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Tokyo Olympics: Peter Disera is ready for his debut in Japan

Canadian national champ shares what it's actually like racing with no fans going into his first major Games

Photo by: Nick Iwanyshyn

Peter Disera has a list of Canadian national championship titles longer than most riders’ race wins of any kind. Now, the Ontario racer is just days away from making his Olympic debut at the Izu mountain bike course in Japan.

I caught up with Disera in Andorra during a training camp, before heading to Japan for the Games. That’s where he, and Norco teammates Haley Smith, also heading to Tokyo, and Andrew L’Esperance squeezed in their last bit of Olympic prep after the Les Gets World Cup nearby in France.

The multiple-time Canadian national champion shares what it’s actually like racing with no fans, which will be the case again in Tokyo, what he’s expecting from his first Olympics, and pre-race chats with teammate Carter Woods.

Peter Disera Andy Vathis Disera at Les Gets World Cup. Photo: Andy Vathis
First off, congratulations on your selection.

Thank you, It’s been a wild 24 hours. But also a wild short season and a wild 24 months before that.

Is it a relief to have at least one uncertainty resolved?

Oh, for sure. Yeah. It was an interesting situation. My sixth place from Les Gets in 2019, and 11th from the week before in Andorra were holding strong as the results to beat. Then I went into 2020 with my nose to the grindstone, ready to do something big in July 2020.

Then the pandemic pulled the rug out underneath us. It was quite deflating. I was posting personal best numbers in February 2020 and felt so focused and ready. I went from that to just getting dumped on with a bucked of uncertainty. Would the Olympics be cancelled? What was happening to the season? It was hard. Now, getting back to that focus is exciting.

Does getting back to World Cup racing help snap back into that mindset from early 2020?

For sure, but it’s not the same. It’s so different – in preparation – than how we typically structure our season. We weren’t able to race in the U.S. and very few domestic or even North American races. Instead of our usual events, Bonnelli, etc., where we’d get our feet under us, we were tossed right into the fire of World Cup racing.

It’s been more of a grind than usual. But Norco was great and toured us around to a few European races – HC and C1 level events – to get on the start line a few more times. I’m speaking for myself, but all the North Americans are in the same boat.

It’s been an honour to even have the chance to get back to racing World Cups at all, and a massive honour to be selected to the Olympic team. I’m excited to see what’s to come, and have a good stab at things in Tokyo.

What was it like racing in front of a crowd again at Les Gets World Cup? The French were out in full force, that must have been a sudden change.

It was nerve-racking before the short track. The course is condensed, so you could actually see 8-10 people deep throughout that course. It brought back that feeling of accountability, almost, with the fans. A few of my EWS buddies were in town between races , to watch, and all of a sudden McKay Vezina is leaning over the tape shouting “Get the wheel! Get the wheel” and you just … have to get the wheel. It’s having that energy back again.

It was a very weird sensation doing World Cups, being in a race situation where you’re on a very taxing section of the course and… its dead quiet. It’s an odd sensation.

I first experienced that when worlds were in Cairns in 2017. Because it was Australia, they wouldn’t allow spectators to walk through the bush to the main singletrack climbs because there’s too many poisonous things. So there were very controlled spectator centres and pathways. You’d enter this 3-4 minute climb and it would be dead silent until you got to the road, and there’s be a hundred loud spectators.

I remember thinking mid-race that this is so weird, and then all of a sudden it’s just reality for us in 2020.

Peter Disera Peter Disera leads from the gun at 2019 Canadian XCO national championships
The whole Norco team’s had solid results this year, you and Haley, but also your brother Quinton, Sean Fincham, and Carter Woods’s two wins. What experience do you pass on to the younger guys? And , the reverse. Are they starting to push you?

Absolutely. It’s been fun having Carter, in particular, around. He’s green and new in some senses, and very dialled and professional in other ways. It’s cool watching him prepare before a race. He’ll come plop on the couch next to me and ask, “So, how am I going to win tomorrow?” And I’m laughing, like, “Why are you asking me this?” And he’d reply, “No, tactically, what do you think?” And we’d go over strong points and weak points on the course, talk about how he felt physically – where he felt strong – and make a plan.

That was the first couple World Cups. Going into these last few, it was the same thing. But instead of asking, he’d start telling me things and I’d look for a way to poke a hole in his race plan.

Sean would definitely benefit from starting further up the grid. I don’t think people really realize how challenging it is to start outside the top 30 on the start grid. It’s an insane task. Sean, L’Espy, Q – they’re all farther back because of UCI rankings and have their work cut out for them before the race even starts.

It’s wild to think we’ve spent so long together on this trip. Carter and I, until he went home, we were approaching 80 days together. That’s almost three months straight with him. Sean, L’Espy and Haley all arrived within 10 days of that. And we’re all still friends, still teammates, so it’s a good program.

So you had the chance to ride the Izu course in 2019. Listening to your description of Carter and you analyzing the World Cup courses, what do you think of the Tokyo course?

It’s definitely a cool course. It carries similar features to courses I’ve done well on in the past. Getting to do the test event was an amazing experience in terms of getting to ride the course and get to know it, and take confidence out of certain sections. I think it is a course that plays to my strengths, too, so I’m looking forward to it.

It’s a good, all-round punchy race. It’s not just a climber’s course, or all-out drag. It’s exciting that it’s got something for everyone.

Speaking of the team, you’re going with teammate Haley Smith and the very experienced Catharine Pendrel. What’s it like going into your first Olympics with a team like that?

It’s a huge honour. Haley and I are newer to it. I’m significantly newer to it than she is. She medalled at Commonwealth Games, while I haven’t been to anything bigger than Ontario Summer Games, ha.

Catharine is phenomenal as an athlete and competitor, so it will be great having her around to get her take on things and watch her lead with dealing with the environment.