The BC Bike Race closed at a party on the finishing line at Whistler's Olympic Plaza lawn with the sunshine reflecting off the remaining summer snow of the surrounding mountain peaks. As riders crossed the line, getting hugs and medals, their tears mixed with the sweat and dust caked on their faces from the fastest final stage ever at the BCBR. As the riders lazed around in the lawn enjoying their post-raace euphoria, stories of the week and more hugs were shared between people who had never met a week earlier.
After one of the most challenging BCBR race weeks for both riders and crew, the relief of riding in the sun on a course that was completely dry was the perfect end to a roller-coaster journey. Incredible racing and riding distinguished this sixth year from the previous five, as the rain and leaders from earlier in the week transitioned on the final day to sunshine and new protagonists fighting for the peak of the podium.
Many stories emerge in a week of racing and each rider has to manage their personal challenges and expectations. For some it's terrain that differs drastically from their home trails, and with riders from 33 different countries the singletrack varies as much as the languages. The large Belgian contingency has very little technical terrain but plenty of wet weather. Riders from the countries of Africa like, Egypt, Namibia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and the United Arab Eremites have arid desert landscapes that vary greatly from the deserts of Arizona in the US. Even Canadians from the central and eastern regions are learning a new riding style. What they all have in common is that they came to the BCBR specifically to ride trails unlike anything else in the world.
Men's Epic Solo Race
2012 was by far the most exciting men's solo race in history. Returning 2x Champion Chris Sheppard of the Rocky Mountain Factory Team was staring in the face of younger riders who had a hunger difficult to contain. Squamish star Neil Kindree of Specialized/EMD and Barry Wicks of Team Kona were saddled up to the buffet to load up on stage wins and the ultimate sweet taste of victory. The rest of the field was strong but still pups fighting for the scraps as the leaders tore into each other every day.
Never in the history of the BCBR has the first three stages ended in a sprint with the same three riders only separated by a second or two each day. Wicks took the first two stages virtually tying Kindree. On stage three in Powell River Sheppard earned a stage taking the sprint and going home only two seconds down on the general classification. The longest stage, at 62 km, from Earls Cove to Sechelt established Barry Wicks as the favorite when he went on an early flier and earned a minute and a half over Kindree and sank Sheppard to a four and half time deficit. The next day from Sechelt to Langdale, Kindree fired back a memo letting the world know it wasn't over , when he more than erased his time deficit and put on the Golden Fleece for the first time with a slim 5 second lead over a fading Wicks. The racers favorite stage Squamish saw sunshine while Wicks fell apart more as he couldn't get his body to respond after five hard days of racing. Again Kindree took the win and seemed to be the new race favorite as he pushed Sheppard 3:45 back into his seat.
The stage in Whistler was sure to be Kindree's but there are always melt-downs and mechanicals, so predictions were hesitant. As the shortest stage the world cup and cyclo-cross legs of Sheppard had experience on their side. Always a fighter, he wasn't going to concede the overall till all tires tripped the final timing mat. The Olympic Plaza lawn was an exciting arena to watch from with good views for the crowd of spectators.
There were no radio updates during the race and until Chris Sheppard came around the final bend to take the stage win. Sheppard blew through the finish with no Kindree in site and it suddenly became a possibility that on the last stage the two time champion might have earned a story book win. He needed an almost impossible 3:45 to win and as the clocked ticked off the slowest seconds in history, you could see Sheppard and the crowd leaning forward and tensing up.
"I started to juice it through the lost lakes stuff, and I don't know what happened. He (Kindree) mechanicaled, then I ended up having one myself, and it was just stressful."
A rider appeared from around the bend and the excitement volume turned up as Cory Wallace (Kona) relieved a bit of stress from the audience, but the question of the overall was still unanswered. When Kindree finally came into sight, sprinting for the line, a collective yell escaped as the spectators cheered him across the line with only 15 seconds to spare. With a satisfied audience Sheppard congratulated a happy Kindree who took home his first BCBR Solo Golden Fleece.
Kindree's delay was from a flat in the Lost Lake trails with a sidewall tear. "I fixed it as calmly as I could, and as quickly as I could then I just locked my self into the hurtlocker, that wasn't pleasant."
"It feels amazing last year I had a couple flats and one day lost 20 min. I said 2012 I'd come back and I wanted to win it." Kindree is a tactical rider and he had an entire year to plan for 2012. It's not surprising that he was able to stay calm during the first four stages and turn on the heat at the right times to cook up a finish that will go down in BCBR history.
