Road cycling at the Canada Summer Games ended Saturday with the most intense, white-knuckle event of them all: the criterium.
Packs of riders whipped around the gnarly one-kilometre track at ridiculous speeds. There was a pair of stomach-turning crashes, one with such an impact a bicycle landed in a nearby tree. The sound of flesh scraping along pavement is not an easy one to forget and will be the soundtrack of nightmares for years to come for some riders and spectators.
Yukon cyclists Melanie Tait and Shea Hoffman made it through the final race of the Games unscathed on Saturday in Sherbrooke.
Tait placed 20th out of 33 riders in the 25-lap women’s race and Hoffman took 41st out of 44 riders in the 30-lap men’s race.
Tait completed 11 laps of the race before being lapped out by the front of the field. She was one of 17 cyclists pulled from the points race.
“It was the fifth lap when they had the sprint (for points) I fell off the draft on that, and then you’re working on your own,” said Tait. “Those first five laps, being with those top riders, all cornering together and fighting for position – that was definitely a highlight.
“The crit is an intense race with lots of strategy … It’s intense being on such a tight course with so many riders, but I love it.”
Saturday’s result was Tait’s second top-20 finish in Sherbrooke. The 21-year-old placed 18th out of 33 cyclists in the time trial on August 10 to start the Games.
She then raced to 22nd out of 32 riders in the road race last Wednesday.
“The entire experience was great here in Sherbrooke,” said Tait. “Everything from the competition aspect was good … All three races were different but great.
“The time trial was fun because you’re on your own and you’re pushing yourself on your own and I was happy with the result.”
Hoffman was pulled from the criterium after five laps to become one of 16 cyclists who either were lapped out or did not finish the race.
“I was hoping to get a few more laps in, but some of them are a lot older and faster,” said the 18-year-old.
Hoffman also placed 37th in the road race and 42nd in the time trial to start the Games.
“One of my best ones was probably the time trial,” said Hoffman. “It was the easiest one of all the courses.”
Tait and Hoffman, who were the only cyclists from Canada’s territories to compete in Sherbrooke, felt cycling with Canada’s top under-23 cyclists was a great experience-builder moving forward in their cycling careers.
“The feeling I have finishing the race is I want to train harder,” said Tait. “I know what I need to work on. My goal for the Games was to fit in with the top riders and not feel embarrassed that I don’t know what I’m doing, and getting experience of being in a high-level race. Now that I feel comfortable with that, I’m just going to put on the kilometres and keep training.”
Hoffman was one of the youngest cyclists competing at the 23-and-under competition last week and will be eligible to compete at the 2017 Canada Games in Winnipeg.
“I’ll probably do the next Summer Games as well and will probably do better the next time around,” said Hoffman. “(I’ll have) more experience and more training.”
Both cyclists are members of the U Kon Echelon developmental club founded last year by Yukon’s cycling head coach, Trena Irving.
Tait spent most of the summer training with Alberta’s Bicisport Calgary Cycling Club out of Calgary and has raced in BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan this season.
In fact, Tait spent so much time training in Alberta, she could have represented the province at the Games. The Whitehorse native never even considered the option.
“I could have gone for Alberta, but I never had a thought that I wouldn’t ride for the Yukon,” said Tait.
“Melanie has been racing for a year and a bit and she’s doing phenomenally well,” said Irving. “She has such an excellent start on her career in racing.
“Shea has four years to put in, to try to get down to some of these races and ride with people and learn how to do what these guys are learning.”
“I’m very happy with the efforts of both athletes, they are both very professional in their approach to racing,” she added.
“It’s been good – fast,” said Hoffman of the Games. “It’s different from the (Canada) Winter Games … you get a few more outdoor things in the summer.”
Sherbrooke was Hoffman’s sixth major Games. He has competed at three Arctic Winter Games and one Canada Winter Games in speedskating. 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.
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