17 year old Sussex, New Brunswick resident Neil Symington has only been racing bicycles for 5 years and this weekend he’s off to Kentucky to represent Canada at the World Cyclocross Championships. This qualifies as “off to a quick start”.
I’ve had the opportunity to be lapped by Symington several times at local cyclocross races and recently chatted with him about his love for cycling and what it means to represent his country on the international stage.
Symington hails from Sussex, a typical Canadian small town known for being a top dairy producer. It’s a place where you’d expect to see a local farm boy make it to the NHL. For some reason, Sussex has been producing quality cyclists. Sussex is also home to Christian Meier who currently rides at the top tier for Orica Green Edge.
Neil Symington leads the typical high school life, hanging out with buddies and engaging with epic ping pong battles with his friends on weekends. But outside of school and his social network, Symington has committed himself to the life of a cyclist. In five short years he has gone from an introduction to the sport to representing his country at the top tier. His life in cycling started at the age of 12 dirt jumping his mountain bike with local buddies.
“I started hitting jumps like all of the local kids and then was encouraged to participate in local group rides put on by Outdoor Elements our local shop.” Symington explains that once he experienced the camaraderie of riding in a group, he was hooked. “John McNair from Outdoor Elements led group rides up to the Bluff (a tough local trail) and I was having my ass handed to me. For some crazy reason, I started to fall in love with it.”
Symington races every discipline of cycling that is available to him. He’s had success on the road, on the track and as a mountain biker. Cyclocross is something that he has found combines elements from every corner of the cycling world. “I was racing mountain bikes at the Mike’s Bike Shop (Moncton) series and everyone was talking about ‘cross in the fall. I had no idea what they were talking about but I went and tried it on my mountain bike. I thought it was a really cool. It combined everything. It had the feel of road racing, some of the skills of mountain biking and it’s a short and intense event. It feels like a lot of stuff but it’s completely unique. From the get go I thought it was pretty cool.”
This year Neil Symington was invited to compete at the Canadian Cyclocross Championships as a junior where the field for the Worlds team would be assessed. He entered the competition with high hopes and good form but says he may have made a costly mistake in his preparation. “Oh man, I wanted to win. I really wanted the jersey but I underestimated the weather, a total rookie mistake. It was cold and wet and I wasn’t prepared for that. I led the first part of the race but I was in a bad way because I had the wrong gear. I slipped back and finished 5th because I was suffering. The next day they had a ‘revenge’ race against the same field and I was prepared for the conditions and won against the guys that beat me the day before.”
His performance on that weekend earned him a spot on the Canadian National Cycling Team to represent Canada as a junior at the World Championships in Louisville, Kentucky this weekend. Symington is looking for a good placing but training for the Worlds in the middle of a Canadian cold snap has meant he’s had to make adjustments in his preparation. “I’m pretty lucky to have a 2 acre backyard and my Dad and I built a cyclocross course for me to practice on. It’s got run-ups and barriers so I get to work on my technique. Once the snow flew I hit the trainer and the rollers hard. It’s tough but it has to be done.”
Neil Symington says he’s anxious to make a good showing in Kentucky and makes note that he wouldn’t be there without the support of his family, his sponsor Oakley Atlantic and National Cycling Centre Atlantic Canada.
Symington’s’ Coach Luc Arseneau feels the 17 year old is putting in the necessary work for a good ride. “I’ve rarely seen Neil so focused on a specific goal as he has been for this World Cyclocross Championship. He’s put some very good hours and has shown a constant progression throughout his preparation.”
Reflecting on his first opportunity to don the Canadian colors Symington is committing to putting in his best effort on the day and has set a personal goal for the event. “I’m taking it in as my first experience on the national team. Personally I want to be the best Canadian. It’s a truly great feeling to represent Canada and I’m going to be very proud to wear that jersey.”
At only 17 Neil Symington is committing to the life of a cyclist and may very well be the next rider to put New Brunswick, a seemingly unlikely place to find cycling talent on the map. He notes the success of fellow NB’ers Peter Wedge and Christian Meier as example of riders who, like him committed to the effort and saw results. He says he’s ready to follow in those wheel tracks to see where his two wheeled journey will take him. “Cycling is my life now. I don’t know where my spare time would be like without cycling. It’s going to be quite a ride.”