Ruby West tracking toward Olympics

The five of them are closely bunched, pedalling 16 laps as hard as they can for four kilometers, about half of it on curves banked at a gravity-challenging 42 degrees.

So, you better have faith in the other four.

“When you’re riding a few inches from each other on bikes with no brakes and just one gear, you have no choice but to trust your teammates,” Ruby West explains. “It’s stressful, so it really helps us have such a close team.”

Ruby West of Dundas, second from right, is a member of Team Canada racing at the prestigious UCI Nations Cup at the Mattamy Cycling Center in Milton. She’s in Thursday’s Team Pursuit.Ivan Rupes

That would be Team Canada. And the women’s Team Pursuit event: her team within the team.

The 22-year-old all-round cyclist from Dundas has turned her laser-sharp athletic focus toward track cycling’s Team Pursuit and, despite making the full time switch from it-couldn’t-be-any-more-different-cyclo-cross only a few months ago, she’s clearly on the Olympic radar. For Paris in 2024 and Los Angeles in 2028.

Canada has two, five-women Team Pursuit squads in Thursday’s races at the Mattamy Velodrome in Milton as part of the weekend-long UCI Nations Cup. The event, which will also be in Milton next year, brings together the world’s top track cyclists in six events and is the second most-important competition – behind October’s world championships – for the Canadian track riders this year. It’s their first major international test in the new Olympic cycle which lost a year when the Tokyo Games were postponed from 2020 to 2021.

But, Canada can send only one women’s Team Pursuit team to the Paris Games.

“Obviously, not all of us will get to go to the Olympics but we all just want the fastest team to go,” West says. “We’re competitive with each other, to bring out the best in everyone. We know that at the end of the day, four or five people’s hearts are going to be broken, but the exciting part is that there is another Olympics four years later, and we’re still a very young team. Our average age is just 22. ”

West has been riding for a decade in a number of disciplines, succeeding at mountain biking, road racing, the wild and woolly cyclo-cross, and track cycling. She won age-class national titles on the track but began focusing on cyclo-cross, a rugged blend of road and mountain biking and steeplechase. She won two U-23 cyclo-cross World Cup medals, was national U-23 champion by the time she was 16, and has competed in five senior World Championships.

During the first year’s pandemic, she switched her university studies from Bishop’s to online at Queen’s (she has two classes left for her psychology degree), and accepted an offer to race for a pro cyclo-cross team in Belgium. She competed in Europe from the fall of 2020 to late winter 2021, then was approached by Canada’s women’s track team endurance coach, Jenny Trew, whom she’d known for years, to join the Ontario and Canadian elite track programs at the Mattamy Center.

“I committed for a season to the cyclo-cross in Belgium, to see if it was a viable career for me. And the appeal to me was … subdued. It was a challenging experience, a character-building one for sure, being away from home in a pandemic. It taught me a lot about myself and racing, ”West says. “They were recasting the net for the national (track) team after the Tokyo Olympics and Jenny looped me in, and it was a pretty enticing loop.”

West says bunched-start races aren’t her forte and she gravitates toward the teamwork, power training, pressurized atmosphere and physical-endurance demands of the Team Pursuit.

“It was pretty obvious right away that she had a lot of speed and had the physical capabilities,” Trew says. “Ruby is a go-getter and the speed with which she’s picked it up is actually pretty incredible.”

Living just a half-hour away, West was one of the first people to ride the Milton track when it was opened in 2015, a few months before it hosted the Pan Am Games. Prior to that, the only other Olympic-sized velodrome in North America was in Los Angeles, severely limiting Canada’s chances to challenge the world’s best track teams. But, with the Milton facility as a home base there has been a noticeable upswing in Canadian international successes among younger riders.

Would she be on the Olympic cycling pathway if there had been no major indoor track in Canada, particularly one so close to where she grew up? “Realistically,” West answers, “probably not.”

But the world-class Mattamy Center does exist and increasingly fortifies Canadian cycling’s Olympic potential.

“It’s kind of intimidating, but exciting, how quickly the Olympics are coming up,” West says. “They’re still two years away, but when you look at the races we need to target to get the points for us to qualify, it’s just around the corner.”

Tissot Track Nations Cup

Mattamy National Cycling Center, Milton

Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday (schedule available here 🙂

Tickets: $ 20 to $ 175 (VIP) available online only

Events: men and women’s Individual Sprint, Team Sprint, Time Trial, Keirin, Individual Pursuit, Team Pursuit, Points Race, Scratch Race.

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