Royalty of the Canyon mountain bike race winners crowned despite COVID changes

The self-timed event format didn’t dampen competition over the weekend event

Whitehorse has a new royal family, announced Aug. 23 based on the fastest 50-kilometre and 25-kilometre race times in the Contagious Mountain Bike Club’s (CMBC) annual Royalty of the Canyon mountain bike race.

This year’s race had a different format for the pandemic. Rather than a group start time, riders went at their own pace during the weekend following a flagged route and reporting their times after solo finishes.

Sierra Vandermeer is the new queen, finishing the 50-kilometre track in three hours and 17 minutes, beating the female runner-up by around two minutes.

Ian Parker, a Royalty of the Canyon regular, took the king position for finishing the 50-kilometre track in two hours and 52 minutes.

The 25-kilometre leaders were Maude Molgat, a returning champion who retains her princess position from 2019 with a time of two hours and 2 minutes, and Evan Wise, who finished in one hour and 28 minutes to secure the prince title.

Race times were self-reported this year due to COVID-19.

Organizer Colin McCann said it was a challenge to run the event during a pandemic. Originally this year, the club planned to include two extra categories for riders under ages 18 and 12, but the changes were shelved due to the pandemic.

“The club is not interested in testing the waters or taking chances so I just ran the regular event categories, as self-timed and self-supported,” he said.

McCann said the numbers are always highly dependent on weather, but he was unsure what participation would be like this year with a new race format.

“This was a good year for me as an organizer. You never know how it’s going to go. So this year, considering COVID and a wide-open window, I’d call this a success by the numbers,” he said.

“Good vibes shared to me by all considering the event was self-timed with no support, no aid stations, no first aid support, no barbecue, no music, no bevies, no cheering or cowbell. We would all like to see that stuff come back next year of course.”

The race event, normally held over one day with a group start time, was spread over two days between Aug. 22 and 23. Riders pre-registered and timed their route using tracking technology.

In total, 36 riders completed the trail over the two days, from ages 10 to 60.

The 50-kilometre loop started at the Schwatka Lake Boat Launch, heading north on the Upper Riverdale Trail and back down around the Grey Mountain trail area, before continuing back around the Yukon River Trail. The total route covers 1,800 metres of elevation.

The shorter 25-kilometre loop cut out the northern Riverdale portion, with the same start and finish but with a total elevation gain of 456 metres.

Damp conditions over the two days added a slippery challenge to what is generally a friendly moderate cross-country route, said Wise.

Parker admitted to taking a brief dive into slippery roots and leaves during a lapse of concentration, although it didn’t have enough impact on his overall time to prevent him from taking first place.

While the socially-distant event format was short on cheering, it had its advantages, according to Vandermeer.

“It’s hard to compare, they’re two very different experiences. I think it’s amazing that the club did all that work to set up an event so that we could participate during COVID when it’s harder to do things the way we used to do them,” she said.

Vandermeer said the flexible start times of the COVID-19 format allowed her to work around a busy weekend schedule with her young family.

“That extra flexibility was advantageous to me. When you’re not at the start line with a bunch of other people, you really ride your own race, you’re not riding in response to other people. That’s also the disadvantage, when you have other people you push yourself in other ways,” she said.

The lack of other riders on the course didn’t dampen a friendly competitive spirit either — Vandermeer said she was in contact with rival royalty well before the official times were posted online at the end of the weekend.

Parker, who has competed in a number of the Canyon races over the event’s history, praised McCann’s trail marking, which was even more important this year as riders had no one to follow around turns and trailforks.

“The riding part is always fairly predictable, it’s the trails in our backyard and it’s an amazing feast of world class singletrack all packaged together and marked,” he said. “I’m so grateful to CMBC for organizing this event and motivating people to get out on their bikes this summer.”

Contact Haley Ritchie at haley.ritchie@yukon-news.com

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