Happy trails

Happy trails

Cumberland’s Andrew Farley tries to navigate his bike between two rocks during Sunday’s NEHSCA event at Schofield Farm. Farley ended up placing 30th in the 8th-grade race. Farley is a member of the Cumberland-based NRI Renegades mountain bike team.
NRI Renegades youth mountain bike team hosts first NEHSCA competition at Schofield Farm

CUMBERLAND – After spending its first two seasons and two races of the spring traveling up and down eastern New England to compete in races, the Northern Rhode Island Renegades youth mountain bike racing team finally got to enjoy a home race in its own backyard.

Schofield Farm on Nate Whipple Highway was the venue for the third NEHSCA (New England High School Cycling Association) event of the season, which took place on Sunday and saw 360 riders compete in seven races, ranging from one 3.6-mile lap to four that totaled 14.4 miles, and four times as many spectators.

“It was the perfect venue,” said Renegades head coach Jay Brochu. “We parked in the fields, and you could see people for a half mile all the way around the field. It was just a nice place to go.”

The Cumberland-based Renegades, a team of middle and high school students that is in its third season in the NEHSCA, welcomed 45 riders to this spring’s squad, a small spike from last year’s turnout that was in the mid-30s, reported Brochu, who had started the program in 2016 with just 14 riders.

Several riders felt right at home on the new course, which features some of the trails on the cross country course used by the state champion North Cumberland Middle School teams. It had been used by the Renegades for a preseason race, but in the view of Brochu and assistant coach Chris Nichols, the course was ready to open its trails to the entire NEHSCA.

“Chris and I actually sat down with (Parks & Recreation Director) Mike Crawley and Mayor (Bill) Murray and pitched the idea of the possibility of holding a race,” said Brochu. “The league itself has 500-plus kids in it this year, and (Murray) said, ‘Anything you want to do for the kids sounds great.’

“We worked with the folks at North Cumberland (Middle School) and made sure that there were no conflicts,” continued Brochu. “We’ve been helping maintain the trails, and the cross country teams do a phenomenal job maintaining them. We built a couple of temporary bridges that were put over certain areas, and we put bridges that were a little more permanent so that the people in the neighborhood could use them. It’s just been a really nice thing.”

Brochu and Nichols wanted to host a race that would be challenging and fun, as well as spectator friendly, and “Schofield Farm's sight lines made for the perfect venue for a NEHSCA race,” said Brochu. “The riders exited the NCMS trails, rounded the entire field, and re-entered the trails for subsequent laps of the course.”

Sunday’s action began at 8:30 a.m. with a one-loop race for the 5th and 6th graders, and that race saw the largest number of riders entered with 88. Malcolm Savage led the Renegades through the course by finishing 43rd, and he was followed closely by Michael Pepler in 46th place.

Cumberland’s Addy Nichols, who was competing in her third race of the NEHSCA season, took 13th place in the girls’ division, and according to Brochu, “she's continued to improve her placing each week.”

A half hour later was the two-loop 7th-grade race, and the Renegades were well represented with Cole McCue, Michael Chandler, and newcomer Orin Savage. McCue and Savage, who run for the NCMS cross country team, showed that they weren’t strangers to the trails, as McCue placed third and Savage was two minutes behind him in sixth place. Chandler also cracked the top 10 by taking 10th place.

“Dominic, Cole, and Orin have been in the top 10 in all of their races,” added Brochu, “and Cole hasn’t been off the podium at all this year, which has been nice. Cole started riding last year, and he just has an engine.”

In the 8th-grade race, which was also two loops, Daniel Avelar led the way by placing ninth, just 2:05 behind the leaders. Avelar was followed closely by Colin Monahan and Dominic Chaput in 12th and 13th place respectively. Alex DeStefano, two weeks after racing with a cracked frame, finished 18th, and Jason Samek was two places behind him. Nicholas Mott (28th place) and Andrew Farley (30th) also finished in the top 30.

The four high school races began at 11 a.m., with the two-loop 9th-grade race kicking things off. The Renegades saw Liam Nichols win that race, as he shot out of the starting line to take a lead he would never relinquish, finishing almost three minutes in front of the second place rider. It was his second victory of the year, with his other race resulting in a third-place finish.

Jack Gorman also had a strong race for the Renegades, placing 28th, while Trent Natyiniak and Matt Cavallaro stayed close to one another throughout the race and finished 40th and 43rd respectively.

Three NRI riders placed in the top 30 in the two-loop 10th-grade races. Jake Gomes and David Canavan traded places throughout the race with Gomes placing 18th, Canavan ending up in 19th place, and only one second separating the racers. Vaudrain rode strong all race long and went on to finish 28th on the day.

The final two races of the day saw the varsity and the junior varsity riders starting their races five minutes apart. Logan Delisle, a junior at Shea High, stepped up to the varsity ranks after winning the NEHSCA’s junior varsity championship last year. Ben Poirier returned to the J.V. ranks after taking fifth place in it in 2017, while Justin Baker and Alison Brochu, who finished second in the season series in 2017, decided to make the jump to J.V. from the 9th-grade division last year.

“Being in the last races of the day served as a blessing for some riders and a curse for others,” reported Brochu. “New riding ‘lines’ were being formed in the woods by riders looking for any edge over their competitors.”

After three laps in the four-lap varsity race, Delisle was solidly in third place, seemingly growing stronger with each lap, and he ended up finishing there. The three-lap junior varsity race also saw Poirier move from third to second place on the final lap and end up taking runner-up honors, 30 seconds ahead of the third-place rider, while Baker finished sixth, just a minute off the podium.

“Logan finally got onto the podium this past weekend, but he’s been in the top 10 in all of his races, as have Justin and Ben,” said Brochu.

As for Alison Brochu, she found herself in a battle with two riders from New Hampshire in the girls’ competition. She entered the final lap in third place, but found herself gaining on second place. In the end, she ended up finishing 40 seconds behind the runner-up finisher and retained co-ownership of the season points lead in her division.

“Alison won the first race of the season and finished third in the other two,” reported the head coach.

Mayor Murray was also on hand to join in the NEHSCA’s festivities right before the podium celebrations and took a photo with all the riders still in attendance.

The NEHSCA season, which kicked off with races at Burlingame State Park in Charlestown and Wompatuck State Park in Hingham, Mass., continues Saturday with a race at 508 International in Charlton, Mass., a private facility that hosts Motorcross and obstacle course races, said Brochu.

“There’s a mile and a half of viewing area, and a very big pit where the start and finish area is,” he added. “All the spectators can actually be up above all the people that are racing. It will be an interesting race.”

Another new venue, at Stratham Hill Park in Stratham, N.H., will host the fifth race, and the last year is at Highland Mountain Bike Park in Northfield, N.H.

“It’s been fun so far,” said Brochu. “We’re really enjoying this season.”

Cumberland Mayor Bill Murray, center, congratulates NRI Renegades riders Ben Poirier, left, and Logan Delisle, for stepping onto the podium in their respective races at Sunday’s first-ever NEHSCA competition at Schofield Farm.
Jake Gomes led the way for the NRI Renegades in the 10th-grade race with his 18th-place finish.