When Canadian XC Marathon nationals took place in Whitehorse over the weekend, it brought with it a long list of first. It was the first time the endurance cross country race was held since 2019. It was the first Canadian cycling championships in Yukon, or any Territory. It was also a first for Haley Smith and Andrew L’Esperance, who both earned their first elite national titles.
I caught up with the Maxxis Factory Racing duo to find out how the Whitehorse weekend played out.
CanadianMTB: First off, congratulations on your wins! The course in Whitehorse looked quite singletrack-heavy. Did that play into your race plans? And how did the wins play out for you?
Haley Smith: The course was very single-track heavy. I don’t know exact numbers, but probably about 90 per cent single track in total. And physical single track, too; my triceps were the most sore part of my body! It didn’t play into my race plan so much – I really just wanted to see if I could get a gap early and hold/grow it. That’s basically how the race ended up playing out.
Andrew L’Esperance: For this race, I was looking for a hard course to create separation. So, although on paper there wasn’t a lot of climbing and the trails weren’t crazy technical or anything, this course was very challenging. I think the key factors were the amount of tight singletrack that challenged your high-speed stick-handling type driving skills, the high-speed rough sections that beat up your body and then just the fact that you are doing 90 km of it.
I tried to make the race hard from the beginning and did an effort that was not far off an XCO start. I thought that within the field I was racing I likely had a strong start effort. I knew that if I could get out of sight, I would be able to ride the course fast in a way that suited my strengths. That’s what I did and it worked out, although it was tough as I didn’t have any real information on time gaps back, so I just held the throttle as wide open as I could right until the end.
You’ve both had a lot of success in your careers, but this is the first elite national title for both of you (first-ever for Andrew, and first elite for Haley). What does that mean to you? And what was it like winning those together on the same day?
HS: Yes, this is my first elite national title (I have one from U23 XCO). It’s cool to…