Manon Aubert, a race organizer with Ecole Emilie-Tremblay, has a simple request for Whitehorse high school students: “Get your bikes out!”
The first of four races for the Whitehorse high school mountain bike series took place Wednesday at Porter Creek High School with only 23 cyclists taking part, down from 37 in last year’s series opener.
“Usually there’s an army of boys in the Grade 8 division and I think maybe we didn’t get the word out as well,” said Trevor Hale, an organizer with Porter Creek. “Things usually grow as the races go on and hopefully next week there’s more.
“Last year I went around to every Grade 8 class and told them about it and I think that had something to do with it. This year we just didn’t have time.”
Not only were there just four riders in the open girls division and seven in the Grade 8 division, with the exception of two FH Collins Secondary School riders in the BMX division, there was no Grade 11/12.
However, as organizers explain, there’s no one factor to list as a reason for the low turnout, but an array of factors like schedule conflicts with other sports, fewer school days to promote the races leading up to Wednesday, and the natural progression of students graduating, such as Porter Creek’s Kelsey Kabanak, who won every open girls race over the last two years.
“I think I have kids that are signed up for volleyball or soccer,” said Vanier Secondary coach Bill Willoughby, who had eight riders sign up, but only two show up. “There’s also kids that are working, kids that are having their bikes tuned up, so it’s just one of those things, getting the ball rolling.”
Of the four schools, only FH Collins Secondary School had a rider in each division, including five of the seven racers in the Grade 8 category. According to the school’s coach Chris McNeill, that’s no accident.
“I think this is our sixth year, so it’s just become established in our school,” said McNeill. “Our phys-ed department last year declared it to be an official school sport, which was really nice.
“We get on the posters early on in the year and we play mountain-bike videos and promotions at lunch time to get people out.
“I think the fact that we live in Riverdale doesn’t hurt either because there’s so much good mountain biking in Riverdale.”
Audrianna Antilla, a Grade 11 student from FH who just moved to Whitehorse from Atlin, learned about the race through a poster in her school. Not only did she decide to give it a shot, she won the open girls division, beating out classmate Sara Burke-Forsythe.
“I just read about it on a school board and just thought I’d try it out,” said Antilla. “I was new, so I didn’t know what the competition was going to be like.
“It was lots of fun, but there was a lot of uphill.”
In the boys 9/10 division, there were reoccurring results from last year. Porter Creek’s Nigel Sinclair-Eckert, who finished first overall in last year’s series for Grade 8, started where he left off, topping the field of riders. Sinclair-Eckert had to take the lead at the start of the final lap of the 1.3-kilometre course after running into trouble early on.
“I missed the flag and tape barrier saying to go this way, so I went the other way,” said Sinclair-Eckert, who lost about a minute because of the error. “The end was a little confusing.”
Taking second and third were Tremblay’s Simon Geoffroy and Porter Creek’s Josh Kelly. A year older than Sinclair-Eckert, Geoffroy and Kelly finished second and third overall at the end of last year’s series in the 9/10 division.
Unfortunately for Sinclair-Eckert, he will be unable to go for six race-wins in a row next week because of a field trip with the school’s experiential science program.
“I’ll probably miss a few of them, but I’ll do all the ones I can,” said Sinclair-Eckert. “I think it’s a great program, getting kids into mountain biking like this.”
Next Wednesday it will be Ecole Emilie-Tremblay’s turn to host a race. As it was last year, Tremblay’s race will be held at Mount McIntyre, but on a different course.
For the following week’s race, on September 23, FHC has chosen a completely new location, with the race starting at the boat launch off Chadburn Lake Road.
“We try to change location every two years,” said McNeill.
The final race will take place September 30 near the fish ladder in Riverdale.
Organizers are confident cyclist numbers will increase in the next races, but newcomers must be sure to bring one very valuable piece of equipment…
“One of my friends was in it last year, but I think he forgot his bike today,” said Sinclair-Eckert. “There was some sort of mix-up.”
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