True North, Strong and Speed
Posted by Andrew Davidson on October 12, 2023
The places and spaces a bicycle can take you is one of the truly rewarding aspects of being a cyclist. Whether you’re a dialed-in racer taking in the unique environment of each venue, or a daily commuter experiencing the change of seasons and beautiful sunrises/sunsets, it’s all part of what keeps us turning the pedals!
In late August, Maxxis-Factory Racing teammates, and arguably mountain-biking’s speediest married couple, Andrew L’Esperance and Haley Smith travelled to Whitehorse, Yukon for the Canadian Cross-Country Marathon (XCM) Championships. The stunning wilderness played host to the long-format mountain bike discipline, that hadn’t hosted a championship since 2019.
Amidst the rugged beauty of the true north setting, the decorated racers were able to script a perfect tale, as each came away with the win and a pair of national titles to share for the coming year. We chatted with Andrew about the event and his experience riding and racing in one of Canada’s less explored natural treasures.
Congrats on the national title! Was this your first time riding and/or racing in the Yukon?
Yes, this was my first time visiting the Yukon, or any of the Northern Territories, and certainly the first time racing there. This was actually the furthest north I have been on our planet. We raced the XCM World Championships in Scotland earlier this year and Peebles, where the race sits at a latitude of around 55 deg North and Whitehorse is at around 60 deg North.
What was your impression of the terrain, course, race conditions (weather/altitude)?
First of all, the views flying in and all around Whitehorse were incredible. There is so much natural beauty and it felt pretty special to be there to experience it. We raced at an area called Mount McIntyre, this is where the XC ski centre is and there is a huge amount of singletrack MTB trails. The course was 30 km long and it was mostly singletrack broken up with short and fast double-track sections. In my mind, the defining feature of this course was its relentlessness, the combination of the climbing spread out over the course with rough root-covered sections, tight turns and general high speeds throughout really took its toll over the 90 km elite races.
At the end of the lap there was a very technical section called Rock Lobster, the course kept you on your game right to the finish line! It was certainly a course that was worthy of determining the Marathon National Champions. In the run into the race it was very dry and unseasonably high temperatures, but the evening before the race the rain came in and the temperatures dropped for race morning. It was crisp the morning of the race and the course was a little slick on the first lap with a few ice-covered puddles on the back end of the course. For subsequent laps the sun came out, the air warmed and the course dried and got faster each lap.
Can you share some of your stats from the event?
From my Wahoo and 4iiii power meter: The race was 90.1 km and took 4:21:24 for an average speed of 20.7 kph. We climbed 2375 m throughout the race. My average power from the race was 278 W and 335 W NP. The race started hard with 504 W for 2 min and 448 W for 5 min at the front end of a long day. The first 90 min were raced at almost an XCO-type pace for me, 316 W and 362 W NP. Then I hung on, haha.
How did the race play out for each of you?
I knew going in that within the field I had a good start and hopefully the depth to hold it for the whole race. I made the race hard from the beginning and got a gap early on. I kind of raced scared for the next 4 hours not really having much information in terms of time gaps behind. You could only really see 30 seconds back a couple of times on the course, so I really didn’t know if there was anyone close or coming up behind. Once I was out front, I just focused on doing all the things, driving the bike well, pushing efficiently and fuelling.
Any mechanicals, crashes, bears or other mishaps you had to overcome or out-ride?
I had one small crash where a very short lapse in concentration had me hitting my left knuckle on some trees. With the amount of tight singletrack on the course and the amount of time you are asking yourself to concentrate on driving the bike well, it’s not surprising. To ride these kinds of trails as fast as possible is a game of using the whole trail and that means riding within centimetres of trees on either side of the trail.
Did you know how Haley was doing while racing or was it a nice surprise at the end to know you’d both won your respective races?
I really had no idea how Haley was doing in her race but it was one of the first questions I asked Drew (Esherick, MFR team manager) when I finished. I was very excited to hear that she had a decent gap and I could be happy for both of us at that point. Competing with your partner at the same event or even at the same time is kind of interesting. I think during the race I allowed myself to wonder how Haley was doing a couple of times, but not for long because I really had to focus on what I was doing.
Are you prepared to embrace all the jokes about couples who wear matching kit while riding for a full season? Will there be matching kit/couple photo shoots in the vein of Sears family portraits??
We are pretty much matching most of the time when we are riding, bikes, shoes kit so it won’t be anything new ha. It will be new to get to do so with the Maple Leaf on our jersey, which is super special!
Any additional thoughts from your Yukon experience?
Geof Harries and the team at Yukon Cycling put on a really great event and I was happy to be a part of it. The cycling community in Whitehorse was extremely welcoming to us and we truly felt like we were part of the community, if only for a week. We will certainly be back for a visit as we didn’t have enough time to explore all the trails of Whitehorse and the surrounding communities. I’m really looking forward to representing this jersey as best I can for the next year, both in North America and internationally. This is going to sound cliche, but it’s true. I am coming home with a new jersey, but more importantly, I am coming home with incredible memories and experiences from our time in the Yukon.
Follow the Maxxis Factory Team, Andrew L’Esperance and Haley Smith and their off-road adventures here:
Photo credits: @johnhowlandphoto