Canadian twins Isabella and Ava Holmgren made history at the UCI Cyclocross World Championships in Hoogerheide, winning the first medals for Canada in the discipline at the highest level. And not just any medals, but Isabella took the gold and rainbow jersey for junior women with Ava following with the silver.

The 17-year-olds were the favourites in the junior event. Ava won this year’s Junior Pan-American title and Elite Canadian national championship, and carried momentum with a junior race victory at World Cup Zonhoven. Isabella won the Junior national championship and won the women’s junior race at the X2O Trofee round on January 1 at GP Sven Nys. She was also the bronze medalist at Pan-Ams.

The tandem finished seventh and eighth in their first Junior Worlds last year in Fayetteville, Ava 17 seconds faster than her sister, but over a minute behind 2022 champion Zoe Backstedt. This time around, it was Isabella with the time advantage, 20 seconds over her sister and another 27 seconds over Célia Gery of France in third.

“I don’t think I’ve processed it yet,” Isabella said after the race to Canadian Cyclist. “I’m just really excited, and with Ava being second, that makes it even better. I’m happy that we are going to be able to hear the national anthem, and I hope it sets a good start for the rest of the categories this weekend.”

The Orillia, Ontario-based duo are part of the 14-rider Cycling Canada squad competing in Junior, U23 and Elite races this weekend, father Rob Holmgren coaching the national team.

“We’ve spent a lot of time across the pond this fall, battling it out in Europe. Every time they toe to the line, they learn and they gain experience. That experience is going to set them up for success in Hoogerheide, but also during their road season, their mountain bike season, their track season,” the senior Holmgren said before races started Friday with the Team Relay.

The Holmgrens spent more time racing in Europe this year, and it paid off. It was just three months ago that the dynamic duo looked for success in their first heavy season of World Cup racing. They started with top 20s in the first two World Cups, which had them in the elite fields in the US. In Waterloo, Wisconsin, they were the youngest competitors in the elite fields.

In junior events at World Cup Tabor after the US block, both sisters finished in the top 10. Then Ava scored her first World Cup podium a week later in Maasmechelen, Belgium. She had two podiums in her last junior World Cup races, the last one in Besançon a victory. It was Isabella who was also on the podium in her last three junior World Cup races, getting the better of Ava in Zonhoven for third.

There was a good deal of mud on the course Saturday in Hoogerheide for the junior women, which may have played a positive role in Isabella’s strong ride.

“I prefer the muddy conditions, but that’s why I like Europe so much because it’s like there’s rarely a dry race,” she had told Cyclingnews.

The sisters are not identical, in appearance or in riding styles. Isabella has the height advantage by several inches and Ava has the deeper voice. However, they both developed technical skills in mountain biking.

“I would say in certain races, we’ll work together. But before the race, we always set a certain amount of laps that we’re racing against each other because we don’t let each other win a race. We don’t decide who wins [in advance],” Isabella confirmed about the sister dynamic in a conversation with Cyclingnews at Trek CX Cup. “We see who wins by battling it out, especially in the last few laps of the race.”

Now Isabella is a world champion, and Ava is close behind. It’s a familiar look that will now carry on to under-23 and more elite racing.

“For sure it was a perfect day,” Ava told Canadian Cyclist at the finish. “I came here to get Canada’s first-ever medal and what happened was something even better … my sister won! I just celebrated for her and our country and our family across the whole finish straight. Today was awesome!”

2023 UCI ‘Cross Junior Women’s World Championship
1) Isabella Holmgren (Canada) 42:13
2) Ava Holmgren (Canada) +0:20
3) Celia Gery (France) +0:47

Source: Canadian Cyclist y Cyclingnews