Cycling News

Meet Katja Verkerk: Canadian gravel national champion

Meet Katja Verkerk: Canadian gravel national champion

In just its second year, Canadian gravel nationals is proving to be an event that reveals new talent. This year, Katja Verkerk emerged from frosty temperatures and thick mud to claim the elite women’s national title at Ghost of Gravel.

The 20-year-old from Victoria finished just shy of three minutes ahead of Haley Smith after 4:37 of racing through rain and then rapidly thickening mud in the Alberta foothills. Verkerk was un-phased by the adverse conditions on race day.

“Racing is racing. The weather doesn’t really care!” Verkerk shared. “I guess it’s just the same as training. If I have a workout in my Training Peaks it doesn’t really matter what the weather’s like, you just do it until it turns green.”

On Sunday, Verkerk’s ride turned gold, winning her first national title in her first season of racing. But along with the mental toughness was a good bit of preparation.

“The forecast said it was going to be that weather for a week leading up to the race. So I brought a lot of layers with me. Like, so many options,” Verkerk says, admitting with a laugh, “I think some people would have looked at my bag and said I had too many options, but I wanted to be prepared.”

The planning paid off. On the morning of the race, Verkerk was wearing two jackets and a sweater and says she was still shivering.

Verkerk, barely recognizable in the middle, with Kelsey Dunfield (right) during Ghost of the Gravel. Photo: Cody Shimizu

“I was wondering how I was going to throw on a gilet and a couple layers and be OK,” she admits. “But I know that I heat up pretty quickly when I start riding. It actually turned out to be fine and I even shed some layers off. [Organizers] also had hand warmers on the start for us, which was nice.”

When the race did start, Verkerk found herself in a group with a steadily diminishing group of elite women. She was marking pre-race favourite Haley Smith’s wheel when DNA’s Sara Poidevin attacked up a short, sharp rise into a long descent. Smith didn’t follow and, when one other rider started to chase, Verkerk decided it was time to follow.

“I just full-on chased Sara for five or 10 minutes. I passed the other girl, but she hopped on my wheel until we caught Sarah.”

The third rider eventually dropped off the pace, leaving Verkerk alone with Poidevin.

“It was just Sara and I until 75-ish, when she dropped me,” Verkerk says. “Five minutes later, I saw her on the side of the road looking at her…

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