Women's Solo Epic Race
As with any stage race, the collective result is the average of how a rider's week went. For the overall winner Wendy Simms (Kona) every day was a domination that only experience and years as a professional rider can equal to. Still, any amount of experience is better than none and for the variety of riders who had never done a stage race, the next one is sure to be better.
The rest of the women's solo field had a more roller coaster finishes with three women working through good and bad days. Second overall, Melinda Jackson (KiwiRoo) had a very steady week on the bike with the only hic-up on the final day in Whistler were she got her lowest stage finish in 6th after a week of not dipping below third the previous six stages.
The course killer in Whistler goes to the spritely New Zealander Hanna Thorne who stayed consistent through the week, adopting a low profile on the first four stages, then as the days started to get more gravity fed, she used her downhill skills to humble both male and female competitors.
Playing down her skills she insisted there wasn't a plan. "I just went my pace for the race." Knowing oneself and riding within those expectations has it's benefits and for Hanna it was a third place overall as she crushed the last stage only finishing behind Simms by 2:06. Hopefully there are images of Thorne sending it coming down Crank It Up, so we can all see where she earned her cookies.
A testament to not take consistency for granted would have to be the results of strong and talented riders like Sonya Looney (Topeak/Ergon) and Pam Frentzel-Beyme (Gripped Racing). The fourth and fifth overall finishers had days that were great then days that went really wrong. Looney an experienced racer has been through these hic-ups before and always kept a positive attitude.
"What am I going to do? That's the way it goes and I'm happy to just be here riding in an amazing place."
Women's Solo Master's Epic
North Vancouver has it's own champion returning home this weekend wearing the Golden Fleece. The Muddbunnies Team rider Kimberley Beck motored her way to the final podium with only one stage loss. Like most riders Beck suffered through a stage when her whole program was shutting down. On stage five from Sechelt to Langdon she suffered her lowest point of the race, but managed to turn it back around on the Squamish stage. When asked about managing exhaustion and pushing through the darkness she credited the quality of her training from Wendy Simms, and a local interval training program through Endless Biking.
"I feel pretty stupid at the end of every day. I can barely function, I can't do the simplest tasks. Cumulative exhaustion sets in. I had a really bad day yesterday mentally, physically I was just done. But I had a fantastic day today and it was a complete 180 degree turnaround."
Men's Solo Master's Epic
One of the most international top fives goes to the Men's Master category. Olympian Mannie Heymans (Ormin) of Namibia owned the race from the start, but he had his own struggles with the wet stages.
"The trails are mind-blowing, the tech level with mud and water thrown in is something I don't get in South Africa." His success is testament to his strength and ability to adapt.
From China, Chad Forrest (Peking Man), didn't always finish above third place overall finisher Craig Gillett (SIMBS)of Canada but he was consistent enough to stay on the second step of the podium. Chris Birch from Canada also got stronger as the week went on to stay ahead of Kiwi, Al Killick (Team Panther).
Men's Team Of Two Epic
Unbelievable fight was highlighted in the team of two competition. Team Jamis were looking to have a battle on their way to the final stage, but an early injury on stage three, to the hands of Colin Kerr of the Rocky Mountain Factory Team 1 turned down the flame on the hottest competition Jamis had going into the race. Rocky Mountain Team 2, took the lead challengers roll and kept a steady boil under Jason Sager and Thomas Turner of Jamis.
Kerr carried on with team mate Greg Day, but with stitches in one palm and gouges in the other, it was all Kerr to do to hang on with a thumb and the tips of his fingers, without suffering sever hand cramps.
All but one rider of the three teams were all experienced riders of British Columbia. Thomas Turner comes from Georgia in the US and it was his first time getting BC loam in the eyes.
"The closest thing I could compare it to is Pisgah (North Carolina). Technical, flowy, twisty. You just can't let your guard down. It was awesome." Turner
Easton Gravity Enduro
The race within the race was expanded to two stages a day for the first six days and one on the Whistler stage. Each day the sections were sponsored by Fox Shox on the stage and by RedBull on the 2nd. As imagined, the shakedown for the top spot was contested by someone besides the overall race leaders.
The man from North Van and an integral part of the BC Bike Race, Andreas Hestler (Rocky Mountain) developed a winning strategy.
"You got to roll off the gas for a minute before dropping in. Let the legs relax. If you can't just pin it without changing pace. I learned that from riding with Wade (Simmons)." With a 23rd in the overall it's not as if he took the whole race easy.
Chris Sheppard took second place, most likely boosted by his shred down the Highway 102 RedBull GE stage, when he was dropping a tired Barry Wicks and chasing down Neil Kindree who all posted a faster time than Hestler.