For Tom Ullyett, the day had started off grim. Grey clouds littered the sky, having dampened the ground earlier in the morning.
But after a morning loop around the Whitehorse International Airport for the annual Air North Fun Run, luck was on his side.
The clouds cleared up and the sun dried out the roads, puddle by puddle as the lead peloton and its subsidiaries made their way from the Tagish Community Centre towards Carcross during the 10th year of the Southern Lakes Gran
There, they would turn right and continue up the South Klondike Highway before turning right towards Marsh Lake and the promise of un-chip-sealed roads before the last right turn at Jake’s Corner into final stretch and the finish in Tagish.
At 9 a.m., riders and their teams gathered for a pre-race meeting and heard from race organizer Simi Morrison of the 173K challenge ahead.
For more than half the field, it would be an individual mission, while others would split the distance two, three, four, or five ways.
As the race casually got underway, Oscar Setterington, the leadoff rider for the young UKON14Voom trio got into a steady rhythm to set his teammates up for a successful back half of the race.
Strong youth riders were abound in the race, including the Taggart-Cox brothers from Marsh Lake, the race’s spawning grounds.
But as the sun beat down on the now-dry road, disaster struck around the first checkpoint at the Carcross Desert.
Travelling at more than 40 km/h, Micah Taggart-Cox tumbled “base over apex” over a rider who had gone down in front of him, his father said. He was fortunate to come away without concussion symptoms and is expected to make a full recovery.
Another youth rider, Luke Bakica, escaped the collision with a banged-up wrist.
While Micah and younger brother Lucas (Dem Chickens) were forced to take a DNF, Lucas still pounded out his own legs of the race, completing more than 70K.
As the first hint of a headwind started to blow, the notoriously windy course came back to haunt riders.
But, as Ullyett, who hopped on his bike to anchor The Fat Bastards (Bill Curtis, Mike McCann and Ron Sumanik) says, “If you’re suffering at all, just put your head up and have a look around.”
An incredibly scenic course, the landscape is part of what Morrison, who’s been involved since the race began, thinks keeps people coming back.
The number of riders has risen in recent years – due in part to a change in the race date (early June as opposed to late July) to take advantage of Yukoners’ voracious early summer appetite for road riding.
The race also brings together a mix of spandexed speedsters and recreational folks.
“We always have a really good mix of the expert riders and we also have a lot of people who come out for fun,” said Morrison.
Joining the pack at Judas Creek, Ullyett’s luck continued as his fresh legs led him past a group and he was joined by solo rider Nansen Murray.
They took turns pulling – breaking the steady headwind – for each other all the way in to Tagish.
“He was good and ready to have a partner to work with,” said Ullyett this morning of Murray.
He also acknowledged the gift of sharing the work with another rider: “He allowed me to go a little faster than I might have done,” and allowed the team to secure the 3-5 person division win with a total time of 5:36:14.
Youth team winners, UKON14Voom, weren’t quite as lucky as Veronica Porter, a freshman on the road racing scene, worked by herself to pull riders into her grasp as she passed them on her way to the finish. Not looking forward to the
headwind, Porter focused on keeping her speedometer between a steady 25-30km/h. She was glad to cross the finish line, stopping the clock for her team at six hours, 26 minutes and 50 seconds.
The family team division was won by The 180’s (the Sheardown-Waughs-Tait) in 6:23:40.
The Joysticks (Rob Rees and Joy Vall of Whitehorse) took home the duo division title with a time of 6:01:06.
In the solo division, Matthias Purdon eked out Ian Parker for the win by five seconds, crossing the line in 5:02:48.
Verena Koenig captured the solo women’s title in 5:18:30.
With 10 years down, Morrison has plans for the race to continue, as it winds its way through the Southern Lakes communities.
“It’s a nice event and I want it to go on,” she said. “The communities get exposed and it’s a big team job.”