Late nights at bars often lead to spontaneous tattoos, but Sierra van der Meer’s is not one she’ll live to regret. It’s a point of pride.
In a manner of speaking, it’s a flesh trophy. It commemorates a world championship title. But, indeed, the trip to the parlor began late at night in a bar in Alaska.
It’s in the rulebook, in fact, and just part of the wackiness that is the Singlespeed World Championships, held in Anchorage July 18-20.
The newly inked van der Meer won the women’s title at the championship.
“I’m trying not to let it get to my head,” said van der Meer. “It was a really fun event. I had a very excellent time. It was really fun to go out with my friends and be there.”
The Whitehorse rider and president of Yukon’s Contagious Mountain Bike Club is the first Canadian champion, male or female, since the inaugural event in 1995.
It’s a world championship, yes. But it’s really a festival – a party. It’s three days of single-speed mountain biking wrapped in funny costumes and the occasional barley pop.
Upon winning, champs are shuttled off to a tattoo parlor for the – let’s go with – trophy ceremony.
“I didn’t have any tattoos, so it was both a high and a low to win,” said van der Meer. “I was whisked away to get a tattoo and I didn’t know what the tattoo would be until it was placed on me.
“So that was a little bit scary. But I’m proud to be the first Canadian winner of the Singlespeed World Championships.”
Bikers need to race to win, but the first over the line is not necessarily the winner.
They first have to complete a series of challenges within the race to qualify for the final.
“First of all, you had to be at the bar for closing time at 3 a.m. and then you had to do the race the next morning at 7 a.m.,” said van der Meer. “It basically showed you could stay awake all night and then wake up.”
At this year’s championship the challenge was three loops of a roughly 10-kilometre course with bonus points for riders who rode more challenging black diamond sections of the trail. Within the loops were challenges like hitting a target with a slingshot, tossing a rock into a bucket and carrying the bike through a swamp.
There was also a stop in which riders did shots of cheap whiskey, but it wasn’t clear if that was part of the competition or just someone’s good will towards racers.
“I’m not sure what it counted for,” said Whitehorse’s Jonah Clark, who competed in the men’s event. “It was just there. They did put a mark on my number plate for doing it, but I don’t think it counted for anything in the end.”
“At some point they decided to not make it about the first person across the line, because they wanted it to be fun,” said van der Meer. “They wanted people to go out and enjoy themselves and not get sucked into spandex and race mentality. To enjoy the event as it is.
“You don’t know how they are going to decide the winner until they decide the winner.”
By completing the course and the various tasks, van der Meer was one of six women to qualify for the final.
Not unlike Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, spectators formed a circle around the finalists as they prepared to battle.
It was a “no-foot-down competition” in which finalists attempt to force their competitors to put down a foot or lift a hand from the handlebars through any means in the small circle.
Van der Meer was victorious.
“The real challenge was that you weren’t allowed to be on your own bike,” said van der Meer. “You had to take a random bike from the crowd.
“The crowd surrounded us in a circle and you had to stay on your bike in a circle and people would run into each other and you would have to stay without putting your foot down.”
The Singlespeed World Championships were last held in North America in 2009. They were in Italy last year and South Africa the year before. Its relatively close proximity to Yukon was a bonus for Whitehorse riders.
Van der Meer was one of eight Yukoners to make the trip this year.
“There were a few single-speeders in town watching for when it would return to North America,” said van der Meer. “We were pretty pleased to see it was as close as Alaska.”
Clark, a two-time Yukon mountain biking champ, came the closest of the male Yukoners to reach the final, but a little bit of bad aim with the slingshot kept him out.
“I screwed up the slingshot skills,” said Clark. “The event itself was a blast. I think the event, for the organizers, is about getting together, riding bikes and having fun with a bunch of people, and racing being a kinda of secondary activity.”
Contact Tom Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org