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Holmgren family takes control of Canadian Olympic selection race after massive World Cup weekend in Nove Mesto

Two very well timed results put Gunnar and Isabella in driver's seat for Paris

Holmgrens Nove Mesto 2024 Photo by: WhoOP UCI Mountain Bike World Series

Canada’s mountain bike selection race for this summer’s Olympics started steady but wow did it end with a bang. A wild World Cup weekend in Nove Mesto brought the contest for Canada’s one men’s and one women’s spot in the Olympic XCO to a close. With the dust settled, it looks like the Holmgren family is in charge.

Coming into Nove Mesto, there was a solid list of Canadians with a shot at the two spots. There was a narrow, and specific path open for those riders to earn their respective spots.

WHOOP UCI Mountain Bike World Series

Canadian women: Isabella’s stunning debut

On the women’s side, Jenn Jackson was on the verge of the top-12 result she needed in Nove Mesto to claim the women’s spot. Emilly Johnston had three under-23 World Cup podiums to her name, putting her in the race. Isabella Holmgren and Marin Lowe arrived in Nove Mesto with junior world championships podiums, which didn’t give any advantage in selection but did hint at what the two first-year under-23 riders were capable of.

On Friday, Isabella Holmgren won under-23 women’s XCC. Again, not a race that counted towards selection, but another hint at what was to come. On Saturday, the Lidl-Trek racer delivered when it mattered. She absolutely dominated the under-23 women’s XCO World Cup, her debut in the under-23 category to win by over two minutes. Johnston finished fourth with Lowe further back. That moved Holmgren ahead of Emilly Johnston, whose best u23 XCO World Cup result is a second place.

That put all the pressure on Jenn Jackson. If she finished 12th or better in Sunday’s elite women’s XCO, that would trump Holmgren’s U23 World Cup win. Jackson started on pace to do just that, riding the first half of the race in, or near the front group. By the half way mark, the Liv racer was outside the top 12, but in touch. She faded further before a mechanical ended her chances entirely.

With that, Holmgren moves into position to claim Canada’s spot in the women’s race.

Gunnar Holmgren follows Tom Pidcock in Nove Mesto. Photo: Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool

Canadian men: Gunnar delivers on Andorra promise

The race for the lone men’s spot for Canada was more of a two horse race. Gunnar Holmgren and Carter Woods are both pushing Canada’s men’s mountain bike program back into the spotlight and were both on the hunt for the spot in Paris.

Holmgren came close to claiming the spot in 2023 when, at the Vallnord, Andorra World Cup, he was riding inside the top 10 of the elite men’s XCO there. A mechanical pushed him further back, but he’d shown what he could be capable of.

At the same time, Carter Woods had added a string of under-23 World Cup XCO wins and podiums. That put him in the Olympic selection race. After moving up to the elite category this year, Woods immediately found his footing. He delivered a top 15 result at the second World Cup round in Araxa, Brazil. If he could improve three spots on that in Nove Mesto, he could improve his claim for the Olympic berth. Unfortunately, Woods was ill in Nove Mesto and, after struggling through Saturday’s XCC World Cup, was unable to start Sunday’s XCO.

Gunnar Holmgren seized his last opportunity before the Olympic selection window closed. The Ridley KMC racer had a sensational day, delivering on the promise he showed in Vallnord last year to ride into the elite men’s top 10. A day after his younger sister won in under-23s, he finished eighth in the elite men’s race.

That puts Holmgren in the position to claim Canada’s spot.

What happens now?

Leaving Nove Mesto, the Holmgren family is in the absolutely incredible position to send two siblings to the Paris Olympic Games.

Now, the bureaucracy kicks into gear. The IOC and UCI have to officially confirm how many athletes each country can send to the Games. Then Cycling Canada has to officially make its selection for which athletes get to fill those spots. But, based on Canada’s current rankings, its clear we should get one spot in each of the men’s and women’s mountain bike races. And, based on Cycling Canada’s published selection document, Isabella and Gunnar Holmgren have the results to claim those spots. From here, it should just be rubber stamps to send the Holmgren family to Paris.