She was the face of the 1999 Pan Am Games in Winnipeg, a hometown hero who captured a pair of gold medals and was the Canadian flag-bearer for the event.

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She was the face of the 1999 Pan Am Games in Winnipeg, a hometown hero who captured a pair of gold medals and was the Canadian flag-bearer for the event.

Now she’s back on familiar turf, helping to mentor the next generation of cyclists who no doubt hope to follow a similar path.

"Eighteen years. It seems like it was just yesterday," Tanya Dubnicoff told the Free Press on Tuesday as she took in the Canada Summer Games road cycling time trial event at Birds Hill Provincial Park.

"Winning was great. But carrying the flag, seeing my family, my family seeing me, being able to be at home and show my family and Winnipeg why I travel and do what I do. That was super cool."

Dubnicoff, 47, retired from the sport in 2000 and has spent much of her time in recent years helping to build cycling programs in both Canada and the United States. Now a resident of Calgary, Dubnicoff has returned to Winnipeg as part of the Alberta team. She was hired last year by the Canadian Sport Institute Calgary to lead their athlete development program for cyclists, including their road, track, mountain, cross and para-cycling disciplines.

"I think it’s great to catch them when they’re young. You have fun. I think the older you get, there’s less fun involved," Dubnicoff said. "You work on skills, you work on proficiency, but you don’t work on perfection. Working with these young athletes, you’re reminding them of why they’re doing it, the purpose behind it and loving the bike. We’re just trying to develop great kids."

Dubnicoff was pleased with Tuesday’s results by her team, which included Top 10 performances by both male and female cyclists, but said it’s not just about the numbers here.

"It’s a learning process. These athletes are still very young. This is a really big competition when you think of getting them out of their comfort zone. This whole process is so important for them," she said.

Dubnicoff certainly knows a few things about big competitions, appearing in the 1992, 1996 and 2000 Olympics. She was inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame in 2002. She was also one of the coaches of Canada’s women’s team pursuit squad, which won bronze at the 2012 London Olympics.

Tuesday’s time trials were dominated by athletes from Quebec. Men from that province won gold and silver, while female cyclists took home silver and bronze. British Columbia captured the other two medals.

Winnipeg’s Mitchell Ketler just missed finding the podium, finishing fifth out of 49 cyclists. He was sitting third with only five athletes left on the 20-kilometre course, but a pair of them ended up just beating his time.

"It would have been amazing to medal, but with a fifth I’m so happy," he said.

Ketler 19, began focusing on time trials after finishing fifth in the event during the 2015 Western Canada Summer Games. He said Tuesday’s result, against the best young riders from across the country, will be a major confidence booster.

"Just seeing my numbers, and how hard I was pushing, this was definitely one of my best (rides)," he said. Ketler credited the local crowd who packed the grandstand and gave him a huge ovation right before he started.

"The crowd was a huge factor. It kind of threw me off — right out of the start gate I was just flying. There was so much adrenalin, and then it kind of caught up to me," he said. The Dakota Collegiate grad is headed to Victoria this fall to attend Camosun College while continuing his training.

The four other Manitoba men competing in the time trials event were Danick Vandale (15th), Oliver Evans (19th), Willem Boersma (25th) and Kurt Penno (29th).

On the women’s side, Winnipegger Madeleine Dupuis had the best local showing, finishing 20th out of the 28 competitors.

"I just wanted to go out and do the best that I can do and see what that is. So I’m pretty happy with how I did," said Dupuis, 17, who just graduated from Vincent Massey Collegiate and is in her first season of racing. She’s headed to the University of Manitoba this fall.

"It was super exciting. I had a bunch of family here. I’ve done so much training at Birds Hill, so I knew what was coming around the corners," she said.

Three other Manitobans were in the field: Chloe Penner (24th), Mary Prendergast (25th) and Rebecca Man (27th).

Dubnicoff said seeing all these young athletes competing certainly brings her back — but not to the point of having her looking for the nearest bike to jump on and race.

"When you’re at that age, you’re so fast and so strong, you can do anything," she said. "The older you get, no matter how fit you are, you’re like ‘I can’t do this.’"

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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