By Camille Aubin
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Canada Cup downhill bike racing was back at Panorama on July 21 with hundreds of participants, and two local residents grabbed top-three podium finishes in their respective categories.

The Canada Cup series (also known as the Dunbar Summer Series) represents the top flight of Canadian downhill mountain biking, and the final race of the series (which this year will be at Kicking Horse Resort in Golden) doubles as Canada’s national downhill biking championship, all of which makes the podium finishes by valley residents that much more impressive.

Victoria Johansen, 28-years-old and born and raised in the valley, grabbed third place in the open women category with a time of four minutes and 58 seconds, in what was her first-ever Canada Cup race. In the men’s ages 19-34 expert/elite category, Columbia Valley downhiller Lewis Murphy came third. 

Victoria Johansen holds up her third place medal. Photo by Alison Bortolon, Radical Productions

“It was fun and a little stressful inside,” Johansen told the Pioneer. “I just wanted to get through it without crashing. That was my goal.”

This summer marks Johansen’s third season regularly riding Panorama Mountain Resort’s bike park, and she only started downhill mountain biking four years ago. “Last season I spent most days in the bike park, when it was open,” she said, highlighting her love of the sport.

Johansen rediscovered the magic of the Columbia Valley and the outdoor life it has to offer after returning from a backpacking trip abroad six years ago. “I went to school and then travelled in Australia, and when I went back home in 2015, I just had a new appreciation for this area and everything you can do here,” she said. “I started working at Panorama and met a lot of people in the mountain biking world, so I tried it out and absolutely fell in love with it. I bike almost every single day. It’s really fun. You kind of feel like you’re a kid again.”

The bike racer got ready for her competition at Panorama with “a lot of pedalling early season before the bike park was open.” And now that she shown she can reach the podium, she’s interested in racing some more. “It would be good, now that I’ve done a big race and know what to expect, to be able to train a little more for races. And so, I can do a lot better.”

“I did the Wall Street feature on the track which was really scary but it was a huge accomplishment to be able to do that. Halfway down, my foot flew off the pedal. And I think just that I was able to ride that out without crashing, that felt pretty good!” explained Johansen when asked about her favourite moment.

Victoria Johansen, 28, ranked top three at the Canada Cup series on July 21. Photo by Alison Bortolon, Radical Productions

The Wall Street feature was the steepest feature on the course, and involves bikers “roll(ing) down a cliff face with lots of roots” transitioning immediately into loose terrain at the bottom, followed shortly after by several tight turns. “You get lots of speed when you come down it,” explained Johansen. 

There are a few aspects of competition that no amount of physical preparation can help you with. “It’s more of a mental game than I thought it would be going into it. A couple days before the race week started, I was just practicing that trail, and when you’re there with one other person you’re comfortable with, it’s a lot easier to get through,” she said. “You don’t have the mental block you do when you start racing and you’re sitting in the gate and you’re listening to the countdown before you drop. That’s just a whole other side of it.”

Even during a competition, like a mountain bike race, women who support women plays an essential role in each other’s overall experiences. “It’s pretty cool to start seeing a lot more women in mountain biking. There were many younger girls, and there’s one other girl, Emmylou Grieve, who’s 16. She’s from the valley as well. She’s an absolute shredder. It was really cool to see her do well in her race. She won fifth place in her category,” expressed Johansen. “The other ladies I did meet in my category were so supportive. They were really awesome, and it definitely helps the experience. If the camaraderie wasn’t there, I don’t know how much I would have enjoyed myself.”