TORONTO â€” The photos are gruesome. Hugo Barrette slumped over unconscious, his rag-doll limbs bent under him awkwardly and his face crushed against the concrete. Barrette on a stretcher, his face a soupy mess of blood and ripped flesh.
The 25-year-old cyclist from Iles-de-la-Madeleine, a tiny Quebec archipelago in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, had crashed in World Cup training in Cali, Colombia, in the fall of 2015, roaring through a railing at 80 kilometres an hour.
He’ll race in Cali again for the first time this week in a World Cup he said is a victory before he even sets his two wheels on the track.
“It’s part of my story,” Barrette said. “I’ve never seen it as such a bad thing. It’s just part of my story, and to get past that, I need to go back there and perform at my best and just show what I got, as I’ve intended to do before I crashed.”
Barrette was coming off a breakout three-medal performance at the Pan American Games, and looking forward to the Rio Olympics when he crashed in a training session. The force snapped the steel railing in two, and left Barrette with two broken vertebrae, a shattered nose, broken teeth, head lacerations and a dislocated shoulder. His nose and shredded lip required plastic surgery. Had he not turned his head at the last second, he believes he’d be dead.
Barrette’s screams are audible in the video of the scene, which was so traumatic national coach Erin Hartwell considered quitting. Barrette doesn’t remember much, saying “Maybe it’s a good thing that I lost that part of the story.”
Also a good thing: the motivation of making the Olympic team had Barrette back on his bike just two weeks later. There was no time to be hesitant.
And if nothing else, the crash made him take stock of his career. He paused just long enough to appreciate how far he’d come.
“Since I was 16 years old, I never stopped, just all out all the time just to improve to become the best,” Barrette said. “I believe I reached an amazing level, a dream-like level, winning everything at Pan Ams (two gold and a bronze), I was living the dream that I had as a little boy.
“But since I was so anchored in that world, I never really realized what I’ve accomplished. So that crash really made me open my eyes, and made me realize how much I love the sport and how lucky I am to do this. And that’s part of why I recovered so fast, because I didn’t want to give up at such an amazing time.”
Barrette claimed his first World Cup medal, a silver, in Hong Kong just 81 days after his crash. He also qualified for Rio, where he finished 13th in the keirin.
Barrette will be joined on Canada’s men’s team in Colombia by Stefan Ritter of Edmonton, Joel Archambault of St-Christine, Que., and Patrick St-Louis-Pivin.
Calgary’s Kate O’Brien and Laura Brown leads a women’s team that includes Amelia Walsh of Ayr, Ont., Steph Roorda of Vancouver, Kinley Gibson of Edmonton and Ariane Bonhomme of Gatineau, Que.
Barrette has nothing special planned for Cali, no plans to take a close look at the crash site.
“I’m just going to do my thing, go on the track and try to go fast,” he said. “Yes, there’s this whole crash and the comeback, but there’s still a race to do and it’s still a world Cup, I still want to win. And that’s such a good challenge and a stepping stone in my career where: hey, if I can go over there focused and perform despite all of this, that’s going to be a great experience. It’s going to help me as an athlete but as a person too.”
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press