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T. Michael Hennessy, Law Office
Caruso Club
Sunday, Sep. 24, 2017
Local cyclist set to Race Across the Sky
2017-07-04
by Randy Pascal

It’s a long, long way from the tiny skate parks of Sturgeon Falls to the heights of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. Yet that is exactly the voyage that Paul Guenette will have undertaken, later this summer, when he competes at the Leadville 100.

Not at all the vision that the now 26 year old veteran of the Walden Mountain Bike Club could have predicted in his early childhood years. “I grew up playing hockey,” he said. “Biking was during the summer, doing dirt jumps at the skate park, doing normal teenager stuff.”

In fact, it was only his move into Sudbury to pursue Civil and Mining Engineering studies at Collège Boréal just under a decade ago that unveiled to the eldest of two boys in the family a world that he could never have imagined.

“When I came to Sudbury for school, I went out exploring by myself, doing some trails, doing some road stuff with my heavy forty pound dirt jumping bike,” Guenette recollected. “In 2008, I entered the Sudbury Fitness Challenge in Naughton, my first ever race.”

“I entered the shorter distance, which was only 26 kilometres back then, because I had no idea what I was getting into, and I won it by five minutes. That’s when I got approached about racing. I had no idea this even existed, the racing aspect.”

It did not take Guenette long at all to fully immerse himself into his new passion, joining the Wolfpak Racing Team by the spring of 2009. “I started doing the O-Cup series, and I haven’t stopped doing it since.”

Looking back, the local cyclist maintains that the foundation to his current success was very much set in his formative years, mastering the maneuverability of his primary piece of equipment long before he even understood the technical demands of mountain bike courses in northern Ontario.

“The bikes are completely different, but the abilities and the skills transfer right across,” said Guenette. “Your bike handling skills, how you take jumps – compared to people down south who just race their whole life, they don’t have those technical skills. The trail systems in southern Ontario are completely different than in Sudbury, just the landscape alone.”

And while a skate park might not seem like much of a substitute for the rugged nature-wrapped trails that can be enjoyed throughout the City of Greater Sudbury, it was a training ground that far exceeded the double track courses more common through central Ontario, certainly from a technical standpoint.

Working his way through the ranks – the Ontario Cup circuit features racing at the Sport, Expert and Elite levels – Guenette would eventually strike a healthy balance between speed and technique, both critical components of the success he would enjoy.

“I want to say it’s almost 50/50, to be honest. If you don’t have the skills, you’re not going to go fast. Most of the courses around here are all technical.” Clearly, it was time for the next phase of the challenge, as Guenette graduated to endurance racing or “ultra” events, starting with segments of eight hours at a time and progressing to the point of attacking a 24 hour relay on a solo basis.

“It seemed like more bang for your buck, and the first race I did, I got third place,” said Guenette. “It was fun, which gives you the motivation to keep going. If you’re having fun, you’re not going to stop, you’ll keep pushing yourself all the time. It’s the challenge of pushing your body to that limit.”

His mileage ever increasing, Guenette would mold a training regimen that would work for him. “I do a lot of road riding on my mountain bike,” he said. “The bike is heavier, so you get a lot more training in. But I train as much on my road bike as my mountain bike.” Despite his exposure to both forms of elite cycling, he was not about to deviate from his first love. “Road racing is a completely different animal, it’s crazy.”

The notion of one day tackling the “Leadville 100” was born from a motivational video that was almost required viewing for members of the Wolfpak in recent years. “We first heard about the “Race Across the Sky” a few years back,” said Guenette.

“There was a video made about Lance Armstrong attempting this race. The video was so interesting, so powerful, that it really appealed to us. We used to watch this video the night before the races to get excited, to get pumped up about the races.”

It made for an all-too-easy decision when Guenette was approached last year about attending a 100km race in Wilmington/Whiteface Vermont, the qualifying race that he needed to conquer to make his dream come true. “This is a bucket list item,” he said with a smile. “They cap off at 2000 or 2500 participants, so it’s a big deal to qualify for this race.”

But qualify he would. What lies ahead, however, is even more daunting. Starting at an elevation of 10,152 feet and climbing to 12,424, cyclists will traverse the high altitude extreme terrain of the Colorado Rockies on August 12th. Guenette needed to add a little creativity to his training schedule.

“In April, I went to Albuquerque (New Mexico), I have a friend there,” he explained. “I tried to hit all of the high elevation spots, and I had no issues at 10,000 (feet), so I’m hoping I might be good.” Guenette will be joined by fellow Wolfpak teammate Charlie Reid on this venture, an absolute pre-requisite when racing times will range somewhere between nine and twelve hours.

“In these kinds of races, the support at the race is really, really important,” stated Guenette. “Charlie will meet me at the check points, take care of supplying water, food, providing technical help to fix the bike, stuff like that.”

Looking to learn from the experience, Guenette will be able to share his knowledge come 2018. Joined by Marc Rioux and North Bay native Ian Sagle this past spring in Wilmington, the local contingent at Leadville will run three strong next summer, the next step in the voyage that owes its origin to the skate parks of Sturgeon Falls.

Palladino Honda
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