Carys Reid and Paul Boken rip through some immaculately groomed singletrack. Pursuing.
Week 4 - May 23
The life of an athlete is all about the pursuit of excellence. While calling this a "pursuit" implies that one eventually reaches a destination, the intriguing thing about athletics is that the endpoint never arrives.
It is an intangible, shifting target that seems to move every time you get close to having it within your grasp. Whether 2018 marks your first time on the race course or the challenge of a new category and new competitors, the journey is in constant self-improvement.
The hunt begins when you first begin riding and you find yourself at the back of the pack struggling to make every climb, clipping your bars on every tree, and desperately trying to keep your riding mates in sight.
Then the lifestyle changes start coming: Quit smoking, reduce the visits to your local fast food establishment, skip that extra drink so that you can get up early to get another ride in.
All of these little, cumulative changes come together with your increased activity levels to help some extra pounds melt away. Suddenly, those riders that dropped you every climb are within grasp and you can begin to taste the seductive sweetness of speed.
Another couple of weeks at Coulson's Hill and you start clawing your way up the ranks. It's the same journey for every rider whether you are a Novice or an Expert. There are spurts of extraordinary progress when everything seems to be heading in the right direction. There are frustrating plateaus where it seems no amount of sacrifice and suffering make any difference. But the bottom line is this: We must pursue excellence.
We must look to break through our physical and mental barriers in an ongoing effort to be the best we can. Sometimes the journey is replete with joy and success while at other times we are beset with failure. But the journey itself is what matters - it is where the learning happens. As told in the cyclists' mantra: It never stops hurting, you just go faster.
Young riders like Ella Sugar represent the future. The fastest amongst us can be the role models that inspire future Olympians.
Aspire to be great
This week we have undertaken to formalize our upgrade/downgrade policy for rider categories. A copy of the resulting document can be found here. The Coles notes (do those still exist?) version is this: We want you to be inspired by our Expert-level racers. These athletes represent where you can all go with enough saddle time, commitment to healthy lifestyle choices, and lots of hard work.
To ride expert, you have to be within 10% of the average speed of the race winner. Fail to make that grade three times and it's back to sport you go. We hope to incentivize borderline riders to work harder than ever to hold their positions and provide a benchmark for up-and-comers to shoot for.
Similarly, riders from entry-level categories are encouraged to quickly stretch themselves past their comfort zones and push onwards and upwards. Tougher competition, longer races, and more saddle time are the best ways to raise the bar and stay motivated.
Liam Armstrong joined us for his first race this week and had a solid outing. Just wait to see the progress he'll make after a few weeks on the trails.
There are a few important and exciting things to note for next weeks event:
First off, Red Thread Brewing Co. is joining us in hosting a BBQ and tasting session after the ride so be sure to bring some warmer clothes to lounge in. There is no need to tell you to come hungry because after racing, there is no way you won't want to wolf down a burger or hotdog and wash is down with some delicious local craft beer.
Secondly, we will be debuting a new course next week so forget everything you have learned about the current course and be prepared for an entirely new adventure.
Careful attention will be paid to ensure an abundance of passing opportunities and the conditions now allow us to explore some of the more northern reaches of the forest. Expect a faster, flowier course designed for the speed demons among us.
It's going to be an amazing evening of bikes, burgers, beer, and amazing people. Life is good!
We are also in need of a couple of volunteers to put in about 90-minutes of work on Monday evening to help David Van Schie install a new bridge in place of a rotten and dangerous one. If you can lend a hand, please let me know by email ASAP. Ideally, a chainsaw owner would be very helpful.
See you all next week and, as always, spread the word and invite your friends!
The Rocky Mountain demo drew people from all over to test ride some of the most entertaining platforms available to cyclists today.
Week 3 - May 16
While the sun beamed it's replenishing rays upon the drying soil, the new course was treated to more love and affection than my lawn has seen in years. Weeds were whacked, trails were blown with 260km/h gusts, and signed checked and double-checked. We were ready.
As were the good folks from Rocky Mountain bikes who came prepared with a host of amazing platforms to test in ideal conditions.The new Thunderbolt was a particularly popular bike as it seamlessly blends a playful trail bike with an occasional race weapon. It's a crazy fun ride. (For me, its all Element all the time. Read about my experience here.
For the first time this season, my perspective of the race was not from that of a rider but from the timing tent. Observing the race unfold before me like a complex piece of origami complete with unexpected creases and surprising pieces popping up from nowhere reminded me of just how variable and unpredictable racing can be. It was super fun and I'd encourage participants to bring family and friends out to the event so that they might soak up the experience and the ambiance of this remarkable weekly event.
This week, the headline show was between young Brandon Wright and the...uhhh...less young Paul Cooney. What Paul gives up in chronology, he more than makes up for in discipline, training and experience - pretty much the holy trinity of cycling excellence. When Paul arrives at the line, it's enough to make everyone snap to attention but something exciting is bound to go down. As the Experts were running four laps of our new course, the was lots of time for the drama to reveal itself.
Perhaps predictably, Brandon shot of of the front of the race and set the pace for Paul to try and contain. Contain he did and Paul rode comfortably on Brandon's wheel for the first two laps. Somewhere in the midst of the third lap, Paul attacked and passed Brandon and Brandon described the subsequent lap following Paul as one where "Paul attacked and attacked and I just held on. The downhills allowed for time to regroup so he couldn't create a gap."
When this duo passed through the timing area heading out for their final lap with Paul in the lead, spectators (including myself) were surprised at the early move. Worrisome for Paul's fans, Brandon looked rather composed on his wheel and looked to be riding well within himself. Almost immediately, bets started flying about the outcome.
As the two rounded the last corner only 150m from the finish line, all eyes were fixed on the epic spring about to happen. Brandon had the inside line and charged hard from over Paul's left shoulder. The two hammered for everything they were worth - blasting to the finish line at over 40km/h despite the punishing pace they had already sustained for four gruelling laps. It was all about this moment; this pedal stroke; this gear shift. Now or never was upon them both.
The furious mashing of gears and pedals saw Brandon pull even with and then ever so slowly pull past the monstrous powerhouse that is Coach Cooney in full flight. Brandon took the win by inches in a heavyweight battle as sure to be remembered by the riders themselves as the awestruck spectators. What a show!
While on the topic race tactics and knowing when to show your hand, Evan Knights demonstrated exceptional tactics this week too with a last lap, last corner attack on Tyler Spina. Tyler looked like he had the Junior Sport victory all neatly sewn up as a string of riders rounded the last corner coming into the finishing sprint. Tyler's positioning was perfect - he was spinning efficiently and energetically and looked happy to see the finish line. Then, in but an instant, Evan emerged from the throng of riders and laid down the best sprint of his life.
With the totality of the effort etched on his face, Evan put every ounce of his being into the pedals and powered past Tyler with mere inches to spare and earned himself an awesome category win.
These efforts - these displays of perseverance, courage, suffering, and pure, unadulterated effort - are some of the most impressive things on earth to behold. Everything that is going on in your busy life is cast aside. All of your worries, all of your stress, all your fears, all of your self-doubt...it all vanishes into the intoxicating rush of living wholly, completely in the moment. Never in life are you at a point more pure and more divine than when you completely lose all self-awareness and just...exist. Exist in the moment with but one single, solitary focus.
It's an incredible place to be and I hope our weekly series can bring you all just a little bit closer to these moments of pure flow when the world melts away around you. This is why we do what we do!
Not only are our resident rockstars out there keeping it real every week, but we are continuing to draw an unprecedented number of new riders. We haven't seen such an influx of new blood into the sport for many years and we are absolutely thrilled to be bringing this event to more new riders than ever before. For example, young James Ley just completed his first Mini-Me race (after two previous valiant efforts). The smile on his face as people cheered him past the finish line was worth 1000 hours of trail maintenance.
In a similar vein, Bella Deangelis joined us this week for the first race of her life. This pint-sized powerhouse showed grit and determination beyond her years as she plowed through three tough Mini-Me laps. For a moment, I thought she might throw in the the towel as she passed the timing tent on her way out for lap #3 but, to yet more more cheers from the crowd, Bella trucked right on by and kept herself flowing through another lap. What a remarkable achievement for this young trooper!
Thank you all for joining us and we hope to see you all out again next week for another fantastic voyage of thrills, spills, and personal discovery.
Week 2 - May 9
Unlike the early season, where our challenges revolved around the refusal of snow to remain sequested at the North Pole, this week we faced - and conquered - a windstorm of epic proportions that uprooted healthy trees and knocked down weaker ones. The trail network was littered with debris and many trails were completely impassible.
Before we can even begin to talk about the incredible racing action, we must offer thanks to the volunteers who have toiled relentlessly in the forest to restore it to it's former glory.
Our forest is maintained entirely by volunteers and does not consume a penny of tax dollars or grant money. A huge shoutout to Nelson Papel, the Knights family, the Patenaude family, and the Wright family for their tireless contributions week in and week out - we couldn't do it without you!
Now on to the racing:
Another week of sunshine and blue skies helped the remaining sections of soggy trail turn tacky and firm - conditions are already better than through most of our soggy 2017 season.
Not only did our theme of fantastic weather continue, but so did the barrage of new faces entering the sport for their first time and riders rejoining our cast of characters after a long winter break. This created some shake-ups in a few categories and the racing will only get tighter from here on out.
The charge on this night was led by Steve Prosser who set the Expert pace for the first couple of laps. Once the dust settled after a few tumultuous corners as the lead pack sorted itself out and the ambitious were able to make the passes they needed, on the train from Steve's tail sat Dave Knights, Chris Staniewski, and Myles Cullen. While Steve's pace was brisk, he burnt through a few too many matches in his efforts to start his afterburners and, on the third lap, he slowed up enough for Dave and Myles to slip past and increase the tempo even further at the front of the pack.
Steve Prosser leading out the Experts. Dave Knights, Chris Staniewski, and Myles Cullen hot in pursuit!
Once he had surrendered the lead, Steve was unable to counter the blistering pace being laid down by Dave and lost a bit of time on ech remaining lap. Myles, sitting in second place overall at that point, was similarly close to Dave and successfully prevented Steve from being able to recapture his position but got dropped on lap four when Dave laid down the hammer on the final climb and ensured that he had enough gap to guard from a counter attack. Dave proceeded to win the overall and secure his spot atop the leaderboard in Master Expert for the second week.
The surprise performance of the week goes to Ben Dobson. Ben has been riding for years and started racing with us last year. He has delivered a number of compelling performances and has nibbled at the apple of greatness but never enjoyed a full mouthful.
On this day, Ben left his Newmarket job aboard his amazing Norco Revolver dual suspension and rode his bike to Coulson Hill. At that time, he was eager to take advantage of our Cannondale demo day and set himself up on a Scalpel Si courtesy of our awesome Cannondale rep, Neil Gold.
Admittedly, expectations for Ben's performance were blunted by the knowledge that he had already put in a reasonably long ride and must have been fatigued before the race even got underway.
Once the results we tallied, however, we were thrilled to announce that Ben had just laid claim to his first career win at Coulson. This is a remarkable achievement on the best of days and a true stunner given the circumstances. Congratulations, Ben!
Ben wasn't the only one setting the world on fire, though: We had another career landmark to celebrate this week as Kaiden Sampson made his mark on the Mini-Me map with his first win. We always knew if was only a matter of time until Kaiden managed to score his first "W" - his talent, drive, and positive spirit are well-known to the regulars at Coulson. Just cruise through our many photo albums. Kaiden will always be found with a big smile on his lips and a cheeky sparkle in his eyes.
After a close contest last week, Kaiden went out hard in hopes of removing Ryder Cullen from atop the podium. Ryder had a different race strategy this week in, instead of following Kaiden, wanted to set the pace from the outset and drive Kaiden into the hurt locker.
However, Ryder may have pushed that early pace a little too hard as, on the first lap, he hooked his handlebars on a tree after an overly aggressive corner entry and then was flung into a second tree. After a few tears were shed, Ryder regained his focus and set off the chase Kaiden back down.
But Kaiden, with the taste of victory on his tongue, was not about to let opportunity pass him by. Kaiden ripped another two solid laps and managed to keep Ryder at bay for the entirety of the race and scored himself a solid, if narrow, victory.
It looks like we will all be treated to another season of these wiley vets chasing each other into the twilight. This is sport at it's most pure and most beautiful - may it inspire another generation of riders as these two young men grown up in the embrace of comeraderie, competition, and the love of the outdoors.
One last story before we wrap this up. In 2017, the Master Expert category was one of our most hotly contested. On any given Wednesday, Trevor Peyton, Mark McArthur, and Dustin Sampson could be counted on for a dramatic battle and super tight lap times.
Last week, Dustin ran the course uncontested and commanded a strong margin of victory. This week, however, saw the field return to its prior depths and Dustin knew he was facing a particularly challenging field.
Add Chad Madaleno to the mix - hot off of a solid performance at last weekend's inaugural Ontario Cup MTB race - and the stage was set for an awesome battle. On the first lap, Mark set the pace with Trevor hot on his heels and then a short gap to the duelling Dustin and Chad.
From this point, like most mountain bike races, it was a war of attrition. The rider who could lose the least pace every lap would be the one to emerge victorious. This ability to pace yourself and know when the time is right to bury yourself in a big effort lies at the heart of effective MTB racing.
On this night, Dustin's armour was the first to show chinks and Chad was there to snatch third position heading into the third lap. Chad would go on to retain this position and put 20-seconds on Mr Sampson.
Trevor rode a masterful race and sat behind Mark for two tight laps and then lit the wick to launch his attack on their last lap. Both riders managed to pull negative splits on their final lap (when a subesquent lap is faster than the one that came before it). This is the holy grail of racing: An ultrafast last lap has the power to bury your competitors and dissuade them from even trying to attack.
While Trevor's margin of victory was a scant 5-seconds, he showed an understanding of racecraft that will strike fear into his competitors the next time this fearsome foursome lines up at the starting gate. Well played, sir.
Rocky Mountain Demo Day Next Wednesday, May 16
In keeping with the demo theme of the past few weeks, we are thrilled to let you know that Rocky Mountain will join us at Coulson Hill next week with a samplig from their product catalog - including another e-bike in the Altitude Powerplay. Rocky Mountain has been synonymous with mountain biking since it all began and their resurgence over the past few years marks a renaissance for this iconic Canadian brand. A brand whose engineering excellence has garnered a cult-like following around the world. Their tag lines sums it up: Ride the Difference.
Week 1 - May 2
After weeks of wet, cold, and soggy weather - when all we wanted was to feel some sunshine absorbing into black lycra - our race season finally got underway this Wednesday bathed in glorious sunshine and very warm weather.
The first race of the year always feels like something of a homecoming - familiar faces bombard the registration tent and the chatter of participants circles around winter training, events to come, and how much people have (or haven't) been riding to date.
There is a palpable excitement in the air as nerves take hold and everyone seems just a little extra anxious to test their legs in what, for many, is the first demanding ride of the year.
This week we were thrilled to see so many new faces joining the fold - ready and eager to have some fun, rip some awesome singletrack, and improve on their skills and fitness. As usual at Coulson, most of our newcomers were families - parent-child pairs that were there to support each other, guide one another, and work through the frayed nerves brought on by competing in what, for many, was the first race of their lives.
Lives that were about to be changed forever. The challenge - and intrinsic beauty of cycling - is that when you begin, the work seems incredibly intense and the fun might not seem immediately obvious. Early season fitness can put a strain on even a seasoned rider's joy-factor. But fear not, new riders! The more you ride and the more often you join us, the more quickly the work magically transforms itself into pure bliss. With some more rides under your proverbial belts, the fitness will come by itself, your confidence in your bike handling will increase, and the hills will seem much less daunting. Somewhere along the way, you may even come to relish the work and suffering - it is then that you have truly joined the pantheon of impassioned cyclists.
As most of you likely know, we postponed the start of our season due to the unseasonal weather we experienced a couple of weeks back. It may have been disappointing to lose a week, but what a difference some sunshine and warm weather made to the trail conditions.
With the exception of two mucky areas, the course was mid-summer dry and we took great pains to create a course that stuck to high ground and utilized the driest sections of the forest. The bikes stayed clean, the riders remained (mostly) upright, and the racing was as exciting as ever.
Our 3.3km course wove through lots of tight, twisty singletrack and riders only had to navigate a single climb. In our early season courses, the emphasis is on handling and learning to race in a group. As the season rolls onward, the cardio demands will increase in step with our fitness levels. This progressive approach keeps it fun and allows us to keep slowly raising the bar - and help you move up along with it.
Spectators were treated to an explosive start in the Expert field. As soon as the field laid down their first few crank strokes, there was a loug "bang!" as Chris Staniewski - who finished the 2017 season in 2nd place overall - blew his chain apart. While the field barrelled out of sight down the fire road, Chris made a speedy repair and was soon in hot pursuit.
Unfortunately, this mishap took him out of contention this week but created great opportunity for his competitors. Brandon Wright demonstrated his usual speed and stood poised to lay a beating on the field but missed the "Expert Only" loop at the end of each lap and was, unfortunately DQ'd as a result.
The left the door open for Steve Prosser to take his first step towards his run for the overall podium in the Expert category. Steve delivered consistent laps and has stated his intentions to track down Brandon and reclaim his crown as Coulson champion.
Paul Boken continues to impress with the progress he has made over the past couple of years. He nailed a 2nd place finish this week and will be looking to continue collecting points with every effort.
A big shout out to Aaron Wright who made his Expert debut this week after taking the 2017 Junior Sport championship. Development is all about moving past your comfort zone - Aaron's lives this commitment.
One of the best battles we are likely to see evolve over the season is the competition between Tessa Brinklow and Lindsay-anne Townsend. These two powerhouse women fought for every podium spot throughout the 2017 season and, if this race is anything to go by, look to be as evenly matched as ever.
On this night, Tessa proved to be the faster rider but powered past the line with only 11-seconds in hand on her key competitor. Early season legs being what they are, this is by no means indicative of where we wind up later in the year and Lindsay-anne is undoubtedly hungry to capture some #1 finishes while Tessa will fight to retain her points lead.
Also of note, Dustin Sampson started the season on a high note by nailing down a convincing victory of his Master Sport field. Newcomer Chris Lynch rode a tremendous race to capture second place in this group and demonstrated exceptional consistency with his lap times - typically something we only see with wily veteran racers.
If he nibbles away some time here and there, his knack for pacing may prove troublesome for Dustin over the long haul.
Mike DeAngelis (left), Eli Weening (middle), and Seamus Cullen (right) fought from start to finish to claim their podium finishes.
Our Novice category - which is an "open" category open to men and women of all ages - is always a source of inspiring stories and exciting races. This week, this category was chock-full of new riders and new faces. As amazing as these new riders did, however, they were unable to dethrone the existing powerhouse Eli Weening. Eli is an exceptional young rider who made the jump from Mini-Me to Novice last year and battled all year long to secure himself a third place in the Championships. Another year on and Eli is riding like the contender he truly is. On this night, Eli held a one minute advantage over his closest competitor. That is a solid lead but not enough to become complacent about. Mike DeAngelis nailed a second place but had better keep an eye over his shoulder as Seamus Cullen, making his Novice debut in 2018, was hot on his heels and is hungry to better his third place finish. That's an extraordinary result for such a young rider but Seamus is a competitor and has but one target in his sights: Eli and the top of the podium.
Now if we want to talk about the future of the sport, look no further than our ambitious Mini-Me riders. Over the past few years, this has traditionally been one of our busiest categories and the racing is always intense - and the photos ridiculously cute.
The two riders pictured - Kaiden Sampson and Ryder Cullen - have challenged and pushed one another for three years now at Coulson Hill. Riders join us as early as 3 years old as the Mini-Me courses are designed specifically for smaller, newer riders that can't cope with the same physical challenges as their older counterparts.
But that doesn't make the racing any less intense! Last year, Kaiden took 2nd place overall in Mini-Me and Ryder landed just short of the podium. Keen to ensure this doesn't happen again, Ryder played his cards like a master tactician this week.
Sitting on Kaiden's wheel for the first two laps allowed Ryder to conserve energy and be ready to capitalize on any opportunity that presented itself. When Kaiden inadvertently made a wrong turn, Ryder seized the opportunity and dropped the hammer with authority.
With a huge negative split - and his fastest lap of the night - Ryder attacked lap 3 with a vengeance and secured himself his first ever victory. What a race!
Cannondale Demo Day Next Wednesday, May 9
Next week be sure to arrive a little early for an opportunity to sample some bikes from Cannondale. They will have both mountain and road bikes on hand and we encourage you all to take this opportunity to ride some of the most immaculately engineered products on the market. Read the reviews, check out what the magazines say...research all you'd like. At the end of the day, the proof is in the riding and this is exactly why we work to ensure everyone has the opportunity to ride product from our amazing brands.