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Welcome to Elliot Lake: A Success Story for Jan Zak

August 24, 2007 (Elliot Lake, ON) — Last Friday, August 17th saw Ontario’s road racing community converge at Elliot Lake for the 4th annual “Jewel In The Wilderness” stage race. Buffeted by strong winds, cool temperatures and occasional bursts of rain, the arriving riders layered up and began pre-riding the hill-climb course which would serve as the first of the weekend’s three stages.

One such rider was Jan Zak, an 18-year-old junior from Guelph riding for the Mazurcoaching.com squad. Riding the hill with his teammates he did several intervals and, as he was cooling down, he dropped his chain and it promptly wrapped itself around the rear derailleur. The sudden change in resistance meant Zak fell forward and put all of his weight on the chain, which in turn yanked the derailleur so hard that the frame’s derailleur hanger broke in two. At 4pm the day before a weekend of racing, and many hundreds of kilometers from his local bike shop, Zak figured his racing weekend was over even before it had begun.

As his teammates went looking for help they came upon Willie Coyle from the St. Catharine’s Cycling Club, organizer’s of the event, painting arrows on the road in preparation for the next morning’s competition. Coyle drove to pick up Zak and together they contemplated the options. “Jan didn’t say much but his long face told the story,” said Coyle, “and I knew that our only option was to try the local bike shop, but that it would still be a long shot.” Coyle drove the dejected Zak and his broken bicycle back into town where they searched out Sarich’s Source for Sports, one of the sponsors of the weekend’s racing.

Brad Boilard has been at the helm of Sarich’s Source for Sports for the past 22 years, and in that time has seen a wide variety of broken bicycle parts, but this was his first broken derailleur hanger for a road bike. “We see it occasionally on mountain bikes, but never before on a road bike. Almost all bicycle frames incorporate a replaceable derailleur hanger so that in the event of an accident such as this it’s possible to replace the hanger without replacing the whole frame, but unfortunately it’s not a standard piece — all manufacturers use a different design. We carry a few Trek road bikes but their hangers were incompatible with Jan’s Aquila,” explained Boilard.

With an hour left before closing time, what could Boilard do? Calling on his experience with similar repairs to mountain bikes, Boilard decided to retrieve his milling and grinding tools from home so that he could take the hanger from one of the brand new Treks in the store and reconfigure it to fit the Aquila’s spacing. Three hours of painstaking, incremental work later, the bicycle was again fit to ride. “It was really incredible,” said Zak, “that this guy would give up his Friday evening to do all this work for me, when so many others would just say “˜Too bad about your luck.’ and close up shop. It completely made my weekend.” Zak went on to ride strongly in the weekend’s races and finished 6th overall, with no further mechanical incidents.

Elliot Lake has been working to redefine itself since the end of the uranium mining boom, and one aspect of this is promoting the area as an ideal place for an “active retirement,” citing many hiking, biking and skiing opportunities. Brad Boilard was one of the city’s representatives that approached Willie Coyle about hosting a road racing weekend.

As Coyle says, “When a community comes knocking on your door and says “˜Please put on a bike race in our town — we’ll happily close roads and do what it takes’ you just can’t say no.” With a supportive population and business owners like Boilard that are willing to go out of their way to help the racing community, Ontario’s road racers are already looking forward to next year.

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