Yukon bikers ride muddy trails to small victories

It was as if Mother Nature decided to step in and make things a little more interesting in the opening mountain bike race at the Canada Summer Games on Saturday.

SHERBROOKE, QUEBEC

It was as if Mother Nature decided to step in and make things a little more interesting in the opening mountain bike race at the Canada Summer Games on Saturday.

About a minute into the women’s race, a downpour of rain not seen since the time of Noah gushed onto the area. After a few laps, it was difficult to tell which rider was from which province or territory. They were all brown, caked with mud.

But the short, but near-biblical rainfall, didn’t prevent a couple of Yukon riders from achieving what they set out to do.

Yukon men’s rider Spencer Skerget cracked the top-20 with a 16th place finish and women’s rider Veronica Huggard broke the top-15 with 13th at the very first medal event of the Games.

“I’m feeling pretty good, going from a Canada Cup where I didn’t even finish to here where I finished,” said Huggard, her face still speckled with mud. “I had more goals, like sticking to (other riders’) wheels and just giving it all I really had because this is what we’ve been training for.

“I feel really great. I succeeded. I don’t know how I placed, but I feel like I did what I came to do. I feel like this summer has been a success.”

The 20-year-old placed 13th out of 17 in the women’s race, beating three British Columbian riders and one Saskatchewanian on three laps of the six-kilometre course.

She’s only been riding competitively for less than two years, compared to nine years for Quebec’s Fred Trudel, who took first.

Skerget was the only rider out of Yukon’s three males to complete the full race.

“It was super tough. The conditions were interesting, really slippery and slick, and a lot of people were sliding all over the place,” said Skerget. “It just made it interesting.”

Skerget was in the middle of the field for the first two laps but couldn’t keep up the pace at the end of the four-lap men’s race.

“There were a few of us switching back and forth and I just couldn’t keep up in the end,” said Skerget.

Teammates Massey Baker and Andrew Savard were lapped out of the race and placed 21st and 29th, respectively, out of 33 riders.

Baker was lapped out in the last 200 yards of the course, “So I was 30 seconds from doing a fourth lap,” he said. “I pushed pretty hard. If I spent a bit more time training, it might have been a bit better.

“I feel like I did pretty well. I didn’t finish at the end, but there are still people coming in behind me, so I didn’t do the worst.

“It was greasy and rough, and the best U23 riders in Canada are here, so I didn’t do too terribly bad on the battlefield.”

Savard beat riders from Newfoundland, Saskatchewan and two from P.E.I. for his placement.

“It was great. The downhills were super fun and technical – that’s where I was catching a lot of people,” said Savard. “I was trying to hold on, keep some in reserves for the uphills. One of the Saskatchewan kids and I were going at the whole way and right at the end he pulled away.”

Skerget and Huggard’s results represent the Yukon’s best at the Canada Games since 2005 when Whitehorse’s Daniel Sessford won Yukon its second-ever Canada Summer Games medal – a bronze – for mountain biking.

At the 2009 Games in P.E.I. the territory’s best results in mountain biking – when it grouped together with road cycling and was just one race – was 19th by Heather Enders and 22nd by David Gonda. However, the field of riders was much larger then.

The Yukon team will compete in a relay race on Monday and a sprint event with an eliminator format similar to snowboardcross on Wednesday. Since the relay race requires a minimum of two participants, and Huggard is the only female rider, the territory will only compete in the men’s event.

The whole team seems to be looking forward to the short races.

“They are shorter, harder races, which I look forward to,” said Baker. “(They are) less grueling than trying to do 24 kilometres as fast as you can. Downhill races are three minutes and that’s what I’m used to, not an hour and a half of wanting to lie down and die.”

“If the eliminator course is anything like this course, I think I’ll be able to do pretty strong because I was chasing down a lot of the riders on the downhills,” said Savard.

“I’m definitely looking forward to it,” added Skerget. “I haven’t done very many eliminator races and from what I could see from the course here, it looks like it’s going to be a good course.”

Contact Tom Patrick at tomp@yukon-news.com