"I just felt it in my heart that mountain biking was the right sport for me."
Canadian U23 National Champion Laurie Arsenault is making a big leap this season, from local team support to sharing a tent with Canadian National Champion and two-time Olympian Emily Batty. The 23-year-old Quebec native has been racing for nearly a decade, and in 2019 when World Championships were held at Mont Sainte Anne in Quebec, she placed ninth in the U23 race. As one of Canada's top young talents, she was a natural choice for the Canyon MTB Racing team as they looked for the perfect rider to join Emily this season.
Prep for the upcoming 2021 season in the winter in Montreal and in a training camp in Victoria, BC, might have seemed unconventional for some pro racers, who typically would seek out warmer climates to do base miles. But for Laurie, it's how she's always prepared. "I always stay in Quebec. So I'm all equipped for it," she laughs. "I usually go for maybe two weeks to a training camp, but no more than that... I'm used to the cold!"
From fat biking to cross-country skiing and running outside to putting in miles on the indoor trainer, she spent most of November and December building up an aerobic base to take her to team training camp in January, where she and Emily would ride together for the first time.
"I knew it was important to have the camaraderie of a teammate for Emily to travel and race with," Canyon MTB Racing team owner Adam Morka says. "We took a crawl, walk, run approach by only bringing on one outside rider. I wanted to provide Emily the opportunity to have the support she needs to perform while also having her in a mentorship role where she could grow by leading others and helping them be better people. She has many years of invaluable experience, and she's dialed in both on and off the bike. Because of that, bringing Laurie on was the perfect fit."
Laurie has been steadily improving on the bike since she began racing mountain bikes during a cross-country ski offseason at 11 years old. One local race, and she was hooked.
"I was on a cross country skiing team as a kid, and in the summer we were doing mountain biking for training and I hated it so much first, because I was with all of the fast boys, and I was crashing everywhere.... And maybe crying a little bit after practices! But I was really stubborn. And I just continued to push myself. When I did my first race, well, it was a love at the first moment."
"I remember watching Emily at the Olympics, and getting her first National title, and she was someone I wanted to be like."
"I remembered this vibe at mountain bike races, and I felt like I was called to it. I just feel it in my heart so much. It's something I can't really describe: It's like I was meant to be there. So even as I kept doing cross-country skiing, I was always talking about mountain biking, even in the winter. I just felt it in my heart that mountain biking was the right sport for me."
In fact, her story might sound a bit similar to fans of Emily's who remember her early days of racing in Ontario at O-Cups and Canada Cups. "Her trajectory is very similar to Emily's when Emily was a U23," Adam says. "She's got an amazing and humble personality, and she's super professional. She takes the sport and her training very seriously."
"I remember watching Emily at the Olympics, and getting her first National title, and she was someone I wanted to be like," Laurie added. "To be able to race on a team with her is fantastic — I've never been on a pro team before, so to be on a program that's this well supported, I'm just so excited."
Emily is excited as well. "Laurie seems like an amazing person and I'm going to help her as much as I can," Emily says. "But I also know that each athlete has their way of doing things and the best way to learn is through experience. So I'll do my best at helping her fast track her development in sport, but I want her to pave her path and make sure she's empowered for the long haul."
"I'm most proud of my nine place at World Championship in 2019."
Laurie has a great start already: Her World Championship finish in 2019 showed how much potential she has. "I'm most proud of my nine place at World Championship in 2019," Laurie says. "Everything was so perfect. I was so focused in the race and I didn't hear anyone except my coach, who was like giving me advice, but I know how many people were there cheering for me. The crowd was pretty intense, all my friends were there, all my family, every person I love was there. So I was really grateful for that. I have three brothers and they don't usually go to my races, and they were able to make it. So it was amazing for me. Afterwards, to be able to celebrate with my people, my friends and family, it was just so amazing. I have chills every time I think about that race because it meant so much to me."
"Laurie is a huge talent and despite being only 23 years old, she can already look back on some important successes and a whole lot of experience in the racing circuit—a strong combination!" says Thorsten Lewandowski, the Global Communications Manager for Canyon.
Many young riders take racing lightly, but not Laurie: This is her dream, and she's been pursuing it with a singular focus. "Racing has always been the the only option for me, I love it so much. I want to win races. I know that this year, it'll be a lot of learning for me this year, since this is my first big professional team and my first year in the elite field. I want to just enjoy the ride, learn as much as I can, and do my best. I'm going to adapt and learn from whatever comes my way."
"It is a dream for me to be in a team like this," Laurie adds as she heads into her first year of racing in the elite field. "I want to go as far as I can in mountain biking, and I think it's a great opportunity for me to learn from the best and race with the best."
Will Laurie ever race anything off the dirt? Probably not — but there might be some fall and winter racing in her future! "I started with the mountain bike and it's my first love. I did a little bit of road training, but never raced. And I did some cyclocross — I loved it so much. If I have the chance, I could see racing more cyclocross in the future, it's so much fun!"