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Local athlete makes history, wins World Cup event in France

'The highlight of the day for Team Canada was hearing our national anthem in the sport dominated by European countries,' says Nouvelle-Alliance student Ava Holmgren

An Orillia athlete cycled her way into the history books on Sunday.

Ava Holmgren won a World Cup event in Besancon, France at the finale of the Cyclocross World Cup Series. She is the first Canadian to ever top the podium in Europe, giving Team Canada a huge boost heading into the world championships next weekend.

She wasn't the only local athlete to shine. Her twin sister, Isabella Holmgren, also made the podium in France, finishing in third place. It is the third straight podium finish in the last three Wold Cup events for Isabella who is also threatening to become a world title holder.

The course in France was dry and fast, allowing the juniors to practise race tactics at the highest level, said coach Rob Holmgren.

Orillia's Ian Ackert also showed he's a podium contender for the world championships as he rode in the lead group of junior men, pushing the pace, and ended up fifth overall, just two seconds shy of the podium. He was the first North American finisher in a strong field of 55 junior men.

"It was a great day for the team from Orillia," said Holmgren, noting the athletes had to juggle a busy week of travel, training and competition all while managing their Grade 12 exams.

But it was worth it.

"The highlight of the day for Team Canada was hearing our national anthem in the sport dominated by European countries," said Holmgren, who coaches the Stimulus Orbea Cycling Team. 

All three athletes are students at Ecole Secondaire Nouvelle-Alliance in Barrie.

The Holmgren sisters also shared the podium when Isabella finished second and Ava finished third last weekend in Benidorm, Spain at the 13th round of the World Cup.

Their consistent efforts and progression over the season earned Ava second place overall in the World Cup Series, while Isabella finished in third place.

Ackert ended up a respectable 12th after missing some races due to illness. 

The team is gearing up for world championships next weekend with the team relay being held on Friday, Feb. 3, while the junior women race Saturday and junior men compete on Sunday in Hoogerheide, Netherlands where organizers expect crowds of more than 60,000 people in the heart of cyclocross racing.

"It will be an incredible experience," said Holmgren.

The team would like to thank all of it sponsors, especially local Orillia supporters Kawartha Voyageur, The Bike Stop-Orillia and Bell Chiropractic.

"The positive encouragement from our community has helped fuel our dreams," said Holmgren.