MILTON, Ont. — Canada's Kelsey Mitchell returns this weekend to where it all started for her in the sport of track cycling.
The women's sprint specialist is one of the headliners at the UCI Track World Cup season finale at the Mattamy National Cycling Centre in Milton, Ont. It's where the former University of Alberta soccer player made her first appearance inside a velodrome back in 2017.
"I just remember seeing how steep the bankings were," Mitchell said. "Once you got on the bike, it wasn't too bad. But even then, I was not going fast at all but I was nervous and I could feel myself getting a little shaky when I was up at the top.
"But I've come a long way since then, that's for sure."
Mitchell won a national sprint title in 2018 and finished sixth in her World Cup debut a year ago in Hong Kong. She reached the podium twice at the Lima Pan Am Games and set a world record in the women's flying 200-metre sprint at the Pan American championship last summer in Bolivia.
Her physical prowess was evident in her formative training sessions in 2017 thanks in part to her lower-body strength honed from years on the pitch. She tested with Cycling Canada at the Toronto Pan Am Games venue and was later recruited by the federation.
Comfort on the track cycling bike increased and the 26-year-old from Sherwood Park, Alta., started training with the national team the following year. Her racing skills really started to develop that summer.
"I relied very heavily on just my natural ability and the strength on the bike," she said. "I had no tactics whatsoever. I didn't know how to follow wheel properly and couldn't spin my legs very fast, but I just had a lot of raw power and I did decently there.
"So I think that was kind of the point where I was like, 'OK, if I actually get good at this, there could be a lot of potential here.'"
Mitchell and Lauriane Genest of Levis, Que., are the Canadian women's sprinters entered in the World Cup. Hugo Barrette of Iles-de-la-Madeleine, Que., is the lone Canadian men's sprinter.
Team pursuit qualifying began Thursday night. Team sprint and team pursuit finals are on tap Friday evening. Sprint, keirin, omnium and madison competitions are set for Saturday and Sunday.
The national team's endurance squads will be NextGen riders as the A-teams are training in New Zealand ahead of next month's world championships in Berlin.
The women's endurance roster includes Victoria's Erin Attwell, Miriam Brouwer of Burlington, Ont., Vancouver's Steph Roorda and Devaney Collier and Kinley Gibson, both from Edmonton.
The men's lineup includes Edmonton's Evan Burtnik, Chris Ernst of Kitchener, Ont., Calgary's Jackson Kinniburgh, Victoria's Riley Pickrell and Amiel Flett-Brown, Ethan Ogrodniczuk and Sean Richardson, all from Vancouver.
The Team P2M trade entry of Canadian riders includes Joel Archambault of Sainte-Christine, Que., Calgary's Sarah Orban, Amelia Walsh of Ayr, Ont., and Nick Wammes of Bothwell, Ont.
This is the third year that the Mattamy National Cycling Centre has hosted World Cup competition. The venue will also host the UCI para-cycling track world championship next week.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2020.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press