It wasn’t just the end of the Canada Summer Games for Yukon cyclists – for Heather Enders, it was the end of an era.
After competing in her second Summer Games (third including cross-country skiing in the Winter Games), Enders has decided to call it a career.
It was an excellent exit.
“It was pretty emotional; before the race I was a little choked up,” said the Whitehorse resident. “As the laps counted down I had to regroup a little bit.
“It’s the end of an amazing chapter. I couldn’t have asked for anything more; my races went better than I could have asked. I was shocked, actually, at how well I placed.”
Enders did not just finish the Games being held in PEI with a top-20 finish, she cracked the top-20 in all four cycling events.
Beginning with the cross-country/mountain bike event at the start of the week, Enders finished 19th, followed by 16th in the individual time trial and 17th in the road race on Thursday. In the final event on Friday in downtown Summerside, she had her best result with a 15th place finish in her first criterium event in three years.
“There’s so much technique and strategy in it,” said Enders.
The criterium, or crit, is a short course race with many laps. On Friday, the men completed 40 laps and the women did 30 of the roughly one-kilometre course.
However, Friday’s crit was also a points race in which riders can earn points every five laps by being the first to the finish line, therefore the winner is not necessarily the first over the finish line at the end of the race.
“If it was the first across the line wins, you hang in there for the last hurrah and see how you can place,” said Yukon cyclist Jesse Reams. “But when it’s based on points—if you don’t get points early on, even if you win the last one, you’re done.”
Reams, who produced the Yukon’s best result with an 11th-place finish in Tuesday’s time trial, was with the lead pack in the crit, but did not earn any points.
“I was up there, but I couldn’t match them in the sprints,” added Reams, who finished 29th in the road race on Thursday.
Enders was not the only one to post good results on Friday, or during the rest of the week, for that matter. Teammate Kelsey Kabanak finished 30th in the crit, 34th in the road race, 39th in the time trial and, best of all, 24th in the cross-country race. Kaitlyn Mary MacDonald was 36th in the crit, 34th in the road race, 39th in the time trail and—like Kabanak and most Yukoners—had her best finish in the cross-country race with 28th.
For the guys, Troy Henry, who dropped out of the cross-country event with a flat tire, came 30th in the crit, 32nd in the road race and 19th in the time trial. Ryan Burlingame finished the games with a 36th on Friday, 34th in the road race, 39th in the time trail and 29th in the cross-country event. Finally, David Gonda came 53rd in the crit, 33rd in the road race, 39th in the time trial and 29th in the cross-country race.
“When you come from the Yukon with a team of athletes, sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t, but what’s so satisfying after Games like this is that the Yukon cyclists deserve to be here,” said Yukon cycling coach Grant Owen. “They’re not the timid little lambs off to slaughter, the other provinces see us as equals. They take us seriously, they take us as equals and they treat us with respect.
“To win a medal is an incredibly hard thing to do, but we’ve done it in the past and we’ll do it in the future.”
With the exception of Enders, Reams and Henry, the crit was the first for the rest of the Yukon team. The crit did not have any crashes like the previous day’s road race, but the expectation of collisions kept the Yukon riders on edge and was a serious blast of adrenaline, said Burlingame.
“It’s about an hour and 15 minutes of pure adrenaline,” he said. “I don’t care what place (I finished in), it was my first crit and it was so much fun.
“I never even imagined taking corners that fast—it was phenomenal.”
For Kabanak, the crit was an ongoing learning experience that involved getting over nerves and figuring out the best position in the pack.
“When I went up to the start line I was like, ‘Why am I doing this again?’” said Kabanak. “The first lap was basically about living, trying to survive. In the second lap I thought, ‘I can do this.’ The third lap I started playing around with positioning a bit.
“On the fourth lap I went on the outside and realized that was the best way to take corners.”
Henry, on the other hand, has raced crits before, including this summer in BC Super Week. He had a more casual approach to the crit, giving hand signals to teammates watching from the sideline and even attempting to strike up a conversation with other riders during the race.
“I was doing the ‘Rock-on,’ and on one lap I’d give the peace sign or I’d go for the horns—I was just having fun,” said Henry. “I went over to talk to one guy and said, ‘Looks like Hurricane Bill is moving in quick,’ and pointed up to the sky, and he just glared at me.”
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