The 10th anniversary edition of the BC Bike Race is done and dusted, following the stage 7 assault on Whistler, a 16-mile affair with 3510 feet of climbing. Average finishing time was just over 2.5 hours. The after party lasted much, much longer.
After seven days of rain, rocks, roots, tears, and cheers all fueled by coastal singletrack, it all came down to Whistler. The belt buckle that finishers got at the end of the last stage are important markers of a journey that was hard fought. You can try to describe what you go through in seven days to friends who haven’t been there, but, they will never fully understand what that hunk of metal means. It’s a small thing but the buckle is a trigger of memories every time the owner catches a glimpse or touches it.
The story of this year’s 10th anniversary BCBR was one of classic shore conditions, strong local community support, new trails, and an atmosphere that kept riders in good spirits even as the sun struggled to come out. The BC Bike Race is the only event the founders put on all year and that laser focus manifests in impeccable planning, strong community relationships, amazing trails, and arguably one of the best racer experiences of any MTB stage race in the world.
Every participant has a tale about their adventure of getting there, getting through it and all the personal history they brought to the week. There were birthdays, anniversaries, unplanned entries, peer pressure, and bucket lists that needed completing. There were teams of father and sons, mother and daughters, siblings, best friends, couples, and the barely acquainted. The stories were as diverse as the number of participants from 36 countries can be.
The one common theme was the love of mountain biking. You might find yourself sharing a tent with a total stranger but rest assured that ultimately you both just want to ride your bike in the woods.
Caroline Lamont has a long history with the BC Bike Race, but always second-hand as an observer showing up to the banquet on the last day with her husband Grant who has been the Whistler course director for all 10 years of the race.
“I always wanted to do it because I’d go to the banquet and everyone seemed so close that they’ve shared this big thing together and I’ve never been part of that, I was like an outsider,” said Lamont.
This year she decided to finally jump in and join the show, riding trail that is arguably in her backyard. Locals who decide to do the event seem to come in with a different motivation than pure trail hunters. They are less likely to be enchanted by the images and stories that are enticing to the rest of the world who don’t live in the heart of it. It took the idea of bonding with a new group of people to bring Lamont to the start line. Riding with new people creates perspective for a local rider about their own trails, community, and personal riding skills.
“Here you can ride all the stuff because you know you have a support crew there for you,” added Lamont. “Some of the technical stuff I wasn’t riding 5 years ago. We’re 50-something and it was pretty awesome to pass a 20-something guy.”
A contrast to the goals of Lamont who was in search of that bonding experience were the Open Women Team of Kelly Mapleston and Linda Corrigan who came from Australia in search of the storied trails of British Columbia. What they found was both the trails and exactly what Lamont was searching for as well.
“We found a great group of people to ride with,” said Corrigan. “We found our friends out on the trail. We all stuck together, looked after each other and helped each other out. We had snapped chains that we all sorted out together, we had crashes that we helped each other through, we looked after each other it was awesome….. The trails were amazing. I just road things I would never even dream of riding in my life. The flow, the root systems you guys have, having them wet most days was just absolutely amazing. I was just a passenger on my bike and just lapped it up.”
The BC Bike Race also draws huge international participation and this year had several distinctively large groups. The group efforts this year were particularly impressive with 13 Norwegians, 26 from Mexico, and a Peruvian group of 15 that was easy to spot by the shirts they had made and wore all week. Those were the large collections of riders who made a group effort in getting the to the BC Bike Race, but there were many smaller groups of riders from different countries and regions who came as a collective and made a huge impression on the overall event.
This year’s final stage had a new course, new start and finish, and a new point-to-point format that put riders on some classic Whistler trails never used by the race before. At 26km, it was slated to be a taper to the week of racing. Shorter did not mean easier, as riders soon discovered that climbing 1070 meters in such a short stage might kick you in the pants a little harder than expected. Fortunately the weather played nice and riders actually got to experience trails that kicked up a little dust for the first time this week.
Beginning in Bayly Park the course started with mellow gravel paths and soon kicked up the first big climb of the day. As the stage progressed the climbing got steeper and the trails more technical as it reached the final descent on chunky root and rock strewn Danimal. A beach side finish in Rainbow Park with the snow peaked mountains in the background gave riders one last picture perfect backdrop memory to go home with.
“Rainbow park is a locals park pretty much,” said race PR boss Andreas Hestler. “So for us to be able to share this awesome spot looking at Whistler and Blackcomb is amazing. This is local’s knowledge, so we’re lifting our veils for the 2016 alumni.”
In the open men’s race, Alberta’s Cory Wallace’s (Kona Bikes) took the overall win. After many years working as a lieutenant for teammates he finally the had the strength and teammates willing to be there for him. At the beginning of the day Wallace had a 1:13 deficit to his teammate Spencer Paxson, the result of two flats during the week. A Herculean effort after each set-back and on the last two stages helped him claw back the 4 minutes he had lost. Even today a crash over the bars in the last 2km tried to sideline him from his long fought goal. With a crooked stem and dirt still in his eye he dug hard to the point of memory loss to get to the line for the overall.
“The last 5km I let it loose,” said Wallace. “Quinn let me by. I kind of blanked out in my head. I just thought ‘I’m getting to that finish line. If things break, I’m getting there.’”
It had to be a bittersweet end to the race for Paxson who was third on the day but was 2nd overall for the fourth year in a row at a race he loves and truly wants to win. Wallace was clearly the strongest of the men in the race and the goal for the Kona team was to be on the podium. Paxson rode a consistent and clean race in support of his teammate but even the most loyal and humble racer at this level wants to be on the highest step of the podium they can.
Quinn Moberg (Rocky Mountain) was 2nd on the day finishing the week strong with a follow up to the previous day’s win. He finished 4th overall again this year but is still young with many years of results left in his future. American Stephen Ettinger (Ride Biker Alliance/Focus) Finished his first BC Bike Race in third after a strong start to the week. Stage 7 was his lowest finishing position in 6th as his legs began to lose their punch after so many days of racing.
An interesting side-note to the story of the top four racers this year was that Shimano had outfitted them all on the new electronic Shimano Di2 XT drive trains. This was the first time many of them had even used electric shifting. The overwhelming impression was positive for all the reasons a stage racer would hope for after one of the most harsh, equipment testing, environments you can put it through. Wallace and Paxson both emphasized the efficiency and precision that allowed them to concentrate on the trail, make less stressful and intuitive gear changes while keeping their thumbs fresh after 16 hours of racing.
“It might sound minor but for a week of racing every bit of energy saved adds up, especially when there are only 40 seconds separating you at the end,” said Wallace.
In the women’s open Kelli Emmett (Juliana/SRAM/Lululemon Athletica) walked away with the overall this year by winning each stage. That doesn’t mean that she escaped without adversity as her legs and one flat tire reminded her what cross country racing was all about. Seven years ago Emmett raced the BC Bike Race before turning away from the XC scene and concentrating on the world of enduro racing.
“I’ve been so wrapped up in enduro racing,” said Emmett. “BC Bike Race has always been at the top of my list… I really realized I kinda missed racing with people again. Having people to motivate you, to push harder, to look ahead. It’s pretty exciting to be out there with other people again.”
Though Sammi Runnels (Ride Biker Alliance) ended up with a steady time gap over third place overall Kaysee Armstrong (LIV Giant), the stages they took turns coming ahead of each other in really illustrates the strength of each rider. Runnels’ climbing legs led her to the finish line in front of Armstrong for five of the stages, but it was the shorter more technical days of the North Shore and Whistler where the Tennessee rider was able to shine. Both riders were obviously good riders as can be attested by the many men they rode with and had to pass each day.