With a stout headwind on the final leg of the Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay, it quickly became apparent to the frontrunners the overall title would be settled in a sprint to the finish line.
Stephen Ball and Preston Blackie were banking on it. The Whitehorse cyclists both consider sprint finishes their forte. But, of course, it could work out for only one.
Ball outpaced Blackie by about a bike-length to take the overall title out of 298 teams at the 24th annual event on Saturday.
“There were five of us, I believe, and super strong headwinds that made breaking away pretty difficult,” said Ball. “So I knew it was going to come down to a sprint finish and I was pretty confident I could get the other guys in a sprint, so I waited for the last little rise before the finish line and took off there.”
“Any one of us could have won. It was that tight in the end,” said Blackie.
“I would have liked to win the overall. It’s a long day to be one second off the win, but that’s bike racing.”
Ball, who was on a two-person men’s team with Whitehorse’s Ian Parker, finished the race from Haines Junction to Haines, Alaska, with a time of seven hours, nine minutes and 48 seconds.
Ball, who was a national team cyclist in his native New Zealand, won the solo division in 2011, with Parker placing second that year.
Saturday’s win marks their first overall title in the race.
“Ian did exactly what he had to do on the first half, put me in a good position in the right group, and I got the sprint there at the finish,” said Ball. “Everything worked out as planned.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been in a sprint finish with Preston before, and sprinting is probably my best thing as well. I got him this time, but he had also ridden 120 K more than I had. That makes a big difference.”
Blackie, 37, didn’t get the overall title he wanted, but he still picked up his first solo men’s title from the race. He has been extremely motivated this year after a bone infection led to a broken tibia and then surgery. An early diagnosis was cancer and Blackie was told by doctors his cycling days were over. He finished the 238-kilometre race in 7:09:49.
“I feel pretty good. It’s racing: the win is never guaranteed to anybody,” said Blackie. “You go out there and do the best you can. Sometimes your best is good enough and sometimes it isn’t.
“Steve is very competitive and he’s a hard guy to beat, especially when I have twice the kilometers on my legs.”
Fairbanks’ Tyson Flaharty placed second for solo men, up from third last year, at 7:09:50. Last year’s winner Joel Macht of Whitehorse took third for solo men (and fourth overall) with a time of 7:09:51.
“(Flaharty) attacked on the Million Dollar Falls climb and he’s extremely strong,” said Blackie. “The strong guys in our group were forced to make a decision: either go with him if we could or sit back and let him go on his own. We let him go on his own and it turned out to be the right decision to make. We let him hang out there for like four hours by himself, and he got a pretty good lead on us, and we worked together and slowly reeled him back in with about 30 kilometres to go.”
Blackie, Ball and Parker weren’t the only Yukon cyclists with titles at the end of the “Haines-to-Haines” event. Yukoners won 10 out of 11 of the main divisions (the same as last year) and the two recreation classes.
The one that got away was the solo women division. Nanaimo’s Janna Gillick, racing her first Kluane Chilkat, took first in the division and fifth overall.
“The guys I was riding with were really supportive and telling me what I can expect,” said Gillick. “It was a really good experience.”
Gillick, 39, finished with a time of 7:09:52, not far from the solo women’s record of 6:58:11 set by Haines’ Jennifer Walsh in 2013, a year in which numerous records were set with the help of a solid tailwind.
“When we got to the (Canada-U.S.) border I told the guys what (the record) was and we kind of agreed to push a little harder to see if we could make it happen,” said Gillick. “Once we got to the river going towards Haines we could barely sustain 30 kilometres an hour in that wind. We pretty much called it off at that point.”
Just two weeks earlier Gillick won the open women’s division at the Robert Cameron Law Cycling Series in Victoria. In 2012 she won a national cyclocross title in the masters women category.
“She’s a hell of a rider,” said Blackie. “The female course record, I’m pretty sure, was set on a year there was a tailwind and that makes a massive difference … In 2013 we had a tailwind and times were like an hour faster.”
Whitehorse’s Aisha Montgomery placed second for solo women at 9:05:13 and Whitehorse’s Holly Goulding third at 9:39:21.
Whitehorse’s Ryan Warshawski and William Bell (7:36:28) placed second behind Ball and Parker in two-person men. Juneau’s Jim Ustasiewski and Robert Welton came third.
Whitehorse’s Anthony Bier and Verena Konig captured the two-person mixed title at 7:47:46, ahead of Haines, Alaska teams in second and third.
Whitehorse’s Kristenn Magnusson notched her third win this month on Saturday. Magnusson teamed up with Lisa Ludwig from Cumberland on Vancouver Island to take first in the two-person women’s division in a time of 7:48:37. They were the fourth two-person team in and 17th overall.
