Mountain bike race season off to rocky start

  • Members of the Chain Gang youth mountain bike team and recreational riders go out for a ride in Greenfield last week. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Members of the Chain Gang youth mountain bike team and recreational riders go out for a ride in Greenfield last week. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Members of the Chain Gang youth mountain bike team and recreational riders go out for a ride in Greenfield last week. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Members of the Chain Gang youth mountain bike team and recreational riders go out for a ride in Greenfield last week. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Members of the Chain Gang youth mountain bike team and recreational riders go out for a ride in Greenfield last week. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Members of the Chain Gang youth mountain bike team and recreational riders go out for a ride in Greenfield last week. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Members of the Chain Gang youth mountain bike team and recreational riders go out for a ride in Greenfield last week. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 8/21/2020 9:52:29 AM
Modified: 8/21/2020 9:52:16 AM

2020 has so far spelled uncertainty for athletic teams of every scale, but the Contoocook Valley Chain Gang, the youth mountain bike racing team of the Monadnock Region, is proceeding with a scaled-down practice season under socially distanced racing protocol after the New England High School Cycling Association postponed spring races and half of the team’s coaches resigned.

The 2020 season was originally intended to be a practice season following the Chain Gang’s league championship win in 2019, new head coach Steve Constine said, but the pandemic dropped a load of complications and uncertainties that threatened them having a season at all.

NEHSCA postponed spring races but didn’t cancel the season outright, prompting coaches and teammates alike to wait in limbo throughout the summer, he said, before finally delivering a list of fall races and socially distanced race protocol in mid-July.

Former head coaches Judy and Shannon Surdam announced their resignation to the team in early July, along with two other adult coaches, leaving just four of the team’s original eight adults. Some of those who resigned said they couldn’t condone the risk the competitions posed for infecting racers, parents, or family members with COVID-19 in their resignations on the team’s Facebook page. The league requires two coaches per each group of riders, Constine said, which meant the team could only support a maximum 16 of the 33 middle and high school students ready to go in the spring.

The Chain Gang is one of just two New Hampshire teams participating in the league this year after the Hillsborough team dropped out, Constine said. It was important to him to facilitate a racing season for the more invested racers on the team, including team captains Wylie Kendall and Kendall Larson. 

“They put a lot into this before the season, getting themselves ready,” he said, training mostly alone through the spring and summer as they all waited on further news from the league. “For a lot of kids it was a punch in the gut, more or less.”

The halving of coaching staff means that remaining coaches are in the difficult position of deciding which kids can still be part of the team this year. Preference is being given to teammates with strong interest in racing, and some kids already started to drop off while group practices were suspended in the spring, or because their parents didn’t like the league’s new format. “I feel terrible, I wish we could support all of them,” Constine said. He’s made weekly practices non-mandatory, but expects to meet more frequently as the season ramps up.

This year’s races are spread throughout Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire, and are being run as time trials, Constine said, which means that instead of every racer in an age group starting off at once, racers will be individually timed and only ten in a category will be on the course at once, taking off in one-minute intervals. “It changes riding style, your own strategy,” he said. Teams, coaches, and spectators are expected to stick around the team’s tent and refrain from cheering on racers throughout the course. A “fun race” on Aug. 1 initiated teams to the format, and competitions are scheduled to run through October, with one being held in Greenfield on the third weekend of September. Some have complained about the league’s delays in decisions and their adapted protocol, he said. “It’s hard to criticize because we’ve never been in this situation before.”

Constine and co-coach Kristin Larson said they’ve committed to running the team this year, but next season is up in the air at this point.

“We’re not sure if we’ll be able to offer a team next year,” Constine said.




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