By Charlie Pinkerton
Out of all countries competing at the Olympics next year, Canada will have the third most athletes hauling indoor cycling gear from the Tokyo runway to the Olympic Village. There’s 13 Canadian track racers in total, making up the majority of the largest cycling team that Canada’s ever sent to the Games.
Canada’s athletes’ origins stretch far and wide – from Victoria, B.C. to the remote Iles-de-la-Madeleine, Que., in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, to be exact. But about one quarter of the Olympians who will ride the velodrome for Canada next year can be traced to a single hotbed, quietly tucked into the western part of the capital’s downtown at the Ottawa Bicycle Club.
Memories formed from training out of there get brought up once in a while among the Olympic-bound group of Vincent De Haître, Derek Gee and Ariane Bonhomme. A New Zealand pit stop in the UCI Track Cycling World Cup last year was one of those times, recounts De Haître.
“We were in one of the residences just talking over I think it was a snack or something, and we were all just saying like how it was cool that we all trained together when we were in Ottawa,” reflects the 26-year-old.
Back then, the trio was coached by Don Moxley, a local coaching legend in cycling and cross-country skiing circles. Moxley recalls fond memories of his own – like stumbling through his “awkward” French to try to give proper instruction to Bonhomme, who is francophone.
Together, they navigated through various speedbumps, such as adopting the latest training methods, adhering to often-times tricky equipment specifications, and perhaps the most impressive hurdle they overcame – excelling without a nearby velodrome. Ottawa still lacks an indoor cycling track, though that wasn’t enough of a hindrance to deter the Olympic ambitions of De Haître, Gee and Bonhomme.
De Haître says their OBC days – a decade ago now, when he was 16, Gee and Bonhomme a few years younger – gave them the opportunity to get to know each other before they went their separate ways. The annual national championships would always serve as meetups.
In the years since they biked with OBC, they’ve each built impressive track cycling resumes, complete with international medals.
“It’s really cool to see that we’re all from the same club under the same coach during the same years and we’re all going to the Olympics,” highlights De Haître, who was the 2016 Ottawa Sports Awards male athlete of the year at the same time Moxley received a lifetime coaching award.
Tokyo 2020 will be both Bonhomme and Gee’s first Olympics, while it will be De Haître’s first with a seat beneath him, following up on his two Winter Games appearances as a speed skater. De Haître will aim to return to the ice in time for the Beijing 2022 Olympics, which begin 181 days after the postponed Tokyo Games finish.
De Haître will also find himself competing in an atypical manner compared to his previous Olympic experiences, in that he’s likely not to finish the races he cycles. His inclusion on Canada’s 4-kilometre team pursuit squad was dependent on the team changing its racing style. De Haître – or “Quadzilla” as he was known to OBC teammates, Moxley shares – is the power sprinter charged with leading the group up to top speed as fast as possible off the start line, and then towing his drafting teammates before dropping off on the back end (since only 3 of 4 racers need to cross the finish line). Bringing the race home will be the responsibility of Gee and their other two teammates.
The strategy is considered riskier, but Moxley says that’s par for the course for sprinters.
“They’re risk takers – that’s what they do,” he notes, highlighting the high banks of the tracks, high speeds and bikes with no brakes. “Risking things is their business.”
Moxley penned part of a notice posted to the OBC website when Cycling Canada announced its Olympic nominees on July 29, congratulating his former pupils.
“While I am proud to have played a small part in helping Derek, Vincent and Ariane become the skilled athletes they are today, I am equally proud that all three have become such great people and tremendous ambassadors for our sport here in the National Capital Region and across Canada,” Moxley wrote.
Rio 2016 Olympian Mike Woods of Ottawa was nominated to the Canadian road cycling Olympic team, while fellow virtual Tour de France stage winner Matteo Dal-Cin remains in contention for the final Canadian Olympic men’s road cycling berth – to be decided next year – along with another OBC product, Alex Cataford.