Sechelt’s Gracey Hemstreet has landed on the podium at every downhill mountain biking World Cup she’s competed at so far, and last weekend was no exception.
The second Mercedes-Benz UCI Mountain Bike World Cup of the year was held on the May long weekend in Fort William, Scotland, where the 17-year-old earned her second consecutive gold among the junior women.
“What a day!! Couldn’t be more stoked,” Hemstreet wrote on Instagram after the final race. “Definitely a tough track but managed to hold on and take the W [win]!!” The next day, she woke up to more than 100 messages, many from her Sunshine Coast supporters.
The Scottish Highlands brought a challenging element to the season’s longest course: the weather. Although the sun shined down on practice day and she was feeling good, the weather turned and stayed rainy, Hemstreet told Coast Reporter.
“The weather for the whole weekend was awful, to put it in a nutshell… the kind of weather the Fort William track is known for,” Adam Walker, the athlete performance specialist with the Norco Factory Team (he’s also coach of the B.C. provincial team and Cycling Canada) told Coast Reporter. It was Hemstreet's first time in Scotland, and she had to change the lines she'd practiced.
"I wasn't feeling super confident at the top, because it was so windy and I couldn't really send any of my lines, but it ended up working out because the wind calmed down and held off a little bit," she said.
Hemstreet was able to secure a win with a 5:37.496 run, three seconds ahead of Phoebe Gale (who had been the fastest qualifier).
It was a home track for the British competitors, including Gale, who made up the rest of the junior women’s podium. A focus for Hemstreet going into the race was choosing her lines. Usually, downhill races are around three minutes, but the race on Scottish turf took more than five for Hemstreet and others pushed it into the six-minute zone, Walker said, and fatigue could be a factor.
“If you go too hard too early on that track, there's certainly an opportunity to make mistakes,” he said.
About halfway down the track, Hemstreet said it was so hard to hold on that she didn't have her fingers on the brakes.
The course is made up of four parts, Walker said: A wide open section above the treeline that leads into a rocky area following a creek bed. Then it’s into the woods. The last section is called the motorway for its high speed and big jumps.
“It’s really suited to Gracey’s riding style,” Walker said. On the day of the race, she was “composed, an absolute professional.”
Hemstreet’s first World Cup was only last fall, and she earned bronze — but it’s been gold for Gracey ever since. In March, her hardware came with a new record as she became the first Canadian junior female to win a World Cup.
In less than two weeks, Hemstreet will be back in Europe for the World Cup in Austria at what Walker calls a classic World Cup venue. Hemstreet is looking forward to that course (especially the jumps) and in preparation, she says, "I'm just going to ride my bike a lot and do the same thing I've been doing."