Dominic Girard is back.
After surging to prominence as a member of the Walden Mountain Bike Club (WMBC) Wolfpak racing team in his mid-teens, the local cyclist pulled away somewhat from the sport, transitioning to begin his studies in engineering at Laurentian University.
Based on a third-place finish at the recent Canada Cup race in Naughton, followed one week later by a silver-medal performance at the Canadian XC Mountain Bike Championships (Senior Expert Division) at Hardwood Hills, it appears that Girard is back on the trails.
"At the beginning of my second year, I started to get into a groove with the demands of university life," explained the 20-year-old student. At the prompting of his riding buddies, Girard took up nordic skiing on a more regular basis, more as a means to get out and enjoy the great outdoors.
"I just became fitter and fitter, and it just carried right into the spring," Girard noted. Entering the 2014 cycling season with little or no expectations, the local rider noticed a mid-summer change.
"At the third O-Cup race of this season, it kind of clicked in," said Girard. "It was a really competitive race, and I was having a very good race. Everything was just lining up perfectly and I was riding my bike really well."
Girard was still a long way from perfection, but he had progressed much further than he initially envisioned.
"There's definitely room for improvement, and I still know some of the areas that I need to improve," he said. "But making progress just gives you that drive to get out on your bike and work on those areas, and that just translates into being a faster rider."
Targeting a top-five finish on his home course in Naughton in July, Girard finished third, with the momentum now building.
"That carried over to nationals," he said. "I knew that I had a good chance. It was a fast course, and felt really good. My training was lining up really nicely for nationals. My body was feeling well prepared."
Despite the more extensive knowledge of the course in his own backyard, Girard admitted the Hardwood Hills trails might have actually constituted a better fit. "Both courses are so different," he pointed out. "The Northern Ontario trails are known for their ruggedness — it's just raw trails."
"There's "chatter" (the rapid up-and-down motion of the bike) all the way throughout the race," he said. "It just doesn't stop. By the end of the race, your body is just exhausted. Then you go to Hardwood, where the trails are really smooth, but you've got the big climbs that you don't have in Sudbury."
To boot, race organizers at nationals added some "man-made" components to increase the technical challenge of the course. The back-t- back podium placements have Girard understandably pumped about the balance of the 2014 schedule.
On August 16-17, the WMBC crew will travel to Midland, site of the next Ontario Cup race. Fellow Wolfpak teammates Eddie Skala, Charlie Read, Alex Anstice and Nico Tavchandjian are sure to push Girard every step of the way.
Provincial championships are slated for Horseshoe Valley in September, with Girard looking to decide within the next two months whether he wishes to move up to the elite classification in 2015, and go toe to toe with the very best in the country.
"I have given it some thought, but I'm in no rush," he said. "Once you're in elite, you're in it for the long haul. It's definitely a big step. My plan is to use the month of August to experiment with the balance of training and work."
With two more years of schooling remaining at Laurentian University, Girard did acknowledge the summer of 2015 does provide a "window", of sorts, to possibly give the elite level a shot before the realities of a career kick in.
Either way, he is just glad to be back.