Emilly Johnston is making a habit of finding her way to the podium.
The 17-year-old mountain bike racer from Comox won the junior women’s division at the recent Bear Mountain Canada Cup in Victoria. She jumped to an early lead in her race, and stretched it out to a three-minute advantage by the end of four laps. She had also caught several elite women racers who had started two minutes earlier.
Last year, when racing with the Trek BC development team, Johnston learned a number of new skills while racing at various high-profile events. The highlight was spending time in Switzerland biking with Sina Frei, a former Under-23 world champion. Another highlight was placing second in a field of 40 at the Gränichen Proffix Cup in Switzerland.
“Last year I was also upgraded a category for national championships, as a 16-year-old,” Johnston said. “I raced 17- and 18-year-olds, and came second.”
This season she is riding for Pendrel Racing, under the mentorship of 2016 Olympic bronze medallist Catharine Pendrel, and her husband Keith Wilson. The team includes U23 rider Holden Jones of Squamish, and elite women racers Emily Unterberger of Revelstoke and Elyse Nieuwold of Ontario.
“It’s a super nice group of riders, and such a fantastic environment to progress in and learn new skills.”
Johnston trains under Jeff Ain, the U23 national team coach. This year, her main goal is the world MTB championships at Mont Saint-Anne in Quebec.
“Getting to race in my home country for a world championship would be such an incredible experience.”
In May, she is off to Europe for events in Germany (Albstadt) and the Czech Republic (Nove Mesto). She then heads to Baie-Saint-Paul in Quebec for another Canada Cup race.
Johnston is a Grade 11 student at Isfeld Secondary. She attends school half-time, and completes the other half online. Next year, she plans to graduate a semester early, and then take courses at North Island College.
She says growing up in the Comox Valley provided a huge boost to her riding progression.
“We have such a supportive biking community and world class trails,” she said. “It makes racing at other locations pretty easy.”