pursuit and with a lot of moving parts the potential for error is great. Because impending disaster looms in the electrically charged atmosphere of the velodrome, a pursuit can become a spectacular even gladiatorial kind of race.
Since the London 2012 Olympics, when the women's pursuit was run over a distance of 3,000m and the Canadian threesome of Jasmin Glaesser, Tara Whitten and Gillian Carleton won a bronze medal, the team has not been off the World Cup or world championship podium.
It's an impressive run which has featured a talented cast of characters with Glaesser being the lone holdover from the London Games. Joining her in an attempt to set a new Pan Am Games record in Toronto are Allison Beveridge of Calgary, Laura Brown of Vancouver and former speed skater Kirsti Lay of Medicine Hat, Alta. They'll take to the track as defending Pan Am champions, having won gold in Guadalajara four years ago, as well as capturing bronze at the most recent UCI world championships just outside Paris, France in February.
"We are all fired up," says Brown. "We eventually want to be Olympic champions and we think we can be."
First things first, and that means proving themselves at home in the Golden Horseshoe in a major multi-sport setting.
The endurance coach for Cycling Canada, Craig Griffen, is licking his chops at the prospect of what lies ahead. He welcomes the pressure that comes along with home turf.
"This track means we no longer have to live in exile and train in California," says Griffin. "We have always had the talent. But until now we have not had the proper tools to take that talent to the next level."
Cycling comes in many forms at the Pan Am Games. Canadian athletes will compete in the road races and on the BMX super cross track. There Tory Nyhaug of Coquitlam, B.C., is the reigning world championship silver medallist.
On the mountain bike trails current world champion Catharine Pendrel, originally from tiny Harvey Station, N.B., will try and reclaim the Pan Am championship which she first won in Rio de Janeiro in 2007.
Still, the fireworks are most likely to come from the velodrome.
From the get go tickets have been in high demand for the Milton track.
Cycling is sold right out. It seems every cycling fan is eager to catch a glimpse of Canada's latest hot pursuit.