Lief Rodgers is not going to let a little thing like a global pandemic keep him from ascending to his goal of competing on the World Cup mountain biking circuit.
The 16-year-old Heritage Woods secondary student, who’s already won provincial championships as a U13, U15, U17 and junior, got his first taste of international competition last year when he was able to attend the world championships in Mont Sainte Anne, Quebec.
But with a reprise of such a trip, this time to the worlds in Austria, unlikely this year because of the COVID-19 crisis, Rodgers has had to find other ways to stay sharp and increase his speed to the levels he saw displayed in Quebec.
Rodgers and a buddy have been spending much of their downtime schlepping shovels, rakes and even a chainsaw into the woods above his Port Moody home to cut trails that recreate some of the challenges he saw the pros attack in Quebec. Following the contours of the mountain, they carved gnarly descents and tight turns. Using fallen logs, they constructed bridges, ladder and jumps that could launch him into the air and refine his technique without sacrificing speed.
All with the goal of getting better, so Rodgers could follow in the tire tracks of his heroes, like Olympic gold medalist Nino Schurter, who developed his superior bike handling skills in the Swiss Alps.
“It was such a reality check,” Rodgers said of his up-close look at the world’s top pros.
With access only a two-minute ride down the road from Rodgers’ home, it’s easy to maintain his training regime of riding six days a week in addition to working out in his own gym to build his core strength and flexibility.
Rodgers said getting on the bike as much as possible will be key to progressing even without the benefit of a competitive season or training camps with his coaches.
“I always think technique is more important,” he said. “If you learn the technique, you can always develop the strength.”
Rodgers, who gained sponsorship support from Giant Canada this season, was actually getting ready to compete at a UCI cross-country race in Vail Lake, Calif., in March, when the plugged was pulled because of the pandemic. He thought at first the pause might only last a few weeks at most. But as it’s now stretched to months, he’s had only that memory of Mont Sainte Anne to guide him towards his goal.
Rodgers said he was struck by the pros’ focus. From the moment they sat down for breakfast to the time they hit the start gate, their entire attention was targeted toward their race. They knew exactly what to eat, how long to warm up, when to leave to get to the top of the course.
But mostly, Rodgers said, he was impressed by how much the top riders seemed to be enjoying themselves even in the pressure cooker environment of the world championships, an element he looks to emulate during this summer without racing.
“In a way it’s nice to take a break from racing,” he said. “It’s a lot easier if you just love biking.”