VINCENT DE HAÎTRE
Sport: Track Cycling
Event: Men’s Team Pursuit
Local Club: Ottawa Bicycle Club/Gloucester Concordes
Third Olympics (First Summer, 2 Winter)
By Martin Cleary
OLYMPIC BOUND: Vincent De Haître is Canada’s 1,000-metre man. No Canadian has pedalled a bicycle or travelled in speed skates as fast over that atypical distance as this Cumberland, ON., native.
A three-time Canadian recordholder in track cycling’s Kilo Time Trial, De Haître was the first national-team cyclist to go under one minute at altitude, when he blazed the Cochabamba, Bolivia, track in 2019 in 58.951 seconds.
He also holds the sea-level national kilo record, which he set almost six months later at the 2020 world track cycling championships in Berlin with a clocking of 1:00.018.
Take De Haître off the slick, aerodynamic bike and put him into a pair of long-track speed skates and he’s almost as fast. He set the men’s 1,000-metre Canadian record in February 2017, at 1:06.72.
Besides being a recordholder, De Haître also has been an accomplished athlete over a season of 1,000-metre races. In his last two World Cup speed skating seasons (2016-17 and 2017-18), he was among the best.
In 2016-17, he was second on the World Cup 1,000-metre list, scoring one first and a second in the season finale as well as a silver medal at the world championships. In 2017-18, three top-five results put him seventh overall.
On the cycling track, he placed fourth in the One-Kilometre Time Trial at the 2020 world championships, just over half a second (0.523) from the gold medal.
It’s no wonder De Haître will become the 13th Canadian athlete to experience both a Winter and a Summer Olympics, when he completes that rare double-play in early August at the Tokyo Summer Games.
De Haître, who raced over 1,000 and 1,500 metres as a speed skater at the 2014 and 2018 Winter Olympics, has spent the past three years alternating his training with the Canadian track cycling and speed skating teams.
Training for two different sports throughout the year has been “immensely challenging” for De Haître. By racing in Tokyo and qualifying for Canada’s 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic team, he’d set a record of another sort.
From the end of the Tokyo Summer Olympics until the Beijing Winter Games, there’s only a 180-day turnaround. If De Haître makes the speed skating team, it will be the fastest a Canadian has gone from one Games to the next.
But unlike his two Winter Olympic experiences, where he skated the 1,000 metres and could potentially do it again in Beijing, there will be no 1,000-metre assignment for De Haître at the Tokyo Summer Olympics.
Instead, De Haître will be the engine on the Canadian men’s Team Pursuit squad as the Kilo Time Trial isn’t part of the Olympic track cycling program in Tokyo. The last time the kilo was on the Olympic schedule was 2008.
“The kilo is an amazing event to watch,” De Haître said. “Sprinters go to their limit. It’s not a full out sprint, but you’re holding your power longer. It makes for an interesting race.”
De Haître is an interesting athlete. In speed skating, he’s a cross of a sprinter and middle-distance racer. But in track cycling, he hasn’t found the Olympic race that makes him feel comfortable just yet.
“There’s no real race for me,” said De Haître, who only gets to race the kilo at world championships and other international competitions. “There’s nothing for me in (Olympic) cycling. But I know I can ride and I’m good at it.”
At the moment, De Haître is very good at Team Pursuit, where four riders start a 4,000-metre race against the clock around a velodrome track and only three riders must finish to lock in a time.
De Haître has a specific role. He takes the speed squad out fast and holds on as long as he can. You can expect him to pull the Canadian riders through the opening 1,000 metres in a minute flat. That may be his Olympic kilo.
Once De Haître begins to power down about halfway through, he’ll go to the back of the cycling conga line or pull off into the infield. Then endurance racer Derek Gee of Osgoode, ON., will take over with Michael Foley and Jay Lamoureux.
The squad of Gee, Lamoureux, De Haître and Foley broke the Canadian record at the 2019 Pan American Championships in Bolivia with an altitude ride of 3:49.974.
At the 2020 Berlin worlds (sea level), Canada was a disappointing 11th in 3:54.469, dropping its global ranking to eighth from fifth, but maintaining its Olympic qualifying berth. Canada last qualified in Team Pursuit at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.
Canada was shocked by the preparedness and performances of the top countries – champion Denmark, New Zealand, Italy and Australia – at the 2020 worlds. But Canada has improved during seven recent camps and race simulations.
“At our last training ride (June), we were three seconds faster than we were at (2020) worlds,” De Haître said. “We have found improvements. That’s an upside.”
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 48 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.