‘We’re there for each other’: Canadian cyclists Mitchell, Genest inseparable in quest to be world’s best

They’re housemates and with each other 24/7. They do practically everything together — training, racing, travelling, eating and even share the same couch to watch television.

But, as Kelsey Mitchell said with certainty, she and Canadian track cycling teammate Lauriane Genest would not have been friends in high school.

“We’re different people but cycling brought us together and we balance each other perfectly. We have each other’s back, we’re there for each other, and it’s special,” Mitchell told CBC Sports before Wednesday’s final training session ahead of this week’s UCI Track Nations Cup at the Mattamy National Cycling Centre in Milton, Ont.

A former varsity soccer player with the University of Alberta, the 29-year-old made the transition to track cycling in 2017 after being discovered at an RBC Training Ground event, a program designed to discover young Canadian athletes with Olympic potential. It’s where she first encountered Genest.

“We were in a group together and I knew she was a cyclist and wanted to be on the national team,” recalled the five-foot-nine Mitchell. “I may have said one thing to her, and she didn’t reply. I thought, ‘Oh, she doesn’t speak English’ and she didn’t speak super English at the time.”

“We were standing side by side and I noticed she was a tall, bigger person,” added Genest, who stands five-foot-three. “You could tell she wanted to talk. I’m more on the shy side.”

WATCH | Mitchell, Genest lead Canadian track cyclists into Milton event:

Mitchell, Genest lead Canadian track cycling team into Milton, Ont.

A couple of Canadian Olympic medallists will be in the spotlight with the UCI Track Nations Cup in Milton, Ont. this week.

What clicked?

“I don’t know, she was fun,” Mitchell said. “She’s different than a lot of my other friends [who] are loud and obnoxious. She’s honest and direct where I would avoid conflict and maybe not speak my mind as much.”

‘Pushing each other every day’

Genest, 24, joined the national team in 2017 and Mitchell followed a year later. Mitchell better understood how the dynamic of team sports worked while Genest, who started road cycling at age 16 before switching to the track a year later, had an individual sports background growing up in Lévis, Que.

“I think she struggled initially with me getting a little faster and starting to close that gap,” Mitchell said. “I tried to tell her we can be No. 1 and 2 in the world. Once that clicked, we were pushing each other every day.”

There’s no one I would rather lose to than her. Two Canadians, one and two, is the goal.— Olympic champion Kelsey Mitchell on reigning Canadian gold medallist Lauriane Genest

Within two years, Mitchell was a world record-holder, Pan American Games champion and World Cup medallist. She added gold at her 2020 Olympic debut in Tokyo. Genest has also established herself as one of the world’s top sprinters, highlighted by her Olympic bronze in Tokyo.

“We were in the final for the keirin. I watched her win the bronze medal and it was a beautiful thing,” said Mitchell, who raced Genest in the sprint quarterfinals in Japan. “She won at nationals [in January] and I was stoked for her.

“There’s no one I would rather lose to than her. Two Canadians, one and two, is the goal.”

Jackie Boyle, a former outside hitter with the Queen’s University Gaels women’s volleyball team, turned to track cycling a few years ago. The Toronto native moved into a house with Mitchell and Genest in Milton at the end of 2021 and jokingly refers to herself as “the third wheel.”

“I love living with them. Wouldn’t have it any other way,” said Boyle, who will be a substitute in the keirin and team sprint at this week’s competition. “They are bonded for life because of their [shared] experiences and it’s fun to train with them.”

WATCH | Mitchell earns sprint silver medal at 2022 Nations Cup:

Canadian cyclist Kelsey Mitchell captures sprint silver on home soil

Olympic champion Kelsey Mitchell from Sherwood Park, Alta. falls to world champion Emma Hinze of Germany in the women’s sprint gold medal final at the Tissot UCI Track Nations Cup in Milton, Ont.

While they are three different people, Boyle said there is give and take in their relationship, noting if one is feeling down, there are two others to lift them up in different ways.

“The way we decompress [from cycling] is all of us on couches,” she said. “We feel so comfortable with one another … so we don’t need to be in our [bedrooms] alone.”

Mitchell ‘rebuilding’ after contracting COVID-19

Genest and Mitchell enter the Nations Cup with different objectives. The former is aiming for a quarterfinal berth in sprint after placing fourth a year ago in Milton, which is hosting its fifth Nations Cup (formerly World Cup). Genest is also eyeing a podium finish in the keirin, which features riders following in the slipstream of a pacing motorbike for 750 metres before undertaking a three-lap sprint to the end.

Mitchell, who hails from Sherwood Park, Alta., and won keirin gold, sprint silver and team sprint bronze with Genest last year, is “rebuilding” after contracting COVID-19 in February following the Nations Cup in Jakarta, Indonesia.

“I’m not at my best right now but I’ve done everything to be prepared,” Mitchell said. “I’m going to have fun, I’m going to see my family, I’m going to see the Canadian flag [in the crowd] and people cheering for us. I love racing at home.”

Canadian national team coach Franck Durivaux is hoping the squad at least matches last year’s three-medal count in Milton.

WATCH | Canadian women collect team pursuit bronze in Milton, Ont.

Canada claims bronze in women’s team pursuit on home soil

Canada’s Lauriane Genest, Kelsey Mitchell and Sarah Orban beat Great Britain in the women’s team sprint bronze medal race at the Tissot UCI Track Nations Cup in Milton, Ont.

“[As a team] we went through different difficulties for about a month — COVID [and other health issues],” said the track sprint lead. “Everyone is coming back to such a good level right now [so] it’s encouraging.

“We’re entering [2024] Olympic qualifying [for Paris] and I’m expecting good results because I’m confident in what [the athletes] are able to do.”

The four-day Nations Cup, involving more than 300 athletes from 50 countries, begins Thursday at 6 p.m. ET with women’s and men’s team pursuit qualifying. Finals for all disciplines will be held in the evening.

You can watch the action live streamed through CBCSports.ca, CBC Sports app and CBC Gem starting Friday at 6 p.m.

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