By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
The middle of suburban Oshawa is not the first place people would think to find one of the top mountain biking squads in the world.
However, that’s exactly where 3Rox Racing, ranked 18th in the world in mountain biking, got their start and where they continue to operate.
Started by Oshawa’s Kris Douglas in 1998 as a bike club, the interest quickly grew and after 10 years, Douglas’s son Kyle took the reins to get the team to the next level.
Kyle had been racing professional for some years prior, but decided it was time to focus on other things.
“I chased the dream and it was awesome,” Kyle says of his years racing, some of them spent in Europe before returning in 2008.
“I had a lot of good success and I had a lot of fun, but you also have to kind of take a step back and realize when it’s your time and maybe it’s your time to shine in another position,” he says.
Since then, Kyle and his small team have grown 3Rox Racing into an elite team of seven riders from across North America.
Derek Zandstra, a 30-year-old native of Trenton, ON, has been on the team since its inception and credits the team, and the Douglas family, with his success through his years of racing, which include a first place national championship finish in 2013, a fourth place continental championship finish last year and a career that has seen his name on the Canada Cup leaderboard since 2007.
“I’ve had a lot of help from the Douglas family, taking (me) across the country at a young age to travelling the world now. So I think without them I would never have been able to do what I’m doing now,” he says.
Zandstra will be one of the two riders from 3Rox placing their tires on the starting line at the upcoming Pan Am Games in July. However, this isn’t the first time Zandstra has seen Pan Am turf representing Canada, competing in the games in 2011 and netting an eighth place finish.
This time though, it’s different with the Pan Am Games practically in his backyard and on his home course of Hardwood Mountain Bike Park in Oro Station. Most recently, Zandstra hit the trails there for the Canada Cup on June 14.
“It’s pretty cool being on home turf like this,” he says.
Kyle says it’s great to see Derek’s success after working with him for more than 10 years.
“For our family and for us, it’s pretty sweet because we’ve invested a lot of time and money into him and now we’re starting to see it,” he says.
Erin Huck is the second 3Rox Racer headed to the Pan Ams and will be representing the red, white and blue as a native of Boulder, CO.
“Being a Canadian team and her being in the U.S., it just adds a whole other flavour,” Kyle says, “because we’re showing that we can cross the border and have a Canadian and an American succeed.
And that success is a big part of earning sponsorships and keeping the riders riding.
Scott Bikes became a title sponsor of the team in 2006, and since then the team has upgraded from a Canadian National Trade Team, to a UCI Trade Team, allowing them to compete in larger and more international events.
Success at the Pan Am Games would be a recognition of hard work for the athletes, Kyle says, but it would also mean a lot to the team.
“We have a lot of sponsorship that comes out of business in Toronto, so for them to actually be able to see a race for once is rare, because we’re always travelling abroad,” he says.
And it’s not only the proximity to Toronto that has nurtured the team’s success, but Kyle says Durham Region has grown into a mecca for cyclists. And the growth of 3Rox shows what can happen when there is community support.
“It shows what a program in this area can do when it has support from all areas, from the bike industry (and) from outside the bike industry.”
With the support, Kyle says there could be more successful teams starting in Durham Region and hopes the success of 3Rox will make people see that it’s possible.
“It’s kind of fun when you think you can do this as a job, and you can chase your dreams and I don’t think a lot of people realize that,” he says.
Mountain biking at the Pan Ams gets underway on Sunday, July 12.
Be sure to watch for Huck in the women’s cross-country race at 10 a.m. and Zandstra in the men’s at 2 p.m.