Sport: Track Cycling
Event: Men’s Team Pursuit & Madison
Local Club: Ottawa Bicycle Club
By Martin Cleary
OLYMPIC BOUND: Derek Gee’s first Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo will be a challenge of contrasts. On one hand, he’s immersed in track cycling’s team pursuit. On the other hand, the marathon Madison is a mystery.
But the Osgoode, ON., athlete who has spent the past five years training at the national velodrome in Milton, ON., is ready to pursue a team pursuit medal and take the 50-kilometre Madison with team-pursuit partner Michael Foley as it comes.
“The team pursuit is the main focus of our program,” Gee said in an interview. “It (Madison) will be quite the experience. Neither Mike nor I have ever even done a Madison in a World Cup. We’re definitely covering all the bases.”
When the Canadian team pursuit squad (average age 24 years) of Vincent De Haître of Cumberland, ON., Ottawa-born Foley of Milton, Jay Lamoureux of Victoria and Gee, qualified for the Olympics with a world No. 8 ranking, there was a bonus.
Each of the eight men’s team pursuit countries was allowed to enter a two-person team in the Madison, a 200-lap, ultramarathon. Since Gee and Foley had worked hand in hand and won multiple national titles, they earned a second Olympic race.
The Madison is a relay race, where riders take turns on the oval. After one rider’s session, he’ll return his teammate with a hand push, while going 60 kilometres an hour. Points are awarded to the top finishers in each of the 20 sprints.
“We knew in 2017 or 2018 when the quotas came out that we got a Madison spot. But we put it in the back of our minds,” Gee continued. “We train about once a week between our team pursuit sessions, but it’s an intense session.”
Being an endurance rider, Gee isn’t worried about the physical demands of the race. It’s the technical part that concerns him most, connecting hands and flinging Foley or being flung by Foley to complete the smooth, relay exchange.
“There are 18 teams and there’s a lot to do,” said Gee, adding the non-racing rider must get back up to speed quickly, after a brief rest on the track. “There’s a massive change in speed that you have to navigate.”
What’s good about the Madison is it will be staged after the team pursuit, which is the main focus for Gee and his teammates. They have been working on their technique, strength and speed for the past five years.
Canada has shown well internationally in what has become a sprint-endurance race. At the last three world championships, Canada placed eighth in 2018, fourth (losing to Denmark for the bronze medal) in 2019 and a disappointing 11th in 2020.
At the 2018 Commonwealth Games, Gee won the team-pursuit bronze medal. He also has been a double, double gold medallist at the Pan Am Championships _ team pursuit and omnium in 2019 as well as team and individual pursuit in 2017.
“Team pursuit is something I’ve trained specifically for five years. It’s our best chance. We’ve put all our of eggs in that basket,” said Gee, who will use his endurance to maintain the fast pace set by the powerful engine of De Haître.
The team pursuit has been undergoing big changes in recent years. Great Britain broke the world and Olympic records three times at the 2016 Rio Summer Games (settling at 3:50.265). At the 2020 worlds in Berlin, Denmark won in a WR 3:44.672.
“We put all of our energy and time into the team pursuit and our confidence was growing fast. We had a phenomenal 2019 worlds as we raced for bronze,” Gee said. “But in 2020, the sport took a step up, we missed and got smoked.
“We had no idea how competitive it would be. We were going in blind. We did about as well as we could. There’s a possibility we can go faster than the Olympic race in 2016 and still go last. That’s how crazy the sport is.”
The Canadian track endurance program has experienced that in its own right. At a Decemeber 2017 World Cup race in Milton, Canada dropped the national record by 1.6 seconds to 3:58.359.
Almost two years later at the 2019 Pan American Championships on the altitude track in Cochabamba, Bolivia, Canada’s future 2021 Olympic team continued its mission of lowering the record and brought it down again to 3:49.974.
“Now the riders are hybrids, good sprinters and endurance riders. In no other sport has the world record fallen by such massive margins,” said Gee, who feels the team pursuit has almost become a full sprint.
“It is still an endurance event, but we found that out (at the 2020 Berlin world championships) by going too fast.”
Canada finished 11th (dropping its world ranking to eighth from fifth) in 3:54.469, while Denmark won in 3:44.672.
“There’s a lot of technical aspects. We’re going mid-60s (kilometres per hour) and it’s very difficult to ride a smooth line, which is so crucial. We’re trying to maintain an aerodynamic position and pacing is so critical.
“There’s communication, but you have to yell sometimes because the helmet covers your ears, there’s wind and it’s loud. There’s a lot to balance for four guys going four kilometres. There are so many details.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.