For Jordan Hodder and Sheldon Smith, a pair of 17-year-old adrenaline junkies from Mount Pearl, there’s no thrill like the one they get roaring down a mountainside trail full of impossible angles, bone-crushing boulders and tree-stump ramps at breakneck speeds.
“There’s no feeling like a downhill run,” says Hodder. “When you know you’re on a good run and you get to the bottom, there’s nothing like it and you’re out to get that every time.”
Adds Smith, “I’ve been whitewater rafting, hiking and camping all over Canada, done a lot of stuff for a guy my age and nothing comes close.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s on a road bike, cross country, BMX even, it’s more fun than any of them and every time I do it, I love it more.”
It’s that kind of passion which has led the two best friends to a quick ascent of the junior expert rankings in the Canada Cup downhill circuit.
Last year, their rookie season on the circuit, the duo burst out of the gates placing in the top 10 in most of their events. They made their presence known at the nationals in Panorama, B.C., last July where Hodder finished fourth and Smith placed second.
Smith says he didn’t set have lofty expectations for himself, figuring he was in a position for another top 10 finish.
“When it came down to the race run and I finished second, I was pretty surprised. That was a big buzz for me last year and I don’t want to go backwards now,” he says.
Nationals are just around the corner, July 23-24 in Panorama, and considering the impressive results the pair have racked up in a handful of events this season their downhill careers are going nowhere but up.
Their season started with Hodder copping a fourth-place finish and Smith a seventh at a Canada Cup stop at Mont Tremblant, Que. The following weekend at the U.S. Open of Mount Biking at Mount Vernon, N.J., the duo reversed spots with Smith taking fourth and Hodder riding to eighth.
Back in Quebec a week later, Hodder won his first Canada Cup event at Bromont, edging competitor Luke Stevens of British Columbia by less than two-tenths of a second to win the title in the junior men’s expert division. While not unheard of, it is rare for a 17-year-old to win in field dominated by 18-year-olds.
“Winning a Canada Cup event was a pretty unreal feeling. I wake up some days thinking about it,” says Hodder.
“Now, guys I would watch videos of know who I am and I’m around them all day and competitive with them.
It’s kind of a cool feeling.”
Hodder and Smith have far exceeded expectations this season, and both credit their training programs as a big factor in their continued development on the trails.
Bicycle Newfoundland and Labrador’s Glenn Smith worked with the Newfoundland and Labrador Sports Centre’s (PowerPlex) Jerome Brennan to develop a training plan for Smith, while Hodder bought into the Steve Peat Syndicate (SPS) North American Team.
“I’ve been whitewater rafting, hiking and camping all over Canada, done a lot of stuff for a guy my age and nothing comes close." - Sheldon Smith
When a rider purchases a membership package from SPS, they avail of some of the best downhill mountain biking equipment and training available, in addition to on-site support from team coaches at Canada Cup and other North American events.
“There’s a team at most of the races and my coach has been sending me training programs which have helped a bunch. I feel better about things this year,” says Hodder.
Much of their training, however, is accomplished right here at home on courses they helped build and maintain at White Hills and Topsail Beach. On these craggy trails nestled among dense copse of trees is where the boys hone their skills run after run after run.
“With downhill, you can never be perfect at it,” says Smith. “You can always go faster, be stronger and be mentally tougher. There’s no limit. Even the best guys in the world are still getting faster and finding ways to improve.”
Depending on what happens at nationals and at the Canada Cup event on the following weekend, Hodder, and maybe Smith, could be in a position to make the national team. The Canadian Cycling Association takes the top four riders from the junior class for the selection pool for the Canadian team traveling to the world championships in Switzerland later this summer.