Team Yukon bikers rally at nationals

Team Yukon's mountain bikers have a good idea of what's in store for them at the Canada Summer Games in Sherbrooke, Que., in a little over a week. Yukon’s four riders got a taste of national-level competition.

Team Yukon’s mountain bikers have a good idea of what’s in store for them at the Canada Summer Games in Sherbrooke, Que., in a little over a week.

Yukon’s four riders got a taste of national-level competition at the Canadian Cross Country Mountain Bike Championships at Hardwood Hills outside of Barrie, Ont., last week.

The four team members – Spencer Skerget, Massey Baker, Andrew Savard and female rider Veronica Huggard – went head-to-head with many of the riders they will race in Sherbrooke.

“It was great to get some national-level racing experience before Canada Games,” said Skerget in an email to the News. “Knowing your competitors is another part of racing and many of the athletes I raced at nationals will also be at Canada Games.”

“I can only take positive results from this race,” said Huggard, also in an email. “I faced some big fears and was able to successfully ride the entire course, ‘boneshaker’ and all, which I don’t think I could have done last year. My mentality and bike handling skills have come a long way and I was able to piece everything together.

“My goal in Hardwood was to push harder on the climbs and make it through the technical parts cleanly. What I learned down south will make me a more aggressive and confident rider.”

The Yukon team competed in two events in the under-23 division at nationals. There was an “eliminator” event on July 18 and a cross-country race – the main event – on July 21.

Skerget, a native of Watson Lake, placed 28th out of 40 riders in Saturday’s 30-kilometre cross-country race.

“It was kind of a breakthrough for him,” said Yukon head coach Anthony DeLorenzo. “He finished on the lead lap with basically the fastest under-23s in Canada and he was right in the thick of the race. From my perspective, I think Spencer showed that he’s at that level now and can race with those guys.”

“The cross-country race went well for me. No crashes,” said Skerget. “I feel I performed about as best I can at this point. I kept up in the technical sections but lost time in the more open sections and climbs. I’m pretty happy how I placed.”

Skerget was also the only Yukon rider to make the heats in the eliminator event, qualifying 30th above the cutoff of 32.

The eliminator is an event growing in popularity and was included in the nationals for the first time. The event consists of four bikers racing through a short – but very technical – course less than a kilometre long with only the top-two qualifying for the next round while the rest get eliminated. It has a similar format to snowboardcross or skicross.

Skerget placed 29th out of 50 riders in the eliminator.

“Spencer made it into a heat, which was exciting for us,” said DeLorenzo. “He had a really good race; he was right in the thick of it. He kind of faded towards the end.

“It was the first time anyone from our team had raced that event, so I think everyone thought it was pretty cool and had a good time.”

Whitehorse’s Huggard placed 17th out of 19 in Saturday’s 24-kilometre race and missed the cutoff for the eliminator with 20th out of 22 in the qualifier.

“Drops, wooden berms, concrete features, bridges, and the famous boneshaker – a man made downhill section with chunks of concrete, boulders, and cinder blocks – were all part of the course,” said Huggard of Saturday’s course. “Just being able to say I could confidently ride the whole course clipped in was incredible! The women riders there were very talented athletes, with many years of riding and racing at high calibre races compared to myself.”

Whitehorse teammates Baker and Savard placed 44th and 48th in the eliminator, respectively.

“Massie wasn’t that far off the pace (but) he had a bit of a crash in his run,” said DeLorenzo. “Veronica was the same thing. She was a little bit outside of the pace, which is too bad.”

Savard did not finish in the cross-country race and Baker had to return to Whitehorse and missed it.

It was a busy couple weeks for the Team Yukon riders in Ontario.

“We did the Canada Cup, we raced the eliminator, we raced nationals, we did a local race on Wednesday night (July 17) that had about 50 people in it, so we took every opportunity we could to get some racing experience down there,” said DeLorenzo. “I think, on the whole, it was excellent. We got some really good racing in.

“I think for preparation for the Canada Games, it’s exactly what we needed. I think it showed us a few things. It showed everybody what it takes to race at the national level.”

The four Yukoners raced against Olympians Emily Batty and Geoff Kabush and other top-notch pro riders at the Canada Cup the previous week in Sudbury, Ont.

Skerget placed 46th, while Baker and Savard took 60th and 61st out of a field of about 70 riders in the senior elite men’s division. Huggard rode to 27th out of 29 in senior elite women.

Skerget competed for the Yukon in cycling (road and mountain) at the 2011 Western Canada Summer Games where he placed 10th in the mountain bike race.

Both he and Huggard produced top-10 results at the 2013 Island Cup race series in Victoria, B.C., where they attend university.

Next month’s Canada Games has a new format in which road cycling and mountain biking are completely separate events – held in different weeks, in fact. At the 2009 Games, cyclists competed in three road cycling races and one mountain bike race. This year there are two separate cycling teams.

Representing the territory in road cycling are Melanie Tait and Shea Hoffman.

Three mountain bike races will be held at the Games. There will be a cross-country race on August 3, a team relay on August 5 and a sprint event on August 7. Since the relay race requires a minimum of two participants, and Yukon has only one female rider, the territory will only compete in the men’s event.

Yukon has had success in mountain biking at the Canada Games in the past. Whitehorse’s Daniel Sessford won Yukon its second-ever Canada Summer Games medal in 2005 for mountain biking.

Contact Tom Patrick at