Laurie Harding followed closely by Angela Potskin and Miriam Bailey. (Lee Cejalvo)

Cloverdale BMX racer sweeps six national titles

Laurie Harding won Canadian Grands, American Grands, Race of Champions in both class and cruiser

Cloverdale’s Laurie Harding returned from the USA BMX Grand Championships, the largest single-day race in the world of BMX racing, having potentially made racing history.

There are two BMX bike categories, class and cruiser, and there are three major BMX competitions in North America — the Canadian Grand Championships, the USA Grand Championships and the Race of Champions.

Harding won all three competitions on both bikes, for a total of six titles, and that may have been a first.

“They’re trying to find out right now — they don’t think that anyone has ever won both Canadian age group titles on both bikes, both American age group titles on both bikes and the Race of Champions on both bikes.

“They don’t think anyone’s done that before,” she said.

Sweeping all six hadn’t been her goal when she set out this season, according to Harding. In fact, although she won her races last year in cruiser, she had just been starting out on the class bike in 2016.

Cruiser bikes have a 24” wheel, and class bikes have a 20” wheel. The main difference between the two, according to Harding, is that the class is comparable to riding a bike on a trampoline — it’s a lot bouncier. The cruiser bike is more forgiving, she said.

Harding first started racing on a class bike so that she could get extra practice in. When competitors arrive at a track ahead of a race, they are allowed an allotted time to practice, as each track is unique and holds different challenges and hazards.

Harding knew if she took up a second bike, she’d have a second practice slot with those competitive tracks. Two bikes, double the practice. Easy math for Harding, who works as a high school math teacher in South Surrey when she’s not on the track racing.

“I don’t usually consider myself serious, but I took this [season] a little more seriously,” she said. “I knew I had the potential to win the Canadian title, the American title and the ROC title in the same year.”

Harding doesn’t usually focus on the points, on the results or the plate. But when she saw her numbers coming out of the Canadian Grand Championships in mid-October, she knew she had a shot at being a serious competitor at the USA and ROC competitions.

She trained harder this year, working in time to cross-train after school. She swam to help with breathing, and rode a stationary bike to improve pedal work when she couldn’t get down tot he track.

Her goal this year was to improve her first straight, which is the first stretch of track coming out of the gate. “I want to be at the corner first,” she explained. “I want to be the first person into and out of that corner.”

When you watch Harding race, it’s obvious why. As she pulls out of the first corner, she tends to make herself a considerable lead. She’s first going into the corner, and first all the way home to the finish. In a race that lasts less than a minute, she makes the first seconds count.

She also credits her success this year to the sheer amount of races she entered. If practice makes perfect, entering more than 160 races between April and September gets a racer pretty close to perfection.

Laurie Harding poses for a photo in 2017 USA BMX Grands Highlights video, at 0:15 second mark.

Between the cross-training, the extra competition and a new bike with a carbon belt drive, Harding was a force to be reckoned with on the track.

If you chat with her off of the track, however, she’s a kind and generous racer who will take the time to remember you and talk with you year after year.

Harding said her favourite part of racing is meeting new people, and reconnecting with old friends.

She often talks with racers as a way to distract herself from her nerves.

“If I sit there and think I get myself all psyched out and my stomach flops around. You look around and there’s all these other people sitting there, looking like they’re going to be sick.

“So if you start talking about what they do for work, or where they’re from, it makes the time go by faster and you don’t feel so sick,” she explained.

She talks to everyone, all ages, at all levels of competition. She encourages the kids who lose their races, and, if you ask, she’ll give you a few pointers on how to improve your first corner.

What’s next for Harding, now that she’s won the six titles?

“Well, I don’t have a world championship title, but I’m okay with that,” she said, laughing. “That’s not what’s important to me.”

Harding plans to race at the Canadian Grand Championships next year, and “do a couple races in the States, because it’s fun,” but nothing near this season’s record of more than 160 races.

Instead, she’s had a few offers from tracks on Vancouver Island, in Spokane and the Okanagan to come and coach clinics. She plans to take them up on that offer, and return to focussing on the people of the sport.

“I didn’t do as much coaching this year, and I want to go back to that,” she said.

“I want to go back to the local level,” she said. “I want to do more helping.”

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