HADLEIGH, England -- She pumped her legs on the final climb, circled the Olympic rings on the grass and came back down the hill. She waved to some fans as she cruised to the finish, crossing the line all alone.
But Catharine Pendrel was not all alone because she had won the women's mountain bike race Saturday. She was not France's Julie Bresset, who blew away the field by more than a minute. She was not herself.
Somehow she was ninth, among the lonely also-rans rolling in one by one. The proud 31-year-old from Kamloops apologized to all the people back in British Columbia who had gotten up at 4:30 a.m. to watch her. She had no answers for them, or for herself.
"Well, what can you say?" Pendrel wailed, not crying, but shouting with emotion. "Definitely not what I expected today, not what I hoped for, not what we prepared for. I felt so exceptional yesterday, and today just didn't have it. … It's just what I had on the day, and unfortunately, this day only comes every four years."
Exasperated, she sort of laughed.
"So maybe in Rio," she added.
Rio de Janeiro? You wonder how she can even think about investing four more years of training into one day after something like this. Of all the Canadian disappointments at these Summer Games, this might have been the biggest.
Pendrel was the clear favourite in this event. She was the reigning world champion, the 2012 World Cup champion. She had won three World Cup races this year, six going back to last year, nine going back to 2009. She had won the test race on this same 29.26-kilometre course at Hadleigh Farm last year.
And when the time came, she had no excuses. No bike problems. No illness. No injury -- unlike teammate Emily Batty, who suffered a fractured clavicle in a training accident Tuesday and gutted it out to 24th, fifth-last to cross the finish line.
"Definitely we came in here with podium aspirations and wanting to win this race," said Jacques Landry, the high performance director for Cycling Canada. "We all know the result. … Obviously she's not where she should be in this race. This is not her position."
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Pendrel seemed fine at first. On the first of six laps, she pushed herself into the lead group. It was four riders, then three, breaking away from the pack. Twice, she made a move for the lead. But the first time, she couldn't quite take it, and the second, she couldn't quite hold it.
"Every effort I made," she said, "the girls were able to rally."
And then the pack caught up. After two laps, Pendrel was third, only two seconds behind Bresset. But soon she fell to fourth, then fifth, then seventh, then eighth …
"I thought I was coming around, but girls just kept passing and passing and passing me," Pendrel said. "I've never, never gone backwards in a race like that before. Usually I'm going forward and attacking and aggressive, and I just wasn't. I just never found my rhythm."
Pendrel said she didn’t know if she had used too much energy early -- or even whether she had used too much before the race, just because she was so excited. She had finished fourth in Beijing four years earlier. She had done so well after that. This was supposed to be her redemption, her day.
"Our preparation may be faulted at some point in time," Landry said. "We have to go back and look at our data. …. We have to look at what could be made better moving forward. … It's not really what she does. Normally she's not a fast starter off the blocks, but then she basically grapples her way back into position. That's how she races normally. This time around it didn't happen."
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It almost didn't happen at all for Batty, a 24-year-old from Oshawa, Ont., expected to contend at her first Olympics. She went down a hill a little too fast Tuesday, had a rock put her in an awkward position and landed nose heavy. She went over her handlebars.
Batty broke her collarbone. But it was not displaced, and she said the doctors told her it would not displace. The pain … well, it was tolerable enough. After the doctors gave her the green light, she popped some Advil and got on the course, knowing she would not be at her best.
At least she would learn something. At least she would experience it.
"I was not going to not compete here no matter what," Batty said, clearly upset. "Being Canadian, it's all about strength and pride, and that's exactly what I came into this race with. …
"My head's not broken. My arms are not broken. My heart is broken, but I was able to climb. I was able to race. I was not able to descend very well. At the Olympics … if you're lacking anything, that's how the day goes."
And so that is how the day went for Canada. Bresset won gold going away. Germany's Sabine Spitz won silver, the United States' Georgia Gould bronze. Meanwhile, Pendrel wondered what happened, Batty what might have been.
As Batty spoke after the race, a competitor walked past and bumped her ever so slightly.
"Ouch," Batty said.
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