Cool breezes and overcast skies greeted the BC Bike Race riding caravan as they awoke on the eastern shores of the Georgia Strait in Powell River. This small isolated village on the Sunshine Coast has turned with the tides and embraced mountain biking as the timber industry has slowly receded. At one time these forests of tall timbers would be harvested for paper, but now they are charged with providing safe harbor for miles of singletrack that are the region’s newest hot commodity.
The day’s featured trail of the Lululemon Athletica sponsored stage were the classic Death Rattle connecting into Sweet Water, which plunged down from the highest point of the day. The elevation profile showed no huge climbs or descents, but the continuously undulating terrain and moist hero dirt quickly lulled the riders into a dreamworld of pumping roots and mossy rollers.
The Powell River course was more pump and flow on loam and moss than the previous day’s abundant root and rock drops. Riders who could time their rise and fall through the woods were rewarded with a magic carpet flow that dipped and weaved through an unreal rainforest while ferns tickled their chins. These trails and the community that builds them are the reason the BC Bike Race spends two days camping on the shore.
The Race, The Community
The community of Powell River never fails to arrive in force to cheer on this yearly invasion of foreign riders on their local trails. From the ferry exit to the various trail access points, the locals don’t hold back in their welcome of these strangers from foreign lands. From the tiki bar at the Aloha Bridge to the 1950s dance party at the top of the ‘51 Dodge trail, the community keeps it fun and light for the riders at key points along the Powell River course.
In the women’s open competition Kelli Emmett (Juliana/SRAM) started her day keeping the pace slightly slower after breaking a few too many eggs the day before. Despite the adjusted effort she still managed another win with a 7-minute gap over second place finisher Sammi Runnels (Ride Biker Alliance).
A former cross country specialist, several years ago the enduro format renewed Emmett’s love of mountain biking, but the change in discipline has her out of touch with her cross country pacing. A regular contender in the Enduro World Series, Emmett has redefined herself as a racer. But the knowledge gained from a previous racing life hasn’t been completely lost. Nine years ago, Emmett did the second edition of the BC Bike Race, and she sees a stark comparison to just how much the event has changed in a decade.
“Stage racing was just starting,” she said. “The trails are a little less raw, now they are a little more ridden in, and they flow awesome.”
Sammi Runnels did manage to take a five minute lead over third place rider Kaysee Armstrong (LIV Giant). This stage catered well to Runnels’ climbing strengths. “I was feeling good today,” she said. “It was a really pedaly course so it was good for me.”
In the open men’s race Spencer Paxson’s (Kona Bicycles) had day of redemption after losing a significant overall lead here last year on this stage. The pace at the front was stretched to snapping points several times as the European riders throttled the gravel and road sections before dropping into trail where the North American riders took their turn putting their own torture devices to use.
It was soon after the Aloha Bridge that Stephen Ettinger (Bike Rider Alliance/ Focus Cycles) and Cory Wallace (Kona Bikes) finally cut the tow rope. They set into motion a plan to create as much of a cushion between them and the rest of the men’s field crossing the finish line together within the same second.
Two minutes back in fourth place was Frenchman Frederic Gombert (Cycletyres.com) turning the tables on the history of European marathon specialists who struggle in the rainforests of coastal British Columbia. Quinn Moberg (Rocky Mountain) squeezed his way in between the Euro’s with a fifth place finish. Manuel Weissenbacher (Craft-Rocky Mountain Factory) held onto a 6th place for the day putting him ahead of some of the local favorites.
Also noteworthy was the effort of multi-time gravity racing world champion Brian Lopes and his teammate Joe Lawwill, a former masters DH world champion. The pair are currently leading the Duo 80+ category. Lopes has been to the BC Bike Race before, but it is Lawwill who is getting his first experience in the event. They are up by 11 minutes on second place overall, but there are a few hills standing in the way of the final stage in Whistler. We’ll watch to see how these downhill specialist handle the lumps along the way.
Day 3: Earl’s Cove to Sechelt
Stage 3 will be the longest of the week at 58km with 1600m of climbing. After an early morning bus ride to the Saltery Bay Ferry terminal the riders will be transported to the Earls Cove terminal via ferry, float plane, and small boat. The stage will start following the Suncoaster Trail as it climbs to the Featured Trail built by the local club last year. At the top a new 10km downhill will slide the riders into the new basecamp of Sechelt in Kinnikinnick Park.