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Meet Olivia Baril: The Canadian who almost quit racing in 2021 but is enjoying a stellar 2022

The 24-year-old Canadian took her first pro win at the GP Ciudad de Eibar and won the young rider classification at the Tour de Suisse.

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Just 12 months ago, Olivia Baril was questioning her decision to move to Europe and even pondered quitting racing, but circumstances have changed and she’s enjoying a stellar 2022 campaign.

The 24-year-old is a relative newcomer to racing in Europe after moving over in late 2020. It was a risky move while the coronavirus pandemic was still gripping the world, but she had a contract with the Spanish Massi-Tactic squad.

Though she put in some solid performances, she was struggling in what she described as a “bad environment” within the team. Her thoughts of moving home were put on hold when the Italian Valcar-Travel & Service squad signed her up.

“I moved in September of 2020 to San Sebastian, a really beautiful city in Spain. It went pretty well and the first year with the Spanish team was very rocky and I was questioning whether or not I wanted to move back and if I wanted to quit the sport because it was such a bad environment,” she told VeloNews. “Luckily, Valcar picked me up and they said come with us, we’ll develop you, you can trust us. That’s what they did and now I’m having the best year. I’m so happy.

“It’s really great, I really like it and I love the Italian vibe. For sure, they include me and I’m almost as Italian as them maybe.”

Also read: Commentary: The good, the bad, and the future of the Tour de France Femmes

Valcar-Travel & Service has a good record of developing young riders and has become one of the top development teams in the women’s peloton. Current stars such as Elisa Balsamo and Marta Cavalli are among its alumni.

Since joining the team, Baril has taken her first professional win at the GP Ciudad de Eibar in May, beating the likes of Ane Santesteban and Mavi Garcia. She also took the young rider classification at the Tour de Suisse, finishing ninth overall.

“Everything that I’ve achieved so far is 110 percent because of Valcar. Everything that I will achieve will be because of this team for sure,” she said.

“It’s been a really big upgrade from what I’ve been used to, especially the team environment, it’s so much calmer than I’ve been used to before I was in a team where it was a bit of a dominance of the riders, where the view was that the sport directors knew better than everyone else and it didn’t really have our interest at heart. Now, this team is really open and honest, and everyone is nice with everyone so it’s like a family vibe. It’s the best.”

Baril’s introduction into bike racing has been gradual and she has not rushed herself in stepping up the rungs of the ladder. She picked up the sport after initially using it as a summer training tool and bided her time before looking to Europe to further her career.

Indeed, it was only after she had finished high school and went through college, where she trained as an osteopath, that she took the plunge.

“I was a swimmer all through high school and then I started cycling in the summer as a sport that I could do when I was off-season from cycling,” Baril said. “I did a few triathlons and then the regional cycling team picked me up and asked me if I wanted to be a part of the team. I had no idea what cycling was but I said yes to it. I started when I was a junior and progressed slowly but surely. I kept going to school and I went to university full-time and I just recently finished that. I moved to Europe when I was done with school.”

After her tricky start in Europe, Baril has settled in with Valcar and is making good strides in her development. However, her strong start to the season was hampered by a big crash at the Giro d’Italia Donne that forced her to abandon during stage 3.

Another early spill at the Tour de France Femmes put paid to her hopes of pulling out a good GC result, but she made it through what was one of the most intensive periods of racing she’s had since turning pro. Following a short break, she’s got some other major targets going into the final months of the season.

“I had a big crash in the Giro, and I recovered pretty well from that. I got 25 stitches on my knee but it’s ok, I crashed again [on stage 2] on the same knee but I think it’s less bad. My knee has been surprisingly strong,” she said.

“I had a pretty good season in Spain, and I did some good results there and the Tour de France was a big objective. I’ll be having a bit of rest afterward and then I’ll be looking at some stage races like the Vuelta and then the world championships.”