A look back on Catharine Pendrel’s illustrious mountain biking career

Catharine Pendrel fist pumps her way across the finish line at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics. Photo by Getty Images.

It’s a difficult thing to admit for the Kamloops-based Olympian, but Catharine Pendrel is moving on from full-time mountain bike racing.

A career that started on her big brother’s hand-me-down bike, riding homemade trails in rural New Brunswick, evolved into one of the most successful Canadian mountain biking careers. 

The four time Olympian’s long and impressive career is nothing short of amazing. With eight National Championship titles, a 2016 Rio Olympic Games bronze medal, three time overall Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) World Cup title winner, two time UCI World Champion, (the list goes on, and can be found here), Pendrel is looking forward to the next chapter of her career.

Her decision, she said, is something she was deliberating for some time, but it felt right for her to retire after the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. 

Part of the decision was she was turning 40, and her and husband Keith Wilson wanted to try and start a family.

“Then the pandemic happened, and that threw things off kilter because I was turning 40 soon and wanted to have a baby, but then I wasn’t going to have my final year of racing, so I decided to try both,” Pendrel said.

The pandemic and pregnancy provided insight into what it would be like to not be travelling all the time, as it provided a step back from competition.

However, Pendrel doesn’t plan on leaving mountain biking anytime soon.

Pendrel on the podium in Rio at the 2016 summer Olympics. Photo provided.

“I really don’t see my life in the bike world ending,” Pendrel said. “I feel confident that in some capacity I’ll be seeing the same friends, following the [World Cup] circuit and able to retain some elements of it in my life for years to come.”

With her new perspective, Pendrel said she doesn’t see her transition as a sad thing, but will miss the Clif Pro Team she’s been a part of for 14 years.

“You’re never going to spend as much time with that family, your road family, as you have before. That’s going to change and people are going on to new things so there’s that nostalgia. But, I’m looking forward to one more fun weekend with them,” Pendrel explained.

Pendrel will be taking part in one final race this season, the OZ Trails Off-Road Epic Ride where she will participate in a Fat Tire Circuit as well as a 50-Mile Pro Women Backcountry Race the following day, in Bentonville, Arizona.

Afterwards, Pendrel foresees her career evolving in one of two ways, either in mountain bike coaching, or ambassadorship for the sport. 

“One stream would be more like an ambassador within the industry and maybe doing some racing, like the Epic Rides, or more adventure kind of racing, but from more of a mentoring aspect, supporting the bike industry and working with different companies,” she said.

The other stream Pendrel is considering, is as a mountain biking coach with her husband Wilson. He is a top-notch coach who helped her on her way to three of her Olympic spots, her UCI World Championship titles and World Cup podium finishes and overall titles.

Wilson also coached other Kamloops-based elite cross-country mountain biking athlete Jenn Jackson to victory at the 2021 Canadian National Championship in September. Pendrel finished fourth at the event. 

Pendrel shows Canadian pride as she crosses the finish line. Photo by Canadian Cyclist.

Pendrel added if she does decide to take the coaching route, they are hoping to keep the national title in Kamloops, with the help of Jackson and other national team level riders.

“We’re both integrated into the cycling community. Coaching and mentorship fit together. [I] want to help the next crew of Canadians get to a point in their career that I’ve had experience with,” Pendrel said.

Of course, Pendrel is also excited to spend more time with her daughter Dara, who arrived only six months before Pendrel was to race in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Pendrel said having Dara was one of the biggest challenges she had to overcome in her career, along with her epic at the 2012 London Olympics, when she was favoured to win after coming off her first World Championship title in 2011 and UCI overall series title in 2010. Pendrel ended up in ninth place at the games.

“That was the most emotionally, mentally challenging thing. I think the emotional things are a lot harder actually to overcome than physical injuries,” Pendrel said.

“I really underperformed at those games. In retrospect, ninth wasn’t so bad. But, at the time it was devastating because I should have been able to medal. I lost a lot of confidence in myself that I could perform on the big day, that I was the same rider going into those games.”

Pendrel marked her comeback with a second UCI World Championship title in 2014, where she had required herself to throw caution to the wind, allowing herself to be put into a situation where failure was possible again.

“I totally threw any safety net out the window, and I was like ‘I’m going all in on this and maybe I blow up and have a horrible result, or maybe I have a really good day, but I’m never going to know if I can have a good day unless I put myself out there.’”

The strategy paid off and carved a path toward a 2015 Canadian National title, a 2015 Pan Am Games silver medal and a 2016 Rio Olympic bronze medal.

Daughter Dara cheers on mom at a muddy World Cup race in Europe. Photo by Canadian Cyclist.

When asked about trying to pinpoint a best moment from her career, Pendrel pointed toward her two UCI World Championship titles and bronze medal at the Rio Olympics. 

“In particular, the first title was a big deal, to get it done on a day where everyone is trying to perform at their best and then seeing how much it meant to the team, manager and coach.”

Pendrel also highlighted how special it was to form bonds with fellow athletes throughout her career, and said she will miss the constant travel, the excitement and nerves of racing. 

“I’m sure I’ll be watching races and think ‘Wow, what if I was in there and racing with them too!’ But, I’m excited to get to a point where I can enjoy watching it.”

Pendrel is looking forward to spending family time with her husband and daughter, and is excited to have the option to opt for family hikes as opposed to training every weekend.

To find out more about Pendrel, visit her website at www.cpendrel.com.

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