With Nove Mesto World Cup weekend all wrapped up, the qualification period for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics is now officially over. That wraps up what is – with the added one-year delay of the Games – a three-year process of selecting the Canadian mountain bike team.
So, who is going to represent Canada in Tokyo?
That’s a good question. Rescheduling Tokyo to 2021 didn’t make answering that any more straight forward. Cycling Canada isn’t planning on officially announcing the team until early July. They have a few reasons for that but, for those of us watching from the outside, that date is also closer to the start of the Olympic mountain bike race – on July 26 – than it is to today. Especially when track and road teams are already, for the most part, set, and USA Cycling is announcing its team June 4.
Below we’ve dug through the UCI’s abstruse Olympic policy as well as the latest version of Cycling Canada’s mammoth 21-page official Olympic selection document. Based on that, we’ll outline the athletes that could be wearing the maple leaf in Japan this July.
Normally, Cycling Canada bases its selection on results from the Olympic year and one year prior. This is much like UCI’s even more opaque process for determining how many riders each country can enter in the mountain bike race.
This isn’t a normal year, though. Because of the pandemic, both the UCI and Cycling Canada pressed pause through 2020. So, even though World Cup’s an world championships took place, nothing that happened after early 2020 counts toward Tokyo.
That men’s the 2021 team will be selected based on a combination of World Cup and world championship results from 2019 and the first two World Cup events of 2021.
But first: How many athletes can Canada send?
The UCI is set to release the official athlete quotas early next week. This will be a big event for, say, the British team looking to secure a late spot for Tom Pidcock. But, for Canada, they’re not likely to change from early predictions.
The top two countries, for men and for women, get three spots on the start line in Tokyo. For the women, that will likely be Switzerland and U.S.A. sending three, while Switzerland and either France or Italy are looking to send three men. After that, the third through seventh ranked nations get two spots. Countries ranked 8 through 21 will send a single rider.
UCI bases final nation rankings on the total of – and this gets weird – nation rankings from May 28, 2018 to May 27, 2019 added to the rankings from May 28, 2019 to March 3, 2020 plus – as UCI announced at the end of April – points scored in the first two World Cups of 2021.
All of this is further confused by a myriad of clauses and exceptions for among other things, host nations, continental and under-23 championships. Which is why G.B. and Pidcock’s fate rested on the results of Vlad Dascalu of Romania, and how he placed in Nove Mesto, not the young rider’s stunning victory.
While all of that is fascinating and/or boring in a turn, it boils down to this. Canada will, in all likelihood, get to send two women and one man to race in Tokyo.
Canada’s selection criteria
Cycling Canada’s selection criteria for the mountain bike team isn’t much more straightforward. It’s a slightly narrower time period, including results at specified events (select World Cup and world championships) from May 17, 2019 to March 3, 2020 plus the first two World Cup events of 2021.
Out of those results, there’s a descending series of performance markers that athletes can meet to earn their Olympic berth. Priority 1 is finishing in the the top 5 in the elite race at 2019 XCO world championships (Mont-Sainte-Anne). Which no Canadian did. Emily Batty was the closest, in 9th.
Priority 2 is where all the action – and complication – happens. For women “Athletes finishing top 12 in an elite World Cup XCO in Europe or Elite world championships.” For Tokyo, this is 2019 world championships, 2019 World Cup season – minus Snowshoe World Cup – plus 2021 Albstadt and Nove Mesto World Cups. For men, the standard is relaxed to top-16, which becomes important.
Priority 3 includes athletes finishing top 3 in a under-23 World Cup XCO in Europe or under-23 world championships. Priority 4 is “Nomination by the Head Coach based on Other Factors,” with other factors being laid out elsewhere in the document.
Who meets the standard? Elite Women
For Canada, there are three women that meet the selection criteria. Which three will be no surprise. Emily Batty, Catharine Pendrel and Haley Smith all meet the criteria laid out in Priority 2. Which of these riders earn Canada’s two spots? Hard to say. Haley Smith has the top result, but Emily Batty has the best world championship finish. Pendrel also has consistent results, backed by proven Olympic experience and the ability to produce results at big races, when it counts.
While Emily Batty had a stellar 2018 season, with multiple World Cup podiums and a bronze at world championships, a single result meets the Priority 2 standard. At 2019 XCO world championships in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Batty was 9th. That makes Batty the top-placed Canadian, but Haley Smith also met the standard there, in 12th.
