The Sunshine Coast is home to a world mountain biking champion.
Seventeen-year-old Holly Feniak captured the junior women’s world mountain biking title with a blistering run at the UCI World Championships in Leogang-Saalfelden, Austria, on Sunday, Sept. 2.
The medal was Canada’s third junior women’s medal in three years and second gold medal. Holly’s time was eight seconds faster than that of second-place finisher Tahnee Seagrave of Great Britain and would have earned her a top-10 spot at the women’s elite level.
This was her first time competing in a world championship. She said she had no idea what to expect at such a large event.
“I came here with an open mind knowing there was a ton of experience to be absorbed and lots to learn, so I just wanted to have fun and have a smooth, solid run and just get an idea of what it’s like to be at a race this big,” she said.
Because she made a few mistakes during her run, Holly had no idea how well she’d done until her time was posted.
“I was actually worried that I hadn’t finished on the podium,” she admits. “I felt like I had blown it halfway down the mountain, so it was hard to keep that motivation going all the way to the bottom. When the time came up on the board that I had won by eight seconds, my first feeling was relief.”
Winning the junior world title is a dream come true for the Sunshine Coast athlete, who started racing when she was 13.
“It still hasn’t quite sunk in yet,” she said. “Ever since I started racing downhill, I always looked up to World Cup races and knew I wanted to be there someday.”
She said she couldn’t have made it without help from her friends, family and sponsors.
“Words cannot describe how grateful I am to have had such incredible support all year from my friends and family and the Canadian Cycling Association,” she said.
She hopes her first-place finish will help her attract the sponsors she needs to compete on the World Cup circuit in 2013. In the meantime, in addition to her ongoing training, she needs to concentrate on her studies in order to complete Grade 12 this year and graduate high school.
“One of the first things I thought about was, ‘Wow, I have a lot of work to do this winter,’” she said.
Sechelt’s Pedals & Paddles is hosting a fundraising party to celebrate Holly’s win this Saturday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and will feature a barbecue as well as 50 per cent discounts on kayaking and paddle boarding.
Holly’s win was only part of the story, as Gibsons Forrest Riesco was the top Canadian, finishing in 25th place in junior men.
“It was an amazing trip with the national team,” he said. “It was cool to be able to train on the course with some of Canada’s top racers and to compete for the first time at that level. The track was a lot of fun to ride with a good mix of pedalling, fast technical sections and jumps. I had a good race run on Sunday. It wasn’t anything amazing, but I was happy to put down a solid run with no crashes or major mistakes.
“I’m very excited for Holly. It’s very cool to see everything come together for her and for her to take the well-deserved title.”
Forrest also wanted to thank his family, friends and sponsors for helping him get to Austria.
National team coach Geoff Pendrel said Holly and Forrest represent the future of Canadian downhill racing — a future that is indeed bright and full of promise.
“I’m incredibly happy with the performance of all our athletes at this year’s world championships,” Pendrel said. “It really is a pleasure to work with individuals who are so obviously dedicated and motivated to achieve success at the highest level. Their efforts have raised Canada’s profile in downhill to a new level. We are a force to be reckoned with. I’m excited for what the future holds for Canadian downhill.”