A local trailblazer, coach and mentor in the sport of mountain bike racing, Todd Trembley of Faribault was named the Minnesota Cycling Association’s (MCA) Head Coach of the Year for the recently completed 2021 season.
The owner of Mill Town Cycles, which is located at 311 Central Ave. N. in downtown Faribault, Trembley was recognized for his work with the Cannon Valley Composite mountain bike team that includes student-athletes from Faribault, Northfield, Owatonna and Cannon Falls.
Trembley helped establish the team and has served as the coach for the past eight seasons. Cannon Valley Composite includes riders from sixth grade to 12th grade and it competes against more than 125 teams from across the state of Minnesota in the MCA under the governance of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association. Teams in the MCA are considered club sports at their high schools and are not connected with the Minnesota State High School League.
Under the direction of Trembley, Cannon Valley Composite made a strong impact on the MCA racing standings in 2021, placing seventh out of 57 teams in the Middle School Division II overall season standings (sixth-eighth grades) and sixth out of 61 teams in the High School Division II season standings.
At the recent state meet that was held at Mount Kato Ski Area near Mankato, the team placed fifth in High School Division II and seventh in Middle School Division II. The MCA is divided into two divisions at both the high school and middle school levels.
The numbers put together by the Cannon Valley Composite this season have been impressive, but Trembley’s impact on his team extends far beyond wins and points scored. His influence as a mentor and and life coach were just some of the reasons why members of the team submitted his name as a nominee for the MCA’s Coach of the Year award.
“His point of view on racing is that you just have to go have fun with it. If you place, that is great but if you don’t, it is not a huge deal,” Cannon Valley Composite team member Emily Broden said. “He’s just super supportive and happy that you are here trying out something new.
“His attitude is ‘you got to go have fun with it,’ but at the same time he pushes you to get better but without stressing you out or hating the sport. He has great relationships with the kids on the team and it is very evident that the kids on the team really like him.”
According to father Chris Broden, Emily was a driving force behind the nomination effort for Trembley.
“She (Emily) was the one who initiated it and submitted the first entry, and then lobbied the rest of her team to also submit their entries as well,” Chris Broden said.
The support for their coach was echoed by teammate Kate Bittenbender, a Faribault resident who was a freshman on the team in 2021.
“It is always a big thing for him (Trembley) that you have fun on your bike,” Bittenbender said. “It is not always about the place you win it’s about having fun doing something you love.
“He never really focuses on place, although that is something we all kind of like, rather it is just getting out there and riding and having fun doing that with other kids who enjoy the same thing.”
Starting the team
A longtime cycling enthusiast, Trembley has worked at the Mill Town Cycles shop for 11 years and has been the shop’s owner for the last year and a half. He started mountain bike riding at age 40 and has since become a strong advocate for the sport, which helped lead him to his position as coach of the Cannon Valley Composite team.
Just over eight years ago, Trembley was working at the bike shop when a local girl and her father approached him about the possibility of establishing a mountain bike team for the Faribault area. At that time, the girl was racing for a team out of Lakeville and was looking for a team closer to home.
At the same time, the nephew of Trembley’s wife had been racing in the state’s mountain bike summer series races and would become eligible to compete in the MCA events during the upcoming year.
Those factors helped motivate Trembley to create the Cannon Valley Composite squad. In that first season of competition, the team had just three riders but it has now grown to a roster size of 22 riders in 2021 — which included 20 racers.
His passion for the sport of mountain biking has helped build the team and also grow the sport.
“I discovered mountain biking when I was about 40 years old,” Trembley said. “I really liked it and was excited about doing it. I found it to be a lot of fun…getting out to nature, getting into shape and meeting people.
“So my wife and I had an agreement that we would try to introduce one person a year to mountain biking. That didn’t completely pan out but when the opportunity came along to start the team, we jumped at the chance. To go from nothing to introducing four to five people a year to mountain biking was good.”
A laid-back approach is one of Trembley’s trademarks as a coach. There are no tryouts for spots on the team and participants of all skill levels are encouraged to come out and give the sport a try.
Trembley and the coaching staff that includes five other assistant coaches and several parent volunteers, also let their student-athletes decide on their own if they want to race or just participate as riders with the team.
“My purpose is not to necessarily win first place in every race but it is to get the kids excited about cycling … so it becomes a lifelong activity. My philosophy is just to go out and ride out bikes, and maybe without you knowing it, it will get you into shape,” Trembley said.
An example of this approach to coaching was evident this year as one of the team’s newcomers was struggling a bit make the adjustment to mountain bikes and single track racing.
