Cyclist back on track

Mountain biker uses Queen’s training to aim for fastest season

Chris Fruetel’s blog tracks his return to bike racing.
Chris Fruetel’s blog tracks his return to bike racing.
Credit: 
Supplied by Joe Bailey

Five years ago, a brain injury nearly derailed Chris Fruetel’s academic and athletic goals.

In 2009, Fruetel was a competitive mountain bike racer studying environmental science at the University of Guelph. That September, he was hospitalized following an assault in which he was thrown over a railing, fell more than three metres and landed on his head.

Fruetel remained in critical condition for two weeks. His assailant, then a member of Guelph’s varsity football team, was later sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison.

Initially, doctors were skeptical of his recovery, and Fruetel struggled with assignments after returning to school.

“Following the hospital, I had to lay low at my mom’s place and live quietly for a couple months,” he said.

With support from his family, Fruetel is recovering — he finished his degree at Guelph last spring, began his Master’s in chemical engineering at Queen’s in January, raced with the Queen’s cycling team and has again set his sights on competitive mountain bike racing.

It’s his experience with the cycling team that has given his training a recent boost, and leaves him poised for potentially his most successful summer of competition.

The injury kept Fruetel off his bike for a year and out of competition for an additional six months. His first post-injury race took place in February 2011 in Georgia, as part of an eight-day bike trip.

Fruetel reached out for financial support on Facebook to help finance the trip. Several friends came forward, all insisting he track his progress on a blog.

Fruetel did just that. He’s posted regularly since starting the blog in February 2011, under a banner that reads: “The endeavours of an elite cross country mountain bike racer and brain injury survivor.”

He currently competes outside of Queen’s in the ‘elite’ category for provincial and national mountain bike races — the most competitive of four classes.

His offseason goal was to be ranked in the top 10 at the Ontario Cup elite level by the end of the summer, but thanks to training with Queen’s this past season, he may be faster than anticipated.

At the Scott Ontario Cup event in Uxbridge earlier this month, he placed 21st in a division populated by professionals and out-of-province competitors.

Coming up as a mountain biker, Fruetel had never competed in road events before training with Queen’s. While he’s enjoyed his time road biking, the new style hasn’t usurped his love for mountain riding.

“Road bike is really good training for mountain bike,” he said. “It’s not the same feeling.”

Fruetel said there’s a great moment in mountain bike races when competitors are neck and neck that isn’t matched by anything in road competition.

“When you get a group of four or five guys all ducking and weaving together through the trail, I love that,” he said.

Tactics differ between the two styles as well. Mountain bikers deal with varying terrain and must work harder in some sections than in others. On the road, hills and wind are the only things that can slow a racer down.

Road races are “more pedal, pedal, pedal,” Fruetel said.

Fruetel’s recovery continues, and as he works on his goals of finishing his second degree and cracking the province’s top 10, he has a chance to spark interest in others.

Fruetel said his passion for bike racing is something he wants to share, adding that he enjoys doing clinics with children.

“Take-home message is get out there and have fun,” he said. “If I can motivate anyone to try new things, that’s what I’m all about.”

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