6-30-07 // B.C. Bike Race Course Preview

Race Preview: B.C. Bike Race-The Pacific TraverseFor participants in the inaugural edition of the B.C. Bike Race-The Pacific Traverse, a seven-day mountain-bike stage race from Victoria to British Columbia, it’s best not to dwell on the stats.

With the race set to begin at 9 a.m. Sunday morning in the town of Sooke, just outside of Victoria, there’s no need to over-think the 510 kilometers of classic B.C. terrain that lies ahead. Mulling over that 8000-foot climbing day later in the week would just be jumping the gun. Just how many hours will it take to complete the first stage, a 112-kilometer ride that features a 1,500-foot climb just 12 miles into this marathon week? The answers will come soon enough.

Over the last few weeks, details about the July 1-7 B.C. Bike Race have trickled out, and the 250 or so entrants are either licking their chops or turning in their sleep.

The B.C. Bike Race is the creation of Dean Payne, an experienced organizer of adventure races in British Columbia. To plot out the course, a clockwise circuit that begins on Canada Day near Vancouver and concludes with a final-day time trial at Whistler on July 7, Payne turned to three-time TransRockies champion Andreas Hestler.

The former World Cup cross-country racer jumped at the opportunity to turn more people on to the type of racing that has captivated him and led him to three wins at TransRockies, another grueling endurance test in Canada. Now, after some adventurous course reconnaissance rides over the past few months, Hestler’s route will be unveiled. One thing racers can expect, he says, is plenty of fun B.C. singletrack.

Like the TransRockies events, the B.C. Bike Race follows a team format. Two-person teams must ride together and finish each stage together. It’s primarily a safety measure, but Hestler says it also adds to the experience. “It’s also a bit of a curveball for mountain bike racers, who are used to competing solo,” Hestler says.

Six-time 24-hour solo world champion Chris Eatough (Trek-Volkswagen) leads a short list of well-known pros who will line up for the start, with a few others including Olympian Ryder Hesjedal, now a road pro on the domestic Health Net team, and fellow Canadian Seamus McGrath.

While the mileage and challenging terrain of the first B.C. Bike Race are daunting, organizers are also emphasizing the tourism aspect of the race. In addition to long days in the saddle, racers will see the region by way of ferry rides and zip lines. Nights will be spent in supported campsites (organizers set up one tent per team), and for those who can muster the energy, the host towns along Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast and the Sea to Sky corridor can be explored at night.

B.C. Bike Race

Here’s a look at the stages:

Stage 1: Victoria to Cowichan Lake District
Distance: 112 kilometers

After a short warm-up on the outskirts of the small village of Sooke, racers will encounter their first major climb, a 1600-foot grind up to Weeks Lake. Then comes a singletrack descent on Triple Stage toward the Burnt Bridge mountain bike trails. Next, riders will roll through the classic Can-Am Trail and Trans Canada Trail before finishing in the village of Lake Cowichan.

Stage 2: Cowichan Lake District to Port Alberni
Distance: 118 kilometers

The longest stage of the race starts with a rolling 53-kilometer stretch before the first major obstacle of the day, a steep, technical 8-kilometer climb out of Honeymoon Bay. After a fast descent, the biggest climb comes at the 75-kilometer mark. The ascent toward Duck Lake tops out around 2500 feet above sea level. Once over the top, riders will be rewarded with a ripping 22-kilometer descent into Port Alberni.

Stage 3: Port Alberni-Cumberland
Distance: 82 kilometers

The day begins on the historic Log Train Trail, cutting through lush forests of Douglas Fir. Racers will ride out of the Alberni Valley and into the Comox Valley toward classic Cumberland trails including Bucket of Blood, Soggy Biscuit, Matt’s Trail and Space Nugget.

Stage 4: Cumberland-Sechelt
Distance: 59 kilometers

Day four starts with two ferry rides across Little River, Power River, the Saltery Bay and Earls Cove. After the 11 a.m. start, riders will encounter plenty of singletrack, including the rolling, non-technical Suncoast Trail trail. There will be multiple creek crossings on the day, which end with a tight, twisting descent through a lush northwest rainforest.

Stage 5: Sechelt-Langdale
Distance: 58 kilometers

After a start in picturesque downtown Sechelt, day five treats racers to the Rat Race trail system, one of the highlights of the route. The fast, buff rainforest trails offer great scenery to take racers’ minds off the pain. Two high peaks will also be crossed before the descent into Langdale.

Stage 6: Squamish-Whistler
Distance: 72 kilometers

The penultimate day of the B.C. Stage Race is one for the climbers. After a neutral start out of Squamish, riders launch into a rugged 8-kilometer grunt up Cheakamus Canyon. Other trails encountered on this tour of the Sea to Sky corridor will include one by the name of Trash, plus Cardiac Hill, Lower Sproat and River Runs Through It. Near the end of this massive day, riders will encounter a 1500-foot climb with 27 switchbacks.

Stage 7: Whistler
Distance: 25 kilometers

The final day offers a couple twists. First, the format: Instead of the usual mass-start, the last day, which takes riders through some of Whistler’s most famous singletrack including Kill Me Thrill Me, is a time-trial format. The two-person teams will race against the clock. But before clicking into their pedals for the final day, riders will first plummet down the Skyline zip line, hitting speeds in excess of 60 miles per hour. After that it’s a day of hoots, hollers and grunts on Whistler’s renowned freeride terrain before finally finishing off in Whistler Village.

Check out bikemag.com throughout the week for race updates from B.C.

—Kip Mikler