“After our first few practices this year, one of the new kids on the team, who had ridden bikes before but not much single tracking racing, was lagging way behind everybody,” Trembley said. “I decided for just him and I to go out for a few practice rides and work on some skills. He progressed pretty quickly to the point where he was seeded 13th (among Middle Schoolers) at state.”
Attracting new riders
A Faribault resident and Northfield High School sophomore, Broden got connected with the team through her older brother Zach, who is a senior on the team.
“My brother kind of got me into it,” Broden said. “He joined the team and I thought it was kind of interesting. I tried it out at a practice and was a little skeptical of it. I then went and watched one of his races and Todd (Trembley) was there and he was really tried to get me to join the team the next year…and then the next year I joined the team.”
Broden had no previous experience with mountain biking but was an active athlete in soccer, softball and basketball. She has since narrowed her sports to softball and time spent with the Cannon Valley Composite.
“We didn’t know much about it, but when Zach (Broden) started wanting to do mountain biking, I asked him where there were trails. When we started to dig into it, we discovered there were trails down in Owatonna, Caron Woods (between Northfield and Faribault) and now Faribault has almost 3.5 miles of trails down in the bluffs behind Shattuck that just opened last summer,” Chris Broden said.
“When we researched all of that, we came across the Cannon Valley Composite’s Facebook page and saw that Todd was the coach. So we went down to Mill Town to talk with him about it and that is how we got involved with it…it has really exploded from there and now pretty much our summer centers around mountain biking and softball.”
Bittenbender was also a mountain bike rookie when she joined the team three years ago after moving to the area from Dallas, Texas.
“We didn’t have an option to do mountain biking on a team like this in the Dallas area,” said Lori Bittenbender, the mother of Kate Bittenbender. “The move to Faribault has been great and Kate has discovered mountain biking and has really loved it.”
Of note, the MCA league runs from July to October each year and each team participates in five races at locations throughout the state and it was capped by the state meet held on Oct. 30-31 at Mount Kato. The team typically practices on the trails at Caron Woods or Shattuck-St. Mary’s during the season.
Broden finished the season ranked ninth in the state for the JV2 girls division in 2021 in a sport that she almost gave up on in eighth grade. She credits Trembley for helping her get back on the bike.
“Going into the summer after seventh grade, I was not having much fun biking,” Broden said. “I just didn’t want to ride at all and Todd was able to see it pretty quickly. When I took a break from riding, he respected that I took that route and when I was ready to come back, he eased me back into it and was able to make me have fun with it again, while doing well. He really encouraged me to get back on and starting riding again..and just have fun with it.”
Chris Broden added, “For some of the kids who are just getting started into it, they might not be into the racing piece of it yet…they just want to ride their bikes and ride the trails. Todd and the team has never pushed the racing piece. If you want to try racing that’s great but if you are not into the racing that is OK too.”
Another aspect of the sport is the co-ed nature of mountain biking. Teams that participate in the MCA will score their top four riders at an event and at least one of those scores must come from a racer of the opposite sex.
“For the most part, mountain biking is a male dominated sport,” Broden said. “At times, I’ve been the only girl on the team and it can be a little intimidating no matter how nice and supportive the guys are.
“Now we have a few girls on the team this year, and Todd is super supportive of us and he is always trying to get us to reach out to new girls and get them to join the team.”
Positive team atmosphere
The racing may be considered an individual sport, but the team scoring does create an opportunity for the teammates to pull together for support and help each other find success at races. The family like atmosphere created by Trembley and his staff have helped create team bonding and make connections on the team.
“That kind of builds on its own,” Trembley said. “You just get the team together and their friendships build on their own. I don’t really push that, it kind of happens on its own, which is pretty nice that it organically grows.”
Along with his duties as a coach, Trembley is a strong advocate for the area’s biking community and helps keep the local mountain bike trails in top condition by blowing debris off of them at multiple sites around the area. He is also a mainstay at his shop downtown and ready to provide repair service when needed for the members of the team.
The work put forth by Trembley and others has helped grow the sport over the years and currently there are around 2,400 riders on MCA affiliated teams across the state along with over 1,300 coaches and volunteers working with them.
“The sport is growing,”Trembley said. “It started in the state with about 150 races and it has been basically doubling in size every year.”
He added, “My philosophy on coaching is to have fun and turn a kid into a lifelong cyclist. I encourage them to try racing, and if I am able to convince them to give it a try, they typically never look back after that first race.”