This weekend is Catharine Pendrel’s last World Cup weekend. It is also the delayed final international race weekend for her team of 14 years, Clif Pro Team.
In her nearly two-decades-long career the Canadian has racked up an incredible list of accomplishments. Among them are an Olympic bronze medal, two world championships and three World Cup overall titles. Pendrel’s appeared in 17 world championships, four Olympic Games and a staggering 101 World Cup starts since she first toed the line in Les Gets, France in 2004.
This weekend isn’t just the last World Cup appearance for Pendrel. It’s also the last international race weekend for Clif Pro Team. After two decades of re-shaping the international scene, first as Luna, now as Clif, the team is packing up the race caravan for the last time in Snowshoe.
I caught up with Pendrel while she was visiting her parents home in New Brunswick to find out how she’s feeling heading into what could be her final World Cup appearance, and final international race with the teammates she’s spent a decade racing with.
Canadian Cycling Magazine: How does it feel going into this weekend knowing it is your last World Cup?
Catharine Pendrel: I feel like I haven’t been thinking about it too much as that. I’m just going in as if it’s another race and another opportunity. But yeah, I know my team are going to make it special.
It’s not only my last World Cup, it’s the last World Cup for the Clif Team. Katerina Nash is actually going to come out and race, so hopefully she’ll surprise a couple people, and we’re just going to have fun as a team.
What are you looking forward to most about this weekend, within or outside racing?
I’m looking forward to being back with my team again. Pushing myself at that level is always fun, and I just enjoy all the people on the circuit. It seems like a lot of people are tired at the end of an Olympic year and may not be making this trip. But we’ll see who is there. I’m sure it’s going to be really good competition.
Clif ending is a big deal. How does it feel knowing that the team will be done after this weekend?
It’s the last World Cup but we’ll still get together to do Bentonville. But it’s sad, too. We’ve had this reason that’s kept our team family together for so many years and to not have that – as much as you might grumble about team camp and it being busy every year – I’m really going to miss that. There’ll definitely be a lot of nostalgia. Or focus will be on really enjoying the weekend and enjoying that opportunity to spend time together.
That team roster’s had quite a bit of consistency, some of those relationships must go back years now.
Yeah, so Waldek [Stepniowski] and Katerina [Nash] have been there for 20 years. Our mechanic has been there 19, I’ve been there 14. Sophia and Russell are younger, but they were brought right into the family. Our manager, Dave [McLaughlin], has been there close to 18 or 19 years, I think.
Has this season felt any different? Either knowing its the last World Cup season, or coming into racing as a new mother?
Yeah, it felt totally different. That, combined with COVID, everything had to be different about this season. We went to Europe and we couldn’t plan to come home until things opened up for vaccinated people to come home without quarantine. That would have been too much, particularly with a baby. So not only did we stay in Europe for the whole summer, for the first time ever, but I got to do that with my family.
One thing we found was that you just don’t get to mountain bike there as much as you would if you were back in B.C. It definitely made us really appreciative of what we have for riding at home. And made us think, if we were to do that again, where we would set up base so you can optimize what you need for training while you’re living abroad.
You’re results during that first racing block improved consistently after what you’ve said was a shaky start in Albstad. Was there any point where you had second thoughts about this season.
The only time I had second thoughts about coming back was that first one, ha ha, where I got there and thought, wow, this is a lot to be throwing at my body all at once. Luckily it was mostly because of the travel that it was really hard more than just what my form was. I was able to ride where I needed by Czech.
For me, the biggest surprise was that I made a huge jump in the first three-four moths of postpartum. But then I had to work so hard to get tiny improvements. I did improve a lot, I thought, but it didn’t really show in the results because I was just improving on par with everybody else. I think the biggest change I experienced is my confidence technically. At the first two World Cups I was really nervous on track and just felt so slow compared to everyone else on the single track. By world championships I felt sharp. My hunger for racing kept increasing just because I felt so much more like a racer when I was on the trails.
With those improvements, and that feeling of being in the hunt, was there any thought of continuing for another year?
Ha ha, yeah it was tough. In ways I know I’m ready to move on. But at the same time I did really enjoy racing this year and I’m still Canada’s top points earner. So there’s that thought that maybe I should stay and try help get Canada two spots for Paris, because definitely we need to have some high performances if we’re going to get two spots for the next games.
There’s always that pull, though. What I’ve been able to do for the last 15 years has been pretty amazing, so it would be really easy to get pulled in. But it’s also really nice to stop racing at that level when you do have positive sentiments towards it and not take it to the point – kind of where I got that break with pregnancy – where it was feeling less enjoyable and more of a pressure than a positive.
When I got back I really had a lot of fun and I found gains throughout the season. So there is a part of my that’s curious because I think I could be significantly faster next year with that extra time. But I’m OK to let that be a curiosity, what I could do, rather than actually get back out there.
We’ve seen other athletes – including some of your Clif teammates like Katerina Nash – mixing in occasional World Cup events in with their racing schedule. Is there any chance we’ll see you back on a World Cup start line, even if it’s not a full season?
I’m never going to count that out. If – whatever I’m doing next year – I find that I’m really fit, maybe. I think it’s really easy to convince a racer that maybe they could just hop back in.
I really do hope that I continue to do some racing. But if it’s not World Cups, if it’s Epic Rides or B.C. events, I think that would also be great. I’m definitely looking forward to having weekends that are just about family and for exploring B.C. and getting to ride more of the towns that I haven’t had time to ride in the past years. Travel for racing is exciting, but having the opportunity to explore what we have near home is also exciting.
You’ve been very careful to say this is not a retirement. Do you have any more concrete plans for what comes next?
Nope, ha ha, nothing concrete. I have a couple ideas, and a couple exciting options – both to continue riding and to be … not a racer, but still involved in the cycling world. I’m trying to get a good sense of where my heart really lies and what I want to do. But I’d say this is retirement from World Cup racing for sure. It’s not my intention to continue pursuing the highest level, but I definitely want to be involved in the bike world.
Do you have any standout memories from 15 years of World Cup racing? (17 world champs)
There’s so many stand out memories. The things that stand out the most are the times we made an extra effort to see the areas we were staying. Even though at time time it felt like, “I’m tired, we just did a bike race, I don’t want to add another drive,” we’d get to go and do a bike tour around London – or something memorable. This last trip, myself, my mechanic, manager and some friends rode the Gavia after racing in Italy. Those times where you do a race and then have this experience as a team, those are the days that stand out.