Ontario Olympian Peter Disera on Tokyo 2020 + How Ontario is a Great Place for MTB Development

Interview by; Molly Hurford
Featured Image Photo Credit: Nicola Wenn

Living right near the Horseshoe Valley Ski Hill and Resort was the perfect place for mountain biker Peter Disera to grow up. Surrounded by mountain bike trails practically in his backyard, with Hardwood Hills close by as well, plus the camaraderie of a younger brother who also rode and a neighborhood full of cyclists, it’s easy to see how he fell in love with racing. In fact, he casually mentions that he attended his first race because an older rider told him and his group of friends about it, and they begged their parents to go. “We were four or five at the time,” he remembers. And after that first race, he was committed. Now, two decades later, the 26-year-old is in Tokyo pre-riding the course and getting ready to take part in his first Olympics Games. We caught up with him before the pre-race schedule got too hectic, and talked about his pathway to the Games, starting with those early races in Ontario.

A week out from the race, how are you feeling?

I’m feeling good. It’s exciting that it’s finally happening and everything’s moving forward the way it was intended to last year. It feels it’s been a longer road—I guess it has been a longer road—to these Games. So really, it’s cool to finally be at this point.

How did it feel when it became official that you were going to the Olympics?

Based on the selection documents, we knew it was almost certain. I had a stellar year in 2019 and earned my spot more than once. But I admit, I kind of held my breath a little bit, since the selection processes could be changed as things opened and races came back. I came into this season feeling the tension of racing as well as I could while also training for a July peak. Luckily, everything’s moving in the right direction as it was planned.

You grew up in Horseshoe Valley—how did that help your MTB career?

It’s amazing. Ontario has such a solid development framework for mountain biking here, and there are multiple programs that kids can get involved with, programs that give them a taste of what high performance is and what racing at a at a higher level could be like. Then it’s sort of up to the athletes to make that next jump to a domestic or continental level, and then eventually, into international competition level.

When I was growing up, the local weekly races at Hardwood were huge. They also had a development program that I ended up in eventually. Now, there are even more riding options here, the Copeland’s turning into a developed trail network, Horseshoe Resort has trails and downhill, Simcoe County is doing a ton—and that’s just right near where I grew up! I would say it’s a completely rad place to learn to ride and then hone skills.

Sure, there are more technical features out West in BC, but you can find most of those features here to practice on so you’re ready for it. It doesn’t take much. My mom—a really well-respected ski pro—used to be the ski director at Chicopee, a little ski hill in the Kitchener Waterloo area. And there’s one steep run there, it maybe lasts 30 seconds. But she had this saying that if you could ski everything at Chicopee and you could do it well, you could ski anything, anywhere. The same is true of mountain biking in Ontario: We have all of the pieces required. And if you can do them well, and you can practice and train your skills, then you can do it anywhere. But Ontario excels because we have not just trails, we have this massive community and massive support networks and large programs that are able to to help develop athletes.

What was youth development like for you?

I came through the Hardwood Devo program, starting in 2008. Brendan Matheson—who now works with Simcoe developing the cycling networks—was my coach at the time. We had fun and he was a great first coach, and probably one of the best guys to hold that position. Brendan knew how to make sure we had a good time while training, even if the conditions were terrible. He got us ready for high performance, but he made sure that fun was the primary focus. After a couple of years, I eventually graduated to Hardwood’s higher level program—the gold program back then. That was when I started focusing more on the racing and the high-performance training, doing things like learning how to train for cycling even during the winter months in Ontario. It was a change in mindset, but we were at the age where we were ready for it. We started doing indoor trainer rides and testing and stuff like that. We were still kids and it was still about fun, but we were getting serious, too.

From there, I joined Angry Johnny’s Racing—which, funny enough, also had Haley Smith on it, and she went on to be my teammate at Norco, and we’re both going to Tokyo! At that point, I started working with Kevin Sims as a coach. He really started drilling into me the science and the basics of training essentials, and made sure that I was equipped to make my own decisions about training, so no matter where I was and what was going on, I would have a good idea of what kind of training I should do. Before him, I was just following what a coach told me to do, but he helped me understand why I was doing it.

He wasn’t over the top or super scientific or hard to understand about it, he was just instructive and it’s been very beneficial in my career. Having that knowledge and being able to self monitor is so important. I worked with him into my U23 years coming out of junior after placing second that Worlds in South Africa. I also got four junior national titles that year: criterium, time trial, cross-country MTB and cyclocross. It was a good year.

Ontario Cycling projects were also huge for me in my junior years: Mike Garrigan was the provincial coach, I did my first Nationals with him in Canmore and had a blast. I remember the OCA projects to South Carolina during the offseason to get some winter training, and those were just so much fun. We’d be exhausted from 10 days of really hard riding, but from a work ethic standpoint, we learned so much. I loved doing the projects with the OCA: In fact, last winter instead of doing a camp with the national team, I went to Girona to train with the OCA riders who were there!

Coming out of that, I started school at the University of Guelph and joined the Norco Factory Team. At the time, Norco was more domestic, though eventually they’d become a major international team. I also shifted and began working with Keith Wilson, Catherine Pendrel’s husband, as my coach. Sims always said his goal was to coach himself out of a job while working with juniors! I still work with Keith: we share similar opinions and traits when it comes to numbers and nerding out on things. He took me to that next level: He has so much experience with coaching Catherine and just bearing witness to Catherine’s career and the insight into what it takes to win World Cup overall titles and the World Championships.

What’s the hope for the Olympics? What’s the goal?

Honestly, after everything that’s happened and what it’s taken to get to this point where we’re actually finally here, I just want to have a race. I just want to want to get out there. I want to finish feeling fully spent.

Good luck, Peter!