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Bilodeau bent on biking brilliance

The 20-year-old cyclist has qualified for the mountain biking race as well as the road biking race for the 2022 Summer Games.
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St. Albert's Christiane Bilodeau will be representing Team Alberta at the upcoming Canadian Summer Games in Niagara Falls. Bilodeau will be competing in mountain bike racing as well as road bike racing.

St. Albert's Christiane Bilodeau will have two chances to bring Team Alberta glory as she heads to the 2022 Summer Games in Niagara Falls.

The 20-year-old cyclist is the only Team Alberta athlete to qualify for the mountain biking race as well as the road biking race.

“I’m feeling pretty confident," Bilodeau said in an interview. "I’ve had a good season so far, and I’ve been able to do lots of races that have prepared me well for the [Summer Games]."

In addition to being slated for these two races, Bilodeau has a third biking passion she discovered last September: cyclo-cross racing. Cyclo-cross requires athletes to traverse various terrains and, at times, carry their bikes and run certain parts of a course where biking is impossible.

Bilodeau — who is currently a fourth-year molecular, cellular, and developmental biology student at the University of Alberta — went from being a beginner to representing Canada internationally in just four months of cyclo-cross racing. In her first-ever race, the 2021 Cyclo-Cross Provincial Championships in Canmore last September, she placed second.

“That was surreal," she said. “In a way it was like learning a whole new sport again."

"There’s definitely some transferable skills, like basic bike-handling skills and tactical skills, but between mountain, road, and cross there’s different features, there’s different terrain, there’s different people, and the tactics are different," she said. 

"Every time you enter into a new cycling discipline you have to think about your mindset again.”

After the 2021 provincials, Bilodeau said her friends encouraged her to compete in December's 2021 Pan-American Cyclo-Cross Championships in Garland, Texas, where she placed seventh and earned a ticket to Belgium's annual Christmas Cross series. In Belgium, Bilodeau wore the official Cycling Canada jersey for the first time.   

"I was super excited that I got to go experience that level, and it was great to have the support from Cycling Canada.”

While in Belgium, Bilodeau also managed to compete in her first Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) cyclo-cross World Cup races. The UCI is the international governing body of sports cycling. 

After returning from Belgium, Bilodeau flew to Fayetteville, Arkansas, where she came in 20th at the 2022 UCI Cyclo-Cross World Championships in the U23 Women class. 

“I am so grateful that the sport allows me and kind of forces me to travel around the world," Bilodeau said of her recent globe-trotting. 

Taking bikes on planes requires more work than you might expect, Bilodeau explained. In order to fit the bikes in travel-bags, Bilodeau said she has to take both wheels off, and disassemble other parts of the bike as well.

"My hands are definitely full, and we have support from the team to come help us carry our stuff," she said.

Bilodeau has also learned the hard way that investing in carrying equipment is key.

"Last year, an airline broke my bag. They broke my [bike] forks and they broke my wheel, so that was really unfortunate," she said. "I invested in a hard shell case this time."

It's all in your head

"Normally before the race, I’ll go do a pre-ride for course familiarization. I make sure I’m confident in riding everything, know what lines I’m going to take, and then I talk it through with my coaches as well," Bilodeau said about her preparation process.

The mentality of a cyclo-cross athlete is just as important, if not more so, than an athlete's physical ability, Bilodeau said.

"You spend so many hours a week training for races and then in the moment, even if your body can physically do it, to be able to get your mind to take that on is just a huge hurdle in itself," she said. 

"During the race it’s a process. If you make a mistake [you have to] just move on because staying focused for that long is another big thing."

Although the upcoming Summer Games will mean Bilodeau must take a break from cyclo-cross racing to compete in the mountain and road biking races, she said making the Summer Games team has been a long time coming. 

“I was previously eligible for the 2016 games, and I had just turned 15 at the time, and I was trying for triathlon and all the other girls were two or three years older than me and a lot stronger, and I was super sad that I didn’t make it," Bilodeau said. "I still kept working at it and now almost six years later my time has come." 

"It’s kind of crazy to think that’s how long ago I was sad that I didn’t make it.”

The Summer Games will take place from Aug. 6 to 21. 

About the Author: Jack Farrell

Jack Farrell joined the St. Albert Gazette in May, 2022.
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