Local rider reaches elite status

Kenn Oliver
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Beer’s talent pouring out

Mountain biker Matt Beer of St. John’s in action at a recent event. — Submitted photo

When Matt Beer left St. John’s bound for New Zealand in 2009, he did so as a recreational mountain biker.

“I just did it for fun,” says Beer who regularly won races in the Avalon Cup series, a local circuit started in 2005.

When he returned to Canada later that year and finished ninth in his first ever Canada Cup downhill event in British Columbia, he began counting himself among the country’s elite racers.

“It was a pretty big surprise,” recounts the St. John’s native who competed in club series races while in New Zealand, putting up respectable results. “But it came with the realization that I could compete at that level without any structured training or support.”

Two years later and Beer, 24, is calling Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, just outside Montreal, home this summer as he continues to compete in the Canada Cup circuit and at various events around North America.

Starts well

His 2011 elite men’s downhill season started with a fourth-place finish at the first Canada Cup event in his backyard at Mont-Tremblant, missing the podium by just two-tenths of a second. He followed that up with a 19th place finish in a much bigger and more competitive field at the U.S. Open of Mountain Biking Downhill Finals in Vernon, New Jersey.

Just last weekend, Beer recorded another top 10 finish, clocking a 2:43.047 to claim ninth at a Quebec Cup stop in Mont Saint Anne .

His results this season show a marked improvement from 2010 and by virtue of a pair of top tens and one top five finish, Beer will race in his first World Cup event this weekend again at Mount Saint Anne in Quebec using much of the same course from last weekend.

By placing in the top 10 in regional and nationals competitions, riders earn Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) points. Once they get to 20 points or more, they apply to the national governing body for one of a set number of spots in the World Cup event. This weekend Beer has one of six spots.

But getting there, it seems, is the easy part as he’ll need to qualify for Sunday’s final by finishing in the top 80.

“(At) the last World Cup event, there were 250 riders who attempted to qualify, so it can be quite difficult.”

Regardless of his result this weekend, Beer will have the option to apply to compete at any of the remaining World Cup events leading into the World Championship. Unfortunately, at season’s end the points he accumulated don’t carry forward to next season, meaning he’ll have to start over next spring.

Beer hopes to make a career out of flying down narrow, craggy mountain paths littered hairpin turns, rock gardens, and harrowing 20-foot high jumps at speeds up to 60km/h.

The first step in making that dream a reality starts with getting picked up a UCI Mountain Biking Trade team.

Being on a Trade team offers the rider a world of benefits, including a salary, onsite services and benefits at major UCI events and exemption from some fees among others.

“Most people at that level get free bikes, mechanic work, the whole pit, everything gets looked after, their bike is worked on and you don’t have to worry about anything really,” Beer says. “At the moment, it’s pretty expensive and challenging.”

It also excludes a rider from having to accumulate those pesky World Cup qualification points every season.

“Once you get on a UCI trade team, you’re automatically entered into the qualifying. You don’t necessarily qualify for the final, but you can go to all those races.”

St. John’s-born road cyclist Zack Garland, for instance, is part of the H&R Block road and track cycling trade team. However there is currently only one Canadian — Nanaimo, B.C.’s Steve Smith — racing on a UCI mountain biking trade team in the men’s category.

Beer is currently sponsored by a number of cycling companies and manufacturers including Intense Cycles, Fox Racing Shox, Mavic Wheels, Chromag Bikes, NRG Enterprises, Alpinestars. While Beer doesn’t receive any money from them, he does avail of their equipment.

“It’s a help and it’s a start, we work in conjunctions and get each other’s names out there.”

Beer has designs to attend another World Cup event in France later this summer and hopes to get a crack at the World Championship being held in Switzerland near Labour Day.

“The one there is the world championships, that’ll be selected by the Canadian Cycling Association... based on your season performance. Right now it’s looking pretty tight because they’re only taking four people for the men’s downhill.”

Still, if he can produce another top 10 finish this weekend and throughout the summer, the kid who bought his first mountain bike with money earned doing yard work and painting fences, could end up bouncing down the Swiss Alps with a maple leaf on his chest.

koliver@thetelegram.com

Twitter@KOTelySports

Organizations: U.S. Open, Fox Racing Shox, NRG Enterprises Canadian Cycling Association Swiss Alps

Geographic location: Canada, New Zealand, Quebec Mont-Tremblant British Columbia Montreal North America.Starts Vernon New Jersey.Just Mont Saint Anne UCI Mountain Nanaimo France Switzerland

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