The five of them are tightly packed, pedaling 16 laps as hard as they can over four kilometers, about half of them in 42-degree banked turns, defying gravity.
So you better trust the other four.
“When you’re riding inches apart on unbraked, single-speed bikes, you have no choice but to trust your teammates,” says Ruby West. “It’s stressful, so it really helps to have such a tight-knit team.”
It would be Team Canada. And the women’s team pursuit event: her team within the team.
The 22-year-old all-around cyclist from Dundas has turned her sharp athletic focus to the team pursuit of track cycling and, despite moving to full-time cyclo-cross, it couldn’t be more different. just a few months ago, she is clearly on the Olympic radar. For Paris in 2024 and Los Angeles in 2028.
Canada has two women’s five-man pursuit teams in Thursday’s races at the Mattamy Velodrome in Milton as part of the weekend-long UCI Nations Cup. The event, also taking place in Milton next year, features the world’s best track cyclists in six events and is the second-largest competition – behind October’s world championships – for Canadian track racers this year. It is their first major international test in the new Olympic cycle which lost a year when the Tokyo Games were postponed from 2020 to 2021.
But, Canada can only send one women’s team pursuit team to the Paris Games.
“Obviously we’re not all going to the Olympics, but we all want the fastest team to go,” West said. “We compete with each other, to bring out the best in everyone. We know that at the end of the day, four or five people’s hearts are going to be broken, but what’s exciting is that there’s another Olympics four years later, and we’re still a very young team. Our average age is only 22 years old.
West has been riding for a decade in a number of disciplines, succeeding in mountain biking, road racing, wild and woolly cyclo-cross and track cycling. She won age-class national titles on the track, but began to focus on cyclo-cross, a rugged mix of road and mountain biking and obstacle course racing. She won two U-23 Cyclo-Cross World Cup medals, was U-23 national champion at age 16, and competed in five senior world championships.
In the first year of the pandemic, she switched her college education from Bishop’s Online to Queen’s (she has two courses left for her psychology degree) and accepted an offer to race for a professional cyclo-cross team in Belgium. She competed in Europe from fall 2020 to late winter 2021, then was approached by Canada’s women’s track and field team endurance coach, Jenny Trew, whom she had known for ages. years, to join the Ontario and Canadian athletics programs at the Mattamy Centre.
“I signed up for a season in cyclo-cross in Belgium, to see if it was a viable career for me. And the appeal to me was…moderate. It was a difficult experience, a character-building experience for sure, being away from home during a pandemic. It taught me a lot about myself and about racing,” says West. “They were recasting the net for the national (athletics) team after the Tokyo Olympics and Jenny looped me, and it was quite an attractive loop.”
West says mass start races aren’t her forte and she revolves around teamwork, power training, the pressured atmosphere and physical endurance demands of the team pursuit .
“It was pretty obvious right away that she had a lot of speed and she had the physical ability,” Trew said. “Ruby is a go-getter and the speed at which she picked it up is actually pretty amazing.”
Living just half an hour away, West was one of the first people to ride the Milton track when it opened in 2015, months before it hosted the Pan American Games. Previously, the only other Olympic-sized velodrome in North America was in Los Angeles, which severely limited Canada’s chances of challenging the best track and field teams in the world. But, with the establishment of Milton as a home base, there has been a noticeable increase in Canadian international success among young riders.
Would she be on the Olympic cycling course if there hadn’t been a great indoor track in Canada, especially so close to where she grew up? “Actually,” West replies, “probably not.”
But the world-class Mattamy Center exists and increasingly reinforces the Olympic potential of Canadian cycling.
“It’s a bit daunting, but exciting, how quickly the Olympics are approaching,” West said. “They’re still two years away, but when you look at the races we have to aim for to get the points to qualify, it’s just around the corner.”
Nations Cup on Tissot track
Mattamy National Cycling Centre, Milton
Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday (schedule available here:)
Tickets: $20 to $175 (VIP) available online only
Events: Men’s and Women’s Individual Sprint, Team Sprint, Time Trial, Keirin, Individual Pursuit, Team Pursuit, Points Race, Scratch Race.