Yukon riders gain experience at Canada Cup

Yukon mountain bikers were laying tracks with the nation's very best at the Canada Cup on Sunday in Sudbury, Ont.

Yukon mountain bikers were laying tracks with the nation’s very best at the Canada Cup on Sunday in Sudbury, Ont.

The four Yukoners were wheel to wheel with Olympians Emily Batty and Geoff Kabush and a field full of professionals at the cross-country mountain biking event.

They had good rides and, more importantly, took in valuable experience as two major events approach, said Yukon head coach Anthony DeLorenzo.

“I am really pleased. We really came here to get experience and, for all of our riders, it was their first time racing at the national level and everyone rode very well. There are a ton of positives to take from this race and the results are not that important.

“Now that we have a benchmark for where they stack up in the field we can set some goals for nationals based on that, and see what happens.”

Watson Lake’s Spencer Skerget placed 46th, while Yukon teammates Massey Baker and Andrew Savard took 60th and 61st out of a field of about 70 riders in the senior elite men’s division.

Whitehorse’s Veronica Huggard rode to 27th out of 29 in senior elite women.

“Being able to ride against Canada’s Olympians was pretty incredible,” said Huggard. “The riders down here are fast and have lots of experience at these types of events. It would be great to start some race series with more intensity back home. What stood out the most was being able to successfully ride the whole course, as there were rock faces, wooden bridges with an eight-foot descent, and of course the heat.”

“By far the biggest challenge was the 30-plus degree heat and I was doing everything I could to keep the riders cool,” added DeLorenzo. “I feel like it’s extra challenging for the Yukon riders, we’re not used to it!”

Skerget’s 46th placement came after an inauspicious start. The 20-year-old got tied up in a crash at the start of the race when some riders in front of him went down. Skerget got up, jumped back on his bike and went on to make up 14 spots after finishing the first lap in 60th.

“Luckily, my bike and myself were fine and I carried on with the race,” said Skerget. “I was happy with how the rest of my race went, I found my rhythm and gained a couple places.”

“As my first time competing at this high of racing level, the race was a great learning experience,” he added. “The start was insane, 70 racers all going full out trying to be first into the single-track. Lining up with Olympian Geoff Kabush and other professional athletes was also pretty cool.”

The Yukon team is staying in Ontario for the Canadian Cross Country Mountain Bike Championships this week at the Hardwood Hills outside of Barrie.

The same four riders will also represent the Yukon at the Canada Summer Games in Sherbrooke, Que., in a couple weeks.

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.

“I’m super excited for nationals,” said Skerget. “We rode the course today and it’s a good mix of fast smooth trails and technical sections.”

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.

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