Three University of Toronto athletes reached new heights last weekend by winning gold medals in a 24-hour mountain biking race.

Chris McKnight won the men’s solo division, while Chris McKinnon and David Biancolin won the two-man divisions, despite competition from some of the province’s best riders.

The race was pre-season preparation for the Varsity Blues riders, with the first official race of the University Cup scheduled for September 17 in Mansfield, ON.

The 24-hour affair took place at Albion Hills Conservation Area in Bolton, ON. Riders traversed a fifteen kilometers course — the objective being to complete as many laps as possible in twenty-four hours.

“There’s only supposed to be one man [from the two-man team] on the course at any given time,” Biancolin said.

McKinnon and Biancolin did “two lap shifts.” By the end of the race, the pair had completed “twenty-seven laps in roughly 24 hours and 45 minutes,” said Biancolin. It took him “roughly 54–55 minutes” to complete a lap, leaving a two-hour gap between riding sessions.

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While McKinnon was riding, however, there were several tasks for Biancolin to carry out. “You have to cool down after your two laps so that takes some time. I stretch after laps and I have to maintain my bike between laps as well,” Biancolin said. “On top of the eating [to maintain a supply of calories], you don’t get a lot of time to rest. The fatigue really starts creeping up on you as you’re progressing through the night.”

Mountain biking is not a standardized sport with set course-lengths or times. “Even at the highest level of competition, courses vary from year to year [at the same location],” Biancolin said, “[and] course conditions play a huge role.”

“I can’t really compare how well I might do against someone else based on this result,” Biancolin explained, “but I can look back on my training and how I’ve performed previously and say ‘yes, I’ve gotten this much stronger, I’m feeling this much better about the races coming up.’”

David Wright, Varsity Blues mountain biking head coach, was delighted with the results. “To have two gold medals in pre-season is a great indicator of potential as a team this year,” he said. “We always stress high performance, winning the University Cup is always in our sights.”
“Having fun is also an equal priority, [as well as] expanding the team,” Wright said. The team does not “cut” anyone based on physical ability, and its selection policy remains “wide-open,” according to the team’s selection guidelines.

“Your typical Ontario provincial-level race, at the lowest level, will take around an hour and a half,” said Biancolin. “The longest of them are about three hours, [but] not usually more than two and a half.” New recruits, then, will not be expected to go twenty-four hours without real sleep as the winning bikers did.

In the final standings of the 2010 University Cup, the University of Guelph and Queen’s University tied for first place with 1,861 points. The University of Toronto placed third, with a total of 713 points. The racing season runs from early September to mid-October.

The first Varsity Blues mountain bike team meeting is Monday September 13th, from 6–7 p.m. in Room 330 at the Athletic Centre.

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