Words by Harlan Price
Photos by Margus Riga, Dave Silver, Erik Peterson and Todd Weselake
The last rider, Greg Lee of Hawaii, successfully crossed the finish line of the British Columbai Bike Race day 7 in Whistler Village. "I think if I knew what this really involved I would have bailed and said I'm not ready, so in a way it was nice that I was busy with my life and had a rude awakening. BC Bike Race made the worst mountain biker in the history of the race come here and dramatically improve his skills. I'll be back when I'm really ready for this," he said.
The BCBR has become a bucket-list event for riders all over the world based on the concept that it is the 'ultimate singletrack experience.' It has evolved from a stage race based on a traditional structure of traveling from point A to point B with a lot of trail in between, to one that answers the call for less filler and more killer. The world has asked for it and BCBR continues to deliver what people say they want, a celebration of singletrack. The question is do people know what they are asking for?
Yes there is singletrack, but what does that mean? Trail that's gnarly and challenging or flow trails that are fun and visceral, but don't test boundaries? BC has both kinds of trail, but would you want seven days of the same style? Many people were surprised by the technical difficulty of many of the trails at BCBR despite the reputation of the North Shore and BC for being one of the most challenging places in the world to ride. At the same time, many local riders would say the race used some of the easier trails on the Shore. The terrain pushes physical boundaries and forces the technology of our equipment to progress to make riding difficult terrain easier. As a result, unprepared riders may go home a little more battered, but with a broadened horizon of what is possible.
People shouldn't be scared of the BC Bike Race, but a healthy respect for the level of difficulty would benefit each rider. A few key skills can make everyone not only safer, but would allow them to have more fun on the bike–learn to roll down steep pitches, front-wheel drop-off a 16-inch ledge, modulate your brakes, use pressure control to absorb obstacles, ride on elevated two-foot wide bridges, corner in loose gravel, go up rooted steep pitches, etc.
In some ways the bubble created by the crew's care for the riders might cloud the reality that this is still a hard race, not because of distance or climbing, but because of trail that is truly challenging the comfort level of riders. Praise for the logistics and support staff are often part of the same sentence that rejoices at the actual riding. The BCBR is more similar to trying to summit a difficult peak than doing a marathon. The reward is standing on top of the world, having overcome many obstacles along the way. From the top, riders can pick their way down, or with a little preparation, they can tap into the flow every rider can find.
There is a reason the BC Bike Race is mostly won by regional riders. Technical courses require precision at high speeds, which becomes easier if you know what lies ahead. Strength is important, but timing of energy-use, knowing where not to get hung up in tricky sections and feeling confident in exactly how fast you can go through a blind corner all add up to better race times. You can always try to follow a local, but they will eventually make a move that you didn't see coming. A flick of the bars, combined with just the right pressure out of a corner sets up the bike and body for that squeeze between the trees you didn't see coming. A sign of a technical course is when race history is predominantly on the side of locals and the time gaps from the front to back stretch over hours.
In the end, Sechelt resident Kris Sneddon (Kona Racing) took home yellow for the second year. Pulled into the second overall position was his Kona teammate, Spencer Paxson. Tristan Uhl (787 Racing) was probably as capable of a rider on the descents as Sneddon, but as a first timer to the race he had some reservations and his admittedly lackluster climbing working against him. Kona's broom wagon was in town and ready to work for Sneddon. Uhl, from Austin Texas, never stopped attacking and even on the last day he exploded off the front early, as one last effort before the curtains closed. He faded hard and finished the lowest he had all week in 9th place, but still managed to hold on to third overall.
The stage wins were split three for Sneddon, two including today for Jason Sager (Backcountry Bikes), one for Barry Wicks of Kona, and one for Uhl. Tristan is the only rider who was doing the BCBR for the first time.
Sager's second victory of the week came when he used his experience coming into the finishing turn to cut a sharp inside corner and come around Wicks for the stage win. It was a fitting finish for the Backcountry Bikes rider, who claims to be on the retirement plan but can't quite let go of his fitness or love of strategy. He ended up 7th in the overall.
"It doesn't matter how your results are at BC, you always have an awesome time,” Sager said. “There is no better riding or racing anywhere."
Last year's second place overall finisher and Whistler winner, Kim Hurst, entered the race looking to win stages, but had come up short throughout the week. She decided this would be her last chance and she lost no time going off the front to chase down the podium. She was in the lead looking confident when a racer ahead of her crashed and came down hard. Hurst stuck to the honor system of the race and stayed with the rider until help was able to come. Even though she didn't gain the podium spot in the way she hoped for she stood on it with the rest of the women at the end of her day in honor of her care for a fellow racer.
Probably the most exciting race of the week was today’s battle for the podium. It came down to a four-minute gap in Whistler between Wendy Simms (Kona Racing) and Lea Davison (Specialized Bicycles). Three different women went to the top of the podium throughout the week, but the battle for first was between current U.S. National Champion Davison and multi-time winner Simms. Each rider had reason to not be on best form for the BCBR; Davison five months out of hip surgery and Simms returning to school, as well as a general redirection away from racing.
