By Sam Cortes, Communications Coordinator
“When we’re doing the road race or mountain bike race, it’s high speed, close quarters, decision making,” said Dean Lowrie, Team Manager for Team Toba Cycling of the fast-paced race environment. “So [it] kind of falls into some of the mental skill – that ability to keep the mind clear, [and] make good, specific decisions in real-time.”
Cyclists will put those skills to the test in multiple events in mountain bike and road cycling at the Canada Games later this summer.
“We may have some athletes that do both, and we might have some athletes that do only the road portion or the mountain bike portion,” said Dean.
Twila Cruickshank, Executive Director of the Manitoba Cycling Association, said to compete at this level is really a chance of a lifetime.
“It’s not just an opportunity, but it’s like an accomplishment. You’ve trained hard for it and you finally get to this place where you can see how you measure up to other athletes doing the same things.”
Ultimately, the athletes who are looking to represent Team Toba acquire points to qualify toward the Canada Games, including by undergoing lab-based testing to test their one, five, and 20 minute power on the bike.
Pedal to the Medal
So far throughout their training, Dean said he is really impressed with the bike handling skills and the comfort level of the athletes, not only on their individual rides, but in groups, too.
And in addition to those technical skills, there’s an undeniable fitness component to the sport.
“I think the other big thing that cycling has a history of is, to be successful on the bike, you have to be able to put yourself into that uncomfortable zone of exercise. They have to get used to being uncomfortably comfortable,” said Dean.
In the 12 months leading up to the Canada Games, Dean said athletes will train in the neighbourhood of 400-500 hours, about 80 per cent of which will be on the bike.
“We start off with some base-building long rides,” said Dean. “We just went to Penticton and rode 500 km in seven days. They all did amazing with that. So, now we’re back, and now we’re getting ready for race season.”
The other 20 per cent will be spent at Sport Manitoba Performance and getting their exercise in.
“A typical week for them right now is still three sessions at the Performance Centre,” said Dean. “Two days a week, they’re doing some kind of high intensity interval training, and then another three days per week they’re doing long, slower endurance rides to build and maintain that lower-end aerobic base.”
Words of Wisdom
A big competition may come with big nerves, but Twila advises athletes to trust in their coaches and their training plan.
“Your building towards this goal of Canada Games right now. You have what it takes. You have the ability, the determination. You have the focus. You’re already enough. Enjoy the experience and trust that you have done everything in your power to prepare for the moment,” said Twila.
Since the pandemic, there’s been a lot of starting and stopping in training for athletes. Twila said they may be comparing themselves to where they were in 2018 or 2019, and perhaps it can make an athlete nervous about their ability level.
“But we’re back and we’re training together,” said Twila. “And you know what? There’s time. They will get there. You can’t go at 100 per cent at this stage in the game, they’re working towards that 100 per cent.”
Dean advises for the athletes not to panic, and there’s a lot to be said for trusting the journey of your training and preparation.
“Trust the process and you can’t cram for it,” said Dean. “Ride your bike. Enjoy your bike. Love your bike. And when you go fast, go really fast. And when you go slow, go really slow.”
Cycling in the Spotlight
As far as what the Canada Games does for cycling in Manitoba, Twila thinks storytelling is an important offshoot of the national competition.
“I think we all look to share stories. And it’s stories that inspire other athletes that are participating themselves, or inspires youth that want to see this as a future goal for themselves. It makes us all feel proud that we have a Manitoban competing and doing their best. So, I think it’s a way for us to all get behind our athletes and to inspire others,” said Twila.
For those who feel inspired, there are opportunities all across the province to get involved in cycling.
“One of the things we’ve really focused on this year is broadening the program outside the city of Winnipeg,” said Dean. “We’ve brought in some athletes from Swan River, Minnedosa, Boissevain, Portage la Prairie. We’re really becoming a provincial team program and we’re setting up our programming to help athletes throughout the entire province.”
The association has a great Kids of Mud program, and it’s happening in every corner of the province.
“It’s finding ways to bridge that gap from Kids of Mud into our provincial team programs. They’ve done an outstanding job with that,” said Dean.
In the long run, witnessing local athletes compete in Niagara will certainly be a highlight for all those who are a part of their athletic journey.
“What the athletes may not know is that they have already been inspiring us for years,” said Twila. “We’ve been watching them grow from the Kids of Mud program, in our case, in cycling, to our summer camps, to the development team and beyond, and we’re already so proud of them.”