Outside of MSA, Batty’s best results during the qualification period are a 17th in Nove Mesto in 2021 and a 19th in Lenzerheide in 2019, both World Cup events.
Haley Smith is the lone Canadian woman with a top-3 finish during the selection period. The Norco Factory Team rider was 3rd at the Nove Mesto World Cup in 2019. That podium kicked off a breakout season for Smith, who was also 6th that year at Les Gets World Cup, 9th in Albstadt. The Ontario rider crossed the line 12th at MSA world championships, also a qualifying result.
Catharine Pendrel, Canada’s two-time world champion, Olympic Bronze medalist and 2016 and three-time World Cup overall winner, is aiming for what she’s said will be her last Olympics. Pendrel just returned to racing after giving birth to her first daughter. That saw the Kamloops, B.C. racer sit out 2020. At that point, though, Pendrel had already landed several results that meet Priority 2.
During the 2019 World Cup season, Pendrel was on the podium in 5th in Lenzerheide plus 9th at Val di Sole, 12th in Albstadt, and 12th again in Les Gets. Although outside the standard for Priority 2, she was also 14th at Nove Mesto World Cup and Mont-Sainte-Anne world championships, both in 2019.
Pendrel’s best result in 2021 is her 23rd over the weekend in Nove Mesto – which is an incredible feat four months postpartum. That could, in the context of the selection document’s “Extenuating Circumstances” section, also count towards the Clif Pro Team rider’s selection.
Wild Cards: Jackson, Walter and Arseneault
While only the above three athletes meet Cycling Canada’s criteria, there’s no shortage of fast women here. Sandra Walter was 19th at Mont-Sainte-Anne in 2019. Jenn Jackson has quietly but consistently moved up the results board, finishing 26th in Nove Mesto over the weekend. Laurie Arseneault, now teammates with Batty on Canyon, was narrowly outside the qualification criteria during her under-23 career in 2019.
Who meets the standard? Elite Men
Canada is only expecting one spot on the start line for the elite men’s race. Like the women, this means one very deserving rider will get a ticket to Tokyo and several, also very deserving athletes will be stuck at home.
Four men meet the selection criteria. Léandre Bouchard and Peter Disera under Priority 2, which is a top-16 for men. Sean Fincham and Carter Woods could qualify under Priority 3.
Bouchard, from Alma, Que., was Canada’s top elite man at Mont-Sainte-Anne world championships in 2019, in 27th and has had success in the Short Track World Cup events. It’s the Pivot Cycles-OTE rider’s World Cup results that put him in the running. Bouchard was 15th in Albstadt two weeks ago, as well as finishing 14th in Lenzerheide in 2019.
Norco Factory Team’s multiple-time Canadian national champion, Peter Disera is also relying on his World Cup results. Disera was 6th at Les Gets World Cup in 2019 and 11th that year in Vallnord, Andorra. This year, Disera’s mixed Short Track success with a 42nd (Albstadt) and 44th (Nove Mesto) in the XCO race.
Wild Cards: Carter Woods and Sean Fincham
While Disera and Bouchard both meet Priority 2 standards, both Sean Fincham and Carter Woods have met the Priority 3 standard as under-23s.
Carter Woods just won back-to-back under-23 World Cup’s in Nove Mesto and Albstadt, kicking off what is an exciting 2021 season for the Cumberland, B.C. rider.
Sean Fincham is steadily moving his way up through the elite men’s field. But, back in 2019 when he was an under-23, Fincham was third at Les Gets World Cup. While that is the Canadian’s only top-3, it was the peak of a fantastic season that saw him finish 4th in Vallnord, 6th in Nove Mesto and 11th at Mont-Sainte-Anne world champs.
So, who will go?
That is … hard to say. On the women’s side, it seem like it’ll depend on how past results are weighted – World Cup versus world champs – and current form. There is quite a bit of coaches’ discretion written into Canada’s selection document. Since no Canadian women were inside the top 12 at either 2021 World Cup event, Cycling Canada’s assessment of who will be on form in July could be a factor.
For the men, it’s a battle between 2019 results, 2021 form and future potential. Disera’s been closest to the podium, but in 2019, while Bouchard was the fastest this year. Fincham and Woods have potential based on U23 results, but that has to be balanced with current ability of the more senior riders.
We’ll be cheering on who ever does get selected, of course. In the mean time, we’re happy the decision’s not in our hands.