“It’s a super fun event. That route is a world class road ride in my opinion, with the scenery and even the quality of the road,” said Magnusson. “It was fun to be at the start line and get all that energy. I like the way they get people to line up. How did they say it? ‘If you’ve been training for months, then come up to the front of the line. If you’ve been training only for days, line yourself up at the back.’”
Already this month Magnusson won the solo women’s category at the Southern Lakes GranFondo and then – the next day – won a mountain bike race in Whitehorse. She thanks her sponsor Icycle Sport for keeping her motivated, she added.
Magnusson and Ludwig beat two teams of sisters for the win.
Haines’ Theresa Wirak and Elizabeth Wirak (7:50:02) came second, Whitehorse’s Natalie Hynes and Adrienne Hynes (9:03:32) third.
Whitehorse’s Michael Abbott, Scott Weersink, Lee Hawkings and Ian Weir were the fantastic four this year. They were the top four-person team, won the four-person men’s division and were sixth overall at 7:27:25.
Whitehorse’s Johnathan Zaugg, Scott Bradley, Nansen Murray and Matthias Purdon (7:44:27) sped to second and Whitehorse’s Mac Prawzdik, Jakob Tokic, Hudson Lucier and Marcus Deuling (7:56:27) third.
Whitehorse’s Kerrie Patterson, Sierra van der Meer, Niki Deneault and Elizabeth Parker each had good reason for not entering the solo or two-person divisions.
“All of us weren’t too sure how much we wanted to do because we’re busy – we all have kids – so we thought, let’s give it a go with two legs each,” said Patterson. “It would be much more manageable with shuffling kids around and breastfeeding and stuff. It worked out really well.”
The aptly named “Shoulda Seen Us B4 Kids” team finished in 8:24:46 to win the four-person women’s division.
Whitehorse’s Ziggy Reimer, Anya Zimmerman, Allison Furniss and Hannah Gray came second at 9:07:58, about four minutes ahead of Whitehorse’s Zoe Painter, Mandy McClung, Hannah Shier and Moya Painter in third.
“It was windy, but it was gorgeous,” added Patterson. “We went into this not thinking too much of it as a race. We were more just wanting to do it and enjoy it, instead of just suffering. It was so beautiful out that the time passed relatively quickly. The wind was a bit of a sufferfest, but overall it was great.”
Whitehorse’s Alain Masson, Maura Sullivan, Leslie Raenden and Scott Puskas clocked a time of 7:44:16 to claim the four-person mixed title.
Whitehorse’s Megan Seiling, Ross Keith, Knute Johnsgaard and Mark Seiling picked up second with a time of 8:00:14, about nine minutes in front of a third place team from Juneau.
Whitehorse’s Jude Slater, Derek Deuling, Sasha Masson, Ben Puskas, Romeo Champagne, Victor Thibeault, Jamie Phillips and Dahlia Lapointe made up the top-eight person team, winning the men’s division at 8:18:07.
Whitehorse’s Heather Milligan, Liam White, Norm Curzon, Kealy Sweet, Julianna Scramstad, Wendy Scramstad and Rick Scramstad on the last two legs finished in 8:26:05 as the top eight-person mixed team.
Whitehorse’s Deb Kitchen, Yvonne Kinsey, Laurie Drummond, Donna Jones, Aline Goncalves, Sherrilynne Himmelsbach, Katie Faulkner and Johanne Faulkner crossed the finish line in 9:45:59 as the top eight-person women’s team.
A Marsh Lake team of speed-skaters won the four-person rec class with a time of 8:27:35. Brothers Lucas Taggart-Cox, Caius Taggart-Cox and Micah Taggart-Cox, who are all members of the U Kon Echelon cycling club, teamed up with fellow speed-skater Michael Ritchie of Haines Junction for the win.
Father-son team of Bill Waugh and Wyatt Sheardown-Waugh of Whitehorse came first in the two-person rec division at 8:30:51.
About 1,200 cyclists representing four provinces, two territories and five U.S. states took part in the event, hosted with the help of over 250 volunteers.
“I can’t help but say thanks to all the volunteers,” said race co-coordinator Mike Kramer. “We’re so fortunate to have a lot of the same people but also new people come out every year. I heard lots of riders saying just how great the support they got before, during and after the event, and that really boils down to the volunteers. We couldn’t do it without them.
“Another nice thing … the event pours over $16,000 into non-profit organizations in Whitehorse, Haines Junction and Haines. I think that’s something we can all feel good about.”
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