At the first World Cup of the season, Sechelt’s Gracey Hemstreet stood atop the podium in Lourdes, France, as the first Canadian junior female to win a World Cup in downhill.
The 17-year-old downhill mountain biker came in first place among the junior women with a time of 3:30.852 – more than six seconds ahead of her closest competitor.
“She’s kind of set the benchmark as the one to beat this year,” Adam Walker, the athlete performance specialist with the Norco Factory Team (and coach of the B.C. provincial team and Cycling Canada), told Coast Reporter. “She won by a really big margin, 6.8 seconds, which is big – huge – in downhill.”
In 2021, Hemstreet spent the first part of the year injured. Her first race, the World Cup in Slovenia, landed her in fifth place. She went on to work her way to the podium, nabbing bronze at the World Championships in Italy, then ending her season with a silver in Switzerland.
“There's a pretty incredible trajectory there from fifth, third, second, first,” Walker said. “She's learning a lot along the way and really has been able to hone her skills and learn from each race and really apply it.”
In the lead-up to the race on March 27, Hemstreet came in second place during the qualifiers, which would have landed her in 10th place among the elite women. Despite blowing a corner, she caught up with the racer who’d started ahead of her.
When an athlete is fast in the qualifying round “it's obviously very good for the confidence but, personally, I think it's better for someone to qualify not first and leave a little bit of room to up the speed on the race run,” Walker said.
On the day of the race, Hemstreet and the Norco Factory Team were up before the sun. The two-kilometre track descended about 500 vertical metres, and Hemstreet was working on laying off the brakes.
“She nailed her line flawlessly,” Walker said. “It was a moving experience.”
In a social media post after her win, Hemstreet wrote, “Honestly no words…Can’t believe I just won the first World Cup of the season. Sooo amped on how today went, felt smooth on the bike, and the support was above and beyond.”
She thanked her Norco Factory Team for the “amazing support” and her bike mechanic, Lewis Kirkwood, who Walker said would work into the night and before dawn with a headlamp on to keep her custom bike dialed.
Next, Hemstreet is preparing for the second downhill World Cup of the year, which will be held in Fort William starting on May 21.
Canadians win big
Squamish’s Jackson Goldstone also won gold among the juniors. His winning time was clocked at 2:52.584, less than three seconds ahead of Remy Meier-Smith.
Finn Iles, a Canadian nationals champion, came within a second of first place for the elite men’s competition, securing a silver medal and his best elite World Cup result so far.