Yukon cyclists Melanie Tait and Shea Hoffman are doing the territory proud at the Canada Summer Games. It could as easily be said they are doing the North proud.
Tait and Hoffman are the only cyclists from Canada’s territories competing in Sherbrooke this week, most recently in a road race on Wednesday.
Tait was edged out a second top-20 result, but still raced to 22nd out of 32 riders.
“It was not results for me in this one, it was just that I finished the race,” said Tait. “But it also showed that Yukon was still in there, we weren’t dropped right off and lapped right away, which happens sometimes.
“Every time going around, maybe because I’m the only one from the Yukon, everyone was cheering for me. Out of the little pack I was in, people would say, ‘Oh, Yukon – go Yukon!’ … That was cool, for sure.”
The 21-year-old completed seven laps of the 11.7-kilometre loop in two hours, 38 minutes and 45 seconds. She finished less than half a wheel-length behind Manitoba’s Anna Schappert, whom Tait rode with for most of the race that featured some tough climbs.
“It was a very hard race. I’m extremely proud of myself for finishing the race,” said Tait. “There are some challenging hills on the course.
“It took me two laps to get into the zone. I was with a Saskatchewan rider – we had gotten dropped by the pack – and we worked together and caught up to a B.C. rider, a Manitoba (rider) and an Ontario (rider) … We raced the course together and took turns pulling at our strong points. So through the flats and certain peaks on hills, whoever’s strongest takes the lead.”
Hoffman didn’t get to finish the race. He was withdrawn after getting lapped by the frontrunners during the 11 laps of the men’s race. He was one of 21 cyclists to not finish the race in the field of 44.
Tait placed 18th out of 33 cyclists in the time trial to start the Games on Monday.
She completed the 16-kilometre course in 24:43.10, just one minute from cracking the top 10.
Hoffman placed 42nd out of 43 riders in the time trial. He finished the 20-kilometre men’s course in 32:19.77. The 18-year-old is one of the youngest cyclists competing at the 23-and-under competition this week and will be eligible to compete at the 2017 Canada Games in Winnipeg.
Yukon’s top road cyclists have helped out the small two-person team.
Both Tait and Hoffman are racing with a helmet donated by two-time Olympian and current Canadian road race champion Zach Bell of Watson Lake.
Right there with the team is Jesse Reams, also from Watson Lake, who is mission staff for the team. Reams, who cycled for the Yukon at the 2009 Canada Games, currently races for Vancouver-based road cycling team Trek Red Truck Racing Team and won a pair of races in the U.S. early in the season.
“They contacted me at the beginning of June and asked me if I’d like to come out,” said Reams. “If I can, I always like to come out with young riders. I wasn’t sure who the team would be or what it would look like, but my schedule was open, so I said I’d do it.”
“It’s good to have him here because it’s nice to check on things that (manager) Phil (Hoffman) and I don’t know because we haven’t raced at that level,” said Yukon head coach Trena Irving. “It’s great having him on board.”
Tait only started cycling competitively last summer and had an early success, winning the sport women category in the Tour of Juneau.
She spent the summer training with Alberta’s Bicisport Calgary Cycling Club out of Calgary and has raced in B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan this season.
She won a road race in the Devon Grand Prix in Devon, Alta., in June for her first win of the season and then tied for first in the open women’s division of the 173-kilometre Southern Lakes Bike Loppet in the Yukon last month.
Sherbrooke represents Hoffman’s sixth major Games. He has competed at three Arctic Winter Games and one Canada Winter Games in speed skating. He also competed at the 2011 Western Canada Summer Games in cycling.
Yukon’s first-ever medal at the Canada Summer Games came in cycling when Sean Sheardown won silver at the 1989 Games in Saskatoon.
Tait and Hoffman will close out the Games with criterium races on Saturday.
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