Barrie-area cyclist to compete in Switzerland this summer
Ali Van Yzendoorn, shown at the front, sets the pace while practising the team pursuit at London’s Forest City Velodrome. The Grade 11 student at Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School will represent Canada in Switzerland this summer. SUBMITTED
Orillia's Ali van Yzendoorn has pedalled her way onto to Team Canada and will represent her country at this summer’s Junior Track Cycling World Championship in Switzerland.
“It’s definitely the biggest thing that’s ever happened to me,” said the elated 17-year-old Grade 11 Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School student. “I was the only girl from Ontario chosen and that’s kind of a major accomplishment because there are five really strong girls at my level from Ontario.”
It’s been a meteoric rise for the dedicated athlete, who only began to compete in track cycling – races occur in a velodrome on a 42-degree-banked track on light-weight bikes that have just one gear and no brakes – two years ago.
She showed promise from Day 1. She remembers her coach, Rob Good, planting the seed in her mind about competing at the world championships that, at that point, were almost two years away. “I remember laughing, thinking I didn’t even know how to race a points race. It wasn’t really something I thought about back then.”
But earlier this spring, what once seemed like a far-fetched dream started to seem possible. At this spring’s provincial track championship in Milton, van Yzendoorn shocked the field and surprised herself by riding to a pair of gold medals in both the individual pursuit and the points race.
That qualified her for April’s Canadian Junior National Championship where she raced to a personal-best time to qualify for the final of the bronze-medal individual pursuit race. In that “great race” against a Quebec rival, van Yzendoorn recorded a new personal-best time and finished fourth, just missing a bronze medal by three-tenths of one second.
“It hurt a bit not to win the bronze, but to do two very hard races – individual pursuits – in one day back to back and to get a new best time in both was huge,” she said, adding Cycling Canada had announced its intention of sending a five-women pursuit team to the world championships. “So I knew going into the race, they would likely take the top five best times, so to be fourth was still right there.”
And while van Yzendoorn had a “good feeling” she would make Team Canada, she didn’t get official confirmation until earlier this week, more than two weeks after that emotional race. “I would be in class checking my email whenever I could,” she said with a laugh. “When I finally got it, it was just kind of reassurance and almost a relief that all that training and hard work had paid off.”
While the journey to the top has been relatively brief, it has not been easy. Until the world-class velodrome opened in Milton in advance of the Pan-Am Games, van Yzendoorn had been heading down the 401 to London three times a week to practise on that track.
Right now, she’s taking a bit of a break from track cycling but is not taking a rest. Each morning, before sun up, she is cycling on rural roads around Coldwater, Warminster and throughout Oro-Medonte, testing her mettle against the region’s hills and building up her already impressive fitness. She also plays soccer and competes in track and field at Patrick Fogarty.
On top of that, she is passionate about nutrition and is careful about what she eats. “Nutrition can make or break an athlete,” she said. “I’m pretty regimented but that helps me psychologically to know I’m as fit on the inside as I am on the outside.”
When the difference between winning and losing is measured in tenths of a second, every advantage is important, she said. “Track races are so short – the individual pursuit is two minutes and 30 seconds … you have to be at your very best to succeed.”
She’s hoping to be at her very best on the world stage. “I think we have the potential to reach the podium,” she said of Team Canada. But she knows she will have to overcome not just the competition but her nerves. “I do get quite nervous, so I think what I have to do is do what I did at nationals and put it back to process. I know I have a strong fitness base, I’m prepared as I can be, so I will just focus on trying to get a personal best … that takes a lot of the pressure off.”
While she would love to bring home a medal, she also plans to revel in her first foray into international competition. “It’s definitely going to be a huge learning experience,” she said. “From what I’ve heard, racing in Europe is a whole different atmosphere … it’s their lifestyle. Here, people play lacrosse and hockey; there, they bike. I think it will help me know what I need to work on in the years to come … I’m so excited. I just want to take in every little bit of it.”
Van Yzendoorn will participate in a two-week Team Canada training camp before heading to Switzerland on July 15. The competition will be held July 20-24.
“I think it will give me a taste of an athlete’s life,” she said. “If I like it – and I think I will – it will motivate me to keep improving myself, keep working hard … I definitely still have that fire inside of me and I want to prove myself at the world level. There’s definitely pressure, but it’s a good pressure.”
There is no funding for junior-aged national athletes, so van Yzendoorn has set up a Go Fund Me account (gofundme.com/2kdnf584) to help raise money to pay for the expensive trip. You can also follow her journey on her blog, alivanyzendoorn.blogspot.ca.