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Building the Pan Am Games cross-country course

For the Pan Am Games, Hardwood Mountain Bike Park (also known as Hardwood Ski and Bike) built a 6-km trail with five punchy climbs and many technical pieces. Riders will be able to pick up speed on the flats and flowy sections. It’s a mix of grind and rhythm.

by Tracey Green

Photo Credit: tonylanciabeta via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: tonylanciabeta via Compfight cc

When Jack Sasseville, president and general manager of Hardwood, was contracted to build the course for the 2015 Pan Am Games, he was pretty pumped himself. “Building new trails is actually something we really like to do,” Sasseville said. “The new route is a world-class course that will test the riders.”

On Sunday, July 12, the top mountain bike racers from 41 countries and territories will be competing on Hardwood’s newly constructed trail near Oro-Medonte, north of Toronto. Creating a spectator-friendly event was high priority, too. The course was set so riders would complete their laps approximately every 20 minutes through the main area.

When Sasseville took on the more than $300,000 renovation, he consulted Glenn Meeuwisse of Pulse Racing in Orillia to help with the design. Using the largest earth moving company in the area, Hardwood brought in large quantities of clay by the truck loads to begin construction. Since the surrounding soil is primarily sand and gravel, they had to harden the surface of the trails.

Cutting back the dust was a big factor in reconfiguring the park for the Games. As opposed to spray used at other locations, Hardwood chose reconstituted asphalt for the start and finish line. Grass zones were planted around the feed stations. Team rest areas, crowd control, public viewing and media personnel were all factors when considering erosion and dust reduction.

Two under/over sections were required: one by the main spectator area and one at a section near the Boneshaker trail. Designers considered building bridges, but due to safety concerns, engineering and cost, they used culverts for the tunnel sections. The 12-foot- diameter culvert in the spectator area proved to be the most stressful portion of the build. Weather conditions caused the soil that had settled and firmed up around the tunnel to wash away. “The biggest thing for us and where the most time and energy went into was that tunnel. We had a big storm hit right when it was ninetenths built,” Sasseville said. They had to rebuild.

“Building new trails is actually something we really like to do,” Sasseville said. “The new route is a world-class course that will test the riders.”

The course itself is composed mostly of engineered features such as rock drops, berm whips, gap jumps and ramps. Certain technical parts will test riders skills as much as their endurance. “Essentially, the best riders will come to the front,” says Sasseville.

The Pan Am trail is now the most challenging run among Hardwood’s existing 50 km of trail. For safety, option-outs (a nicer term than “chicken runs”) were made for the most difficult sections. “Option-outs will be part of the course, but they take longer. For riders who cannot safely negotiate features like the gap jump, they have an option to get out,” Sasseville said.

Hardwood hosted the 2014 Canadian cross country championships, which gave the builders a chance to see their design put to a true test. Apart from some minor comments, the riders praised the course.

If you want to ride the Pan Am trail, its grand opening will be on July 18. After the Games, the course will keep the Pan Am name. “This trail is a legacy for racing, but it’s also a legacy for the good riders that are here for training and just to have some fun,” Sasseville said.