On the first day, Davison gave everyone a reason to perk up and take notice when she opened up the week with a win in the North Shore. This Vermont native could not only climb fast, but she also had the confidence and poise to bag one of the most technically challenging courses in this year’s race. From there on, it was a game of hot-potato with first place between her, Simms and Sonya Looney (Topeak Ergon).
Simms went in to stage six with a five minute gap on Davison, but the American's tenacious attacks gave her a nine-minute win at the end of the day, giving her the yellow jersey. Coming into the short final stage, closing a four-minute gap seemed highly unlikely for Simms at the start of the day, but true to her competitive spirit, she didn't let that deter her from attacking and putting Davison's legs in shackles.
When Simms crossed the line first, everyone checked the time to see what the gap to Davison would be. Two-and-a-half minutes later, she crossed the line winning the BC Bike Race by 1:49 after seven days and 18 hours of racing.
"Today I actually fell apart at the seams a little bit,” Simms said. “I was super tired and honestly, if there was 10 more kilometers in the stage, I would have lost it. It's amazing to have it this close. A couple minutes separating us after 18 hours of racing, so it's been really fun with different faces on the podium."
It was Davison's first time at the BC Bike Race and she couldn't wipe the grin off her face when talking about the race.
"It has amazing singletrack, is super fun, this race is very impressive; from transporting 600 people to the showers,” Davison said. “I would suggest it to anyone. It should pretty much be on every mountain biker's life list."
One category that didn't get much attention this year was the enduro part of the BC Bike Race. The-race-within-the-race got to a slow start when the timing in North Vancouver encountered some issues. This year the enduro format reduced its number of segments to one each day, instead of two for the first six days of the race.
Andreas Hestler (Rocky Mountain Bicycles) ended up returning to the Enduro top spot after getting bumped last year. He only had the slimmest 8-second margin over second place finisher Jeff Beaston, from Courtney, B.C. An even thinner margin of four seconds separated Beaston from Logan Wetzel (Transition Bikes). It was a week of exchanging stage wins and if Wetzel had not plowed his face into the ground in Squamish, he might have had the 12 seconds he needed to win the overall.
In the Women's Category of the Enduro, the top-two spots were taken by Catharine Pendrel (LUNA Chix) and Wendy Simms (Kona Racing). Those two are some of the smoothest riders anywhere and have raced on the international scene for years.
Third place finisher Emilie Thy, of Cumberland, entered the race the week before it started with a friends entry and really showed her grassroots chops. She may not have been as fast in the overall, but her placing proves that the enduro rider can come from a different segment of fitness and still be competitive with some of the best riders in the world.
The only difficulty Thy had was getting around the slower riders around her. Pendrel and Simms are going hard and amongst riders who are of similar riding ability. Thy took the course at a more relaxed pace until the enduro segments, which meant more people to come around when she dropped in.
To the ridres out there in her way she had to do the best she could to get around them.
"I say please, please, please let me by to a lot of stubborn guys that maybe aren't so excited about girls passing them going down,” Thy said. “Then I say please some more and then I just cut inside the corner."
There are a lot of great races going on at the BC Bike Race, but the duo category is the one that has the most tradition. The BCBR started out as a duo only race before allowing the solo category. Part of the reason was to keep a buddy system on the longer point-to-point days, when being lost and alone on technical trail was more of a safety issue.
This year the category had less competition, but the teams at the top were winning the overall in stages and proving that two people can go fast. The other interesting element to the two top teams was the composition of an older more experienced rider leading a younger first-timer through the trails of British Columbia.
The Rocky Mountain Bicycles team of Greg Day and Quinn Molberg, who both live in Squamish, ended the week with another win in their category, as well as a top ten finish in the overall stage in Whistler. Probably the highlight of their week was winning the overall stage in Squamish, where both live within hucking distance to the trails they raced on. Getting to race at home can be extra motivation when you have your support network there cheering you on. For Molberg that was "friends and family, parents, brother, sister, girlfriend (and) bike coach. Everyone that is meaningful."
LUNA Chix team of Catharine Pendrel and Maghalie Rochette were dominant in their category, as Pendrel set a challenging pace for her enthusiastic apprentice Rochette. When asked how her teammate was, and did, they respond with laughs.
"I couldn’t wish for a better teammate,” Rochette said. “Maybe she’s laughing, but I’m just looking at her two Shimano stickers on the back triangle of her bike, and I’m watching that, and staying there, making sure the two stickers don’t go too far away."
You could watch the two riding together and see the determination of Rochette to stay on pace and learn how these stage races worked.
"Maghalie never having done a stage race, she was wondering how hard can we dig and the more days we did, the more confidence she got. And that became, ‘Hey I can do this.,'” Pendrel siad. “She’s so positive all the time and receptive to learning. She’s a really good partner to have.”
Previous BCBR days: