Championships at the summit

Elite and novice riders alike bolster Queen’s pursuit of mountain bike banner

All four of Queen’s fall mountain bike competitions will feature a cross-country race, where individual riders compete to earn their team points in the overall standings.
All four of Queen’s fall mountain bike competitions will feature a cross-country race, where individual riders compete to earn their team points in the overall standings.

Organizational depth has bred an unlikely dynasty at Queen’s.

Cycling has become the Gaels’ most decorated varsity club in recent seasons, winning three straight Ontario University Cup Mountain Bike Series championships from 2010-12.

The team will open their next title defence this Sunday in Barrie. Captained by a world-class rider and supplemented by a gifted crop of returnees, another banner is within reach.

“I’d say we’re looking for a fourth championship this season. We’re feeling pretty strong,” said third-year rider Cameron McPhaden. “We haven’t added any new superstars, but the people that we had have grown, and now we have some very talented riders.”

Cycling captain Etienne Moreau, once a top-50 mountain biker in the world for his age category, is the most talented rider on the roster. Still, it’s McPhaden that personifies the team’s inexhaustible reserve power — and the pressing need for depth in university cycling.

Two years ago, McPhaden borrowed a mountain bike and joined the Gaels as an inexperienced rookie. He’s eyeing a podium finish in the top men’s division this season.

“My first mountain bike race was with this school, my first road race was with this school, and now I’m trying to get onto a sponsored amateur team somewhere,” he said.

“This school has developed my talent and made me want to succeed in the sport I love.”

In university mountain biking, the collective success of individual riders can spell victory for the team as a whole.

Races are split into A and B categories for men and women; cyclists are slotted into a division based on experience and proficiency. While ‘A’ courses are longer and more rigorous, results from all four races count towards the overall team standings.

With four weekend competitions per season, accumulating points across the board is key. Only podium finishers can actually earn points for their squad, but the riders behind them play an equally large role in shaping the leaderboard.

“The fourth-place finisher doesn’t count towards our points, but it can push down other people that are in the points system,” McPhaden said. “We need to have at least three people in all categories to maximize our point opportunities.”

Overloading each category with an abundance of Queen’s riders helps bolster that opportunity, McPhaden said. They can afford to send so many competitors because of the proximity of mountain bike races, generally held in rural communities north of Toronto.

The 2013 season kicks off in Barrie and sees the team visit Mansfield, Caledon and Port Hope in consecutive weekends.

Mansfield is the only event to feature an individual time trial and an “eliminator” race modeled after Olympic ski cross. Most competitions are decided by a single cross-country race in each category, with a singular goal in mind.

“Everyone guns it right at the beginning to try to get to the single-track sections first, then hold their pace to the very end,” McPhaden said.

Earning successful results throughout the season will determine the possibility for a fourth straight title — but development and desire have forged Queen’s championship pedigree as much as ability and speed.

Winning another banner could very well start with turning another group of riders into racers.

“They’ve ridden the bike, they know how to handle themselves on the track — they’re just looking for that edge to give them the motivation to train harder,” McPhaden said.

“We move people up through the ranks, and hopefully everyone improves by the time they leave.”

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