After winning just four divisions of the Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay last year, Whitehorse cyclists took the lion’s share on Saturday. Yukon teams won seven of the race’s 11 divisions, leaving just one for Juneau, one for Fairbanks and two for Skagway.
While Skagway captured the mixed eight-person division – the race’s largest – Whitehorse riders won both the prestigious solo categories for the first time in six years.
Taking the wins – riding the full 238-kilometre course solo – were VeloNorth cyclists Stephen Ball and Trena Irving, both coming within minutes of course records.
“There was a tailwind mostly until the (Haines River) – I think that’s why it was so fast,” said Ball. “It played out pretty well for us. The two Alaskan solo-riders, I think we dropped them on Leg 3. Then we managed to get in an awesome group.”
“I found a great group of guys to ride with and we all stuck together,” said Irving. “We stopped for one 10-minute break and about one four-minute break, and that was it. The two previous times I soloed it successfully, I breast fed on Leg 4 and this time I didn’t. I said, ‘My kid has to wait until after.’”
Averaging a speed of about 39-kilometres an hour, Ball, who finished third in the division last year, arrived after six hours, eight minutes and 20 seconds.
“It’s a super fast time – I can’t believe the time,” said Ball.
Just 17 seconds back, in second place, was Whitehorse’s Ian Parker, who worked with Ball throughout the race. Following VeloNorth races earlier in the season, both had commented on the Whitehorse contingent of solo males that were going to work together to dethrone the fast Raven team cyclists from Fairbanks.
“I was just happy to be near him at the end, to be honest,” said Parker. “The last couple hours I was just hanging on; I wasn’t doing a whole lot of work.”
“Me too,” added Ball, with a laugh.
Snatching third was another VeloNorth rider, Darryl Hansell, a former team Manitoba rider, finishing in 6:35:00.
“As far as I’m concerned it just worked out perfectly,” said Parker. “It is (Ball’s) fourth time doing it solo, and he deserves it. I’m stoked to have ridden his coattails all the way to Haines.”
Irving set off Saturday morning with the goal of breaking the nine-hour mark and she squashed it with a time of 7:51:30.
Whitehorse’s Kelsey Kabanak, the only other Yukoner in the division, finished sixth with a time of 9:12:11. Kabanak won the Tour de Whitehorse expert women class last summer, beating out Irving in second.
Whitehorse two-person women’s team, I Love Big Bottom Brackets, also appears to love winning. Members Nadele Flynn and Kerrie Paterson defended their title from last year, finishing in 7:07:14, down from 8:37:07.
Like for the soloists, good conditions helped a bunch.
“The weather this year was perfect for biking; we had a tailwind the whole way,” said Flynn. “Leg 8 was the only place where it started getting windy, and even that wasn’t too bad. I think everyone’s time will be faster.”
There was one hiccup for the two in the race, when Flynn misjudged Paterson’s speed and wasn’t there for the handoff after Leg 4.
“She was too fast coming in,” said Flynn of Paterson, a two-time solo women champion. “Even though I left with plenty of time, we didn’t make the connection.
“Both of us have done a lot of VeloNorth races, and I think that helped, knowing what your limits are and being able to push when you feel the pain in your legs.”
Newcomer Piia Kukka, racing in the mixed two-person division, could retire from cycling undefeated after Saturday’s race. She and partner Karl Blattmann, also from Whitehorse, won the division with the time of 6:55:30, more than 20 minutes ahead of the second-place team.
“He did a fantastic job on the first half; he gave me a really amazing lead,” said Kukka. “I’m kind of a beginner cyclist and runner; I started both of those activities last summer. This is my novice season right now, to see how much I like cycling, or do I like running better?”
Blattman, a VeloNorth cyclist in his first Kluane Chilkat, seems to be good at both running and cycling – and swimming – winning the Whitehorse Triathlon a few weeks ago.
“I managed to hold on to some fast guys for a little while and they did a lot of work,” he said.
After missing category wins in previous years, Whitehorse’s Waterreus brothers found their way into the winners’ circle in the four-person men’s division.
“We’ve always been jinxed,” said Stephen Waterreus of himself and his brother Marcus. “Obviously we had a great team, but I think a lot of the competitive riders go into the two-person teams or the solos. This year we copped out and only wanted to do two legs and get to the party as quick as we can.”
A rather stacked team, Marcus and Stephen – a winner of local triathlons – were teamed up with runner Sam Lindsay and two-time solo men’s winner Jonah Clark as anchor, crossing the finish line in 6:17:04.
“I’m taking it easy this year,” said Clark. “I haven’t been road cycling as much and I didn’t feel like riding 240 kilometres by myself.
“It was nice because there wasn’t as much wind as normal.”
Whitehorse cyclists were so strong this year, it only took three of them to win the four-person mixed division.
Named The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, the team featured Thomas Tetz, Tamara Goeppel and Stefan Wackerhagen doing Legs 5 to 8.
“We had Thomas do the first two legs because we thought the boys would be doing surges and aggressive plays, and we thought he’d be good for that,” said Goeppel, who last month broke her own record in VeloNorth’s Skagway Hill Climb time trial. (Parker won the expert men’s division of the Skagway race.)
“(Wackerhagen) has been living in the Yukon for awhile, but he’s originally from Germany. Two friends of his, who are originally from Germany, were our support. The official language of our team was not English.”
Team Better Bodies from Whitehorse had improved results this year, moving up from second into first with a time of 7:56:40. On the team were captain Lori Muir, Andrea Rodger, Megan Phillips – Legs 3 and 4 – Kendra Thomson, Lisa Vowk and Terri Cairns, with new member Heather Pilsworth.
This year’s Kluane Chilkat had 1,195 cyclists registered, about 50 less than last year with a new entry cap of 1,200.
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