Whistler's Felix Burke came out of his mountain bike season feeling inspired after making the national junior team this year and attending the world championships in South Africa where he placed 25th after going in with a goal of placing in the top 30. To add to his confidence, one of his national teammates — Peter Desera — a second-year national team athlete that Burke is usually competitive with — placed second at worlds.
"It was awesome," he said. "There was such an awesome atmosphere there, (Disera's silver medal) was something that had never been done before. We all congratulated him and went to watch the podium, and there was a real party atmosphere. It was also good for my confidence. Peter is a second year junior, I'm a first-year junior, and I'm riding at the same level Peter was last year. If I work hard like he did I can get to that level, it's not unachievable to do that."
Burke's status as a member of the national team is intact through the first part of next season as well, leading up to the national championships. That means he has the opportunity to race for Canada at World Cup races and other events where the national program wants to bring its junior riders. He doesn't get any financial support yet, that's a higher level of carding, but Burke is hoping to make it to that level next year.
Burke said he's taking a bit of a break from racing, but not from riding his bike.
"The season has been a long one, so I took it easy for a while and have just been riding my bike for fun and not training that seriously," he said. "But I'm also thinking of 2014. I'm super motivated and can't wait to start racing big races again.
"I think I'll be going to California this winter to do a road biking camp, and then in the spring I'll get out there on my mountain bike again."
Burke said the experience of travelling with the national team, including top riders like Geoff Kabush and Max Plaxton, made the trip to South Africa memorable. One of the highlights was a team trip to Durban, a beach resort city where he got to swim in the Indian Ocean, plus a wildlife safari.
As for the world championship race itself, Burke said it was a genuine learning experience.
"The start was wild, it was basically 80 people going as fast as they can and fighting for position, throwing elbows, hitting handlebars — there was a huge crash in front of me, but somehow I managed to stay up and then get into the woods," he said.
The start was key, he said, because it was difficult to pass or make up ground. However, Burke did pass a few riders on the climbs and bridged up to faster riders on the technical descents, but after three laps the heat and chasing down riders got the best of him. He didn't pass anyone on his fourth lap and actually dropped back a few spots on the fifth and final lap.
"I went out too hard on the first laps and started fighting for position too early, but it's all about the experience and next time I'll know better."