Neal Kindree's trail ride to the top took a major unplanned diversion in early 2008 when he hurt his right knee on a training ride. At the time he was a sponsored rider and a member of Team Canada, widely regarded as one of the top up-and-coming mountain bike talents in the country and a candidate to represent his country in the 2008 Games.
The surgeons did what they could to repair the ligaments and damage, but it was over 14 months before he could race again, and another year after that before he could ride without pain.
Last season, 2011, he began to reassert himself at events, with wins at top local races and a fourth place finish at the national championships. He was given a spot at the World Championships after nationals, which would have put his goal of racing in the 2012 Olympics within reach, but he was bumped from the team after other athletes that had raced in more events appealed the decision. Kindree, who was self-funded, couldn't afford to attend some of the races that likely would have made all the difference.
It was another setback for Kindree. A spot at the world championships would have given the 24-year-old a chance to win back his athlete funding, regain his spot on the national team and to show sponsors what he can do.
Heading into 2012, however, Kindree has a new lease on life. He has been named to a newly created grassroots Specialized / EMD Serono team, along with Ontario's Evan McNeely. Ryders Eyewear has also stepped up to sponsor Kindree, as well as Corsa Cycles in Squamish.
"The whole thing was largely through Corsa Cycles," said a grateful Kindree last week. "Dave Heisler really wheeled and dealed behind the scenes for me and pulled it all together. This is huge for me."
With the backing of a team and sponsors once again, Kindree will have funding, bikes and support this year, and will be able to focus entirely on training and competing without picking up work to pay for his travel and race fees.
His chances of competing for Canada in the Olympic Games are slim at this point with his current budget keeping him off the World Cup, but even if he had the money Kindree knows it would take more than a few good results and being fast on his bike to get named to the team this late in the game.
"I still want to go, but I don't think it will be this year," said Kindree.
Instead, Kindree will train through January and February and will start racing in March. His first race is a Pro XCT event, the U.S. Cup Triple Crown in California on Mar. 10, followed by another Pro XCT race on Mar. 24, followed by the Sea Otter Classic in Monterey in April. From there, his schedule will include local events like the NimbyFifty and Test of Metal, Canada Cup races, GranFondo road events, the mountain bike nationals and the UCI World Cup in Quebec.