He’s not yet 18, but local mountain bike rider Cole Punchard has been making tracks in his sport that have propelled him to the 2021 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships later this month.
His success on Canadian soil earned him an invite to join Team Canada at the event, which will be held from August 25-29 in Val di Sole, Italy.
“It’s been a long journey the past two-and-a-half years,” says Punchard. “I’ve been training really hard, working to get to this point, and it’s an honour to ride for Team Canada at the world championships, to represent them well.”
Many of the races he’s entered to date have been part of a series, where points are accumulated over time, but the world championships are a single race. “Everything just counts for one day, one race,” he explains. “So all your training and your focus has to be on one point in time.”
He’s no stranger to the kind of pressure that comes with international competition, though.
Earlier this year he competed in five races in Arkansas, and then four in Europe. As European riders use different race tactics than what Punchard encounters in Canada, the latter “was a great learning experience, and something I can take to world championships where it’s a different experience racing.” He’ll also be heading to Europe early to compete in a Swiss Cup event.
Punchard grew his racing roots in Muskoka, beginning with the Port Sydney Kids’ Tri when he was around nine years old. “I didn’t really like the running part, didn’t really like the swimming part, but I liked the biking, so I got into cycling.” He began participating in a Thursday-night race series at Buckwallow Cycling Centre near Gravenhurst few years later, “and I fell in love from there.”
He began training in earnest when he was 15 and in just a few short years, and despite the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, has climbed to the top of his age category. When the Canada Cup series resumed this year, Punchard was first in the standings after two races. He’ll have to forego the remaining two races in the series in order to be in Europe, but he’ll be back in time for the nationals at the end of September.
This fall he’ll be studying business at Brevard College in North Carolina, a school he chose for its NCAA Division 1 cycling team and proximity to great cycling terrain in nearby Pisgah National Forest and the Blue Ridge Mountains.
His goal is to ride for Canada’s Olympic team, as well as get onto a pro team “so that I can make this my job.” He hopes his business degree will help him to manage that career.
No athlete gets to a high level without support. Punchard recognizes his parents, Christine Frith and Derek Punchard and grandparents, Lucille and Trevor Frith, in particular for all of the help they’ve provided, as well as the support “and very warm welcome” he’s received from the cycling community. He looks up to Olympian Peter Disera and his brother Quinton, both of whom he recently rode with at a training camp. And he gave a shout out to his sponsors, Scott Sports, Ecclestone Cycle, and Angry Johnny’s Racing.
For those looking to get into the sport, he recommends “just having fun” on nearby trails and getting involved in a local race series. “Don’t start training right away, don’t take the races serious, just go out and have fun with your friends and have fun on two wheels.”
Punchard is raising funds to help cover travel expenses for the world championships. Those who’d like to contribute can learn more on GoFundMe here.
Don’t miss out on Doppler!
Sign up here to receive our email digest with links to our most recent stories.
Local news in your inbox three times per week!