The 173-kilometre Southern Lakes Yukon Gran Fondo came down to the final 100 metres on Saturday just outside of Carcross.
Solo men riders Preston Blackie, Joel Macht and David Gonda crested the final hill and gave it all they had in a sprint to the finish.
All three finished within half a second of each other with Blackie taking the win, a bike length ahead of Macht.
“I’m pretty surprised I won, to be honest,” said Blackie, 36, a first-time entrant to the race. “Both these guys (Macht and Gonda) are super fit, super strong. My strength is sprinting, so I was relatively confident I could out-sprint both of them if it came down to it, but I knew it had to come down to it.
“On the last hill it took everything I had to make sure they didn’t get away.”
Blackie claimed the event’s Golden Helmet Award with a time of 4:59:36, five minutes from the solo men’s record set by Whitehorse’s Stephen Ball in 2012. Macht posted a 4:59:37 and Gonda, who won the solo division in 2013, a 4:59:38.
“It was nice to be there at the end with these guys,” said Macht. “It’s tough to sprint into a headwind because as soon as you come out from behind someone, it hits you in the face. If you go five seconds too soon, you peter out. You have to time it exactly right and I didn’t time it exactly right.”
The Southern Lakes Yukon Gran Fondo, formerly known as the Southern Lakes Bike Loppet, had some big changes introduced for its eighth year.
Obviously, one of them is the name. Gran Fondo is a term to describe long-distance road races usually between 120 and 200 kilometres. Icycle Sport’s Jonah Clark recommended renaming it a Gran Fondo since cyclists don’t necessarily know what is a loppet, a term associated with cross-country skiing.
Loosely translated from Italian, Gran Fondo can mean everything from “great distance” to “great endurance.”
Both translations describe Saturday’s race.
Riders faced some dreadful headwinds on a couple legs of the five-stage loop that went from Carcross to Mount Lorne to Golden Horn to Marsh Lake to Tagish and back to Carcross.
Five of the race’s 24 solo riders scratched during the race, including two of the four solo women.
“It was honestly pretty brutal out there, so I can understand if someone got frustrated and said, ‘No, I’m not going to be pushed backwards while I’m going down a hill,’” said Trena Irving. “That’s what it was like.”
Irving claimed first in the solo women’s division with a time of 7:32:26. Marg Wallace rode to second at 8:19:39.
“I wanted to (quit) at several points, but I made myself go on,” said Irving, who won the division in 2010. “I’ve done the solo several times, but this was the hardest I’ve done it – just a brutal headwind.”
The other big change was the date. In the past the race was held at the end of July, well after the Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay that often marks the point at which Yukoners trade their road bikes for mountain bikes.
Now the race is situated to be a warm-up event for the 240-kilometre Kluane Chilkat from Haines Junction to Haines, Alaska.
Blackie, Macht and Gonda are all planning to race the Kluane Chilkat solo.
“I said to my wife before I left the house, whoever wins this will be a marked man in the Haines-to-Haines, not expecting it would be me,” said Blackie.
The two big changes to the race, in which the start/finish rotates among the five communities each year, seem to have done the trick.
After a record low of about 50 participants last year, Saturday’s edition had a record high with 61 teams and a total of 128 riders registered.
“It was a very big turnout. It was awesome,” said race organizer Simi Morrison. “It was like three times as many teams as last year.
“Last year we had our record low and then we said, we have to make some changes to make it more popular, easier to attend.”
Despite taking a spill early in the race, Bill Waugh notched a first place finish with daughter Grace Sheardown in the duo mixed category, coming in at 5:43:22.
Rob McConnell and Dan Reimer crossed the finish line at 5:05:56 to win the duo men’s division.
Carolyn Coombs and Jenn Roberts were tops in duo women at 6:39:28.
Lee Hawkings, Logan Potter and Kyle Power teamed up to log a time of 5:21:51 and a win in the 3-5 person men’s team division.
Michael Abbott, Nansen Murray and Kendra Murray finished in 5:44:55 to win the 3-5 person mixed team event.
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