A large group of exhausted but proud, accomplished bicyclists from three countries finished the three-day Crank the Shield backcountry mountain bike stage race at Kinsmen Park Sunday afternoon.
As reported earlier by SooToday, this marked the first year the traditionally southern Ontario bicycle event was held in northern Ontario, starting out in the Sault Friday, continuing to Stokely Creek Lodge and Searchmont before finishing off at Kinsmen Park Sunday.
The event was one tough ride.
“Our first day was our longest day, a very tough day, and fairly demoralizing for some of the riders. About 30 per cent of them didn’t finish,” said Sean Ruppel, Superfly Racing president and Crank the Shield organizer, speaking to SooToday.
“You do expect 15 to 20 per cent attrition in each day but it was higher than one would expect, so we had to gather a bunch of people and their bikes to extract them at aid stations and take them back by motor vehicles, so I kind of jokingly call it like organizing Dunkirk, getting the troops off the beach.”
All of those ‘evacuated troops,’ thankfully, did not require medical attention, Ruppel said, though one suffered sun stroke.
Unlike some bike races, in which participants rest overnight in tents, accommodations, beer and food were available for Crank the Shield cyclists at the end of each day, at Stokely Creek Lodge and Searchmont Resort.
The event wasn’t on paved highways, but rather, through some quite rugged country, participants cycling 90 kilometres the first day, 52 kilometres the second, and 75 kilometres the third.
“We built some trails for this event, we also used a lot of pre-existing trails. The first day was more logging roads and the local loggers were really good to work with, private landowners were behind it, everybody thinks it’s a great thing for tourism in the area,” Ruppel said.
185 riders registered for the event.
“My loose target was 150 minimum, with 200 I would’ve been ecstatic, so I’m halfway between happy and ecstatic,” Ruppel grinned.
Participants from the Sault and Algoma region, other northern Ontario communities, southern Ontario, the U.S., and nine from Mexico took part.
“100 per cent we’ll be here next year, 99 per cent sure the second year. I have a three year plan of growing the event here,” Ruppel said.
Prize packages for participating bicyclists were available from the Sault’s OutSpoken Brewing.
30 medals were awarded to participating bicyclists, according to category.
Bicycling in the north is not new for Ruppel.
Ruppel is based in Uxbridge, Ontario but said “my family has a camp at Batchawana Bay, so I affectionately call it ‘Crank the Shield headquarters.’ I’ve had family here for over 100 years. I’ve been riding here since the 1980s. My dad bought a thousand dollar mountain bike in 1982, which was unheard of. It was a fledgling sport which happened in the south. There were no bike designated trails back then, so what you did is you went on ATV roads and logging roads.”
“I think the riders are going to go away from here feeling they did something really special,” Ruppel added.
“If you’ve done part of each day, you’ve done well. They’re all winners.”