The British Columbia Bike Race has officially begun for what will be the event’s tenth anniversary in the beautiful Canadian province.
Day 1 Cumberland Presented by BC Ferries
- 45km/28 miles, average time: 4:12
- 1159m/3802 ft Climbing
Words: Harlan Price
Photos: Margus Riga, Dave Silver, Todd Weselake, Erik Peterson
The BC Bike Race has officially begun it’s tenth anniversary edition with 600 riders from 36 countries completing a cool and rainy Stage One in the forests surrounding Cumberland, BC. Their journey through months or years of preparation was rewarded with classic island singletrack and weather that made the magical forests pop green, while a sheen of mud on the rocks and roots put a crooked smile on everyone’s face at the end of the day. Riders who found finesse and an ability to let the bike squirm under them were rewarded with a roller coaster ride through the world class trails of Cumberland.
Day 0 and 1
The anticipation from the riders was palpable the day before as they completed registration and fidgeted in their seats during the always-entertaining racer’s meeting in North Vancouver. Once they were swept up by the school buses, which took them to their first ferry ride across the Salish Sea to Vancouver Island, the sense that the journey was underway calmed the chattery nerves and the smiles began to come out on the sunny decks of the BC Ferry. The next day would be a day of singletrack school on some of British Columbia’s finest trails. Cumberland was waiting with featured trails like Bucket of Blood, Truffle Shuffle, and Blockhead which was the ‘featured trail’ within the 9km descent early in stage one .
For race co-founder Dean Payne the first ferry ride of the week always provides a moment of reflection. He could be found below-deck contemplating the event’s ten year journey. “BC Bike Race is like Christmas Day but times 7. We work all year for this and it’s a very rewarding day. Here I am ten years later and I’m very happy. I’ve never loved my job more.” When asked if they had a five or ten year plan when they started he laughed and said, “It was a one year plan from the beginning, but there was a plan!”
That plan has seen constant progression and the event has grown to capacity while at the same time redefining what a mountain bike stage race format can be. In 2007 MTB stage racing dogma was based on long hard miles that had little emphasis on the actual trail experience. As Payne and his co-founding partner Andreas Hestler matured their understanding of the strengths of the region they formed stronger partnerships with the towns they stopped in and began developing a race based on the trails and the communities they engaged with.
The result of that evolution was an event that not only changed the formats of stage races throughout the world, but also affected the economic and physical landscapes of the villages that have partnered with them. The community of Cumberland has seen an explosion in growth in the ten years that the race has been coming here. New families and businesses have been steadily moving into the region in search of the outdoor opportunities that were off the radar a decade ago. Effectively, the BC Bike Race has been a major source of recreational advertising for the area on both the national and international scales. Since the surrounding land used by the race is owned by logging companies, no tourism dollars were going towards promoting the growth of the local outdoor recreation industry. Fortunately, a recent land use agreement with the timber company has resulted in a mutually beneficial arrangment
leading to more promotion of Cumberland’s goldmine of trails.
The BCBR has evolved to be an event for singletrack lovers, but it’s the racers who love the full-body trail experience that see the 7 days as the ultimate test of skill and fitness. In the race for the podium, Cory Wallace (Kona Bikes) and Kelli Emmett (Lululemon/ Juliana Bicycles) gave notice today that they were ready to rumble and finished the day standing on top of the pyramid. Wallace, a BC native, has roots and rocks in his blood, and Emmett is known as one of the premier women’s enduro racers in the world.
Wallace, who has raced the BC Bike Race four times before and knows the trails probably better than any of the other men, has returned after taking a two year hiatus. He took the opportunity to bolt out front when early leaders Manuel Weissenbacher and Andreas Hartman (Rocky Mountain Europe) fumbled in the singletrack’s generous portion of roots and rocks. The day’s eventual second and third place finishers, Stephen Ettinger (Focus/ RideBiker) and Spencer Paxson (Kona Bikes), rode a steady pace to manage Wallace’s lead and navigate incident free through the first day of seven days of riding. Quinn Moberg (Rocky Mountain) finished just thirty seconds off of Paxson and Ettinger. Interestingly enough the top four riders were all on Shimano’s new electronic Di2 XT drivetrains which got high praise from everyone using it in the muddy conditions.
The current French Marathon Champion Frederic Gombert took the fifth position just under four minutes off of Wallace’s pace. The presence of more Europeans at the front of the race this year (4 of the top 10) is a new development and hopefully they are able to keep challenging the regional riders who seem to constantly dominate in the trails of the BCBR.
Last year’s winner Tristan Uhl (Rocky Mountain) finished seven minutes back from the leaders. Uhl admits to doing more road racing since the recent floods in his home state Texas have washed away many of the trails beyond use and hurt his preparation for this years event.
In the women’s race Kelli Emmett had no trouble establishing an early lead leaving the rest of the women to contend for the other podium spots. The Texas State Crit Champion Sammi Runnels (Ride Biker) showed that her talents veer off the road into the woods as she grabbed second place on a challenging day of trail riding. Her road knowledge and climbing strength gave her enough of an advantage to hold off by 21 seconds the 2016 Transylvania Epic winner Kaysee Armstrong (LIV Giant/ Nox) of Knoxville Tennessee. Armstrong was scheduled to race last year but came as a volunteer instead after a concussion two weeks before the event sidelined her and deferred her entry a year.
(Can’t see the video? Click here.)
Day 2: Powell River
Though the threatening clouds produced little more than a whimper and plenty of smiles, the racers battled through a physical day with finishing times ranging from 2hrs and 21 minutes for the leaders to 7 hours for the last rider over the line. The evening ferry ride across the water into the sunset gave the riders a chance to reflect on their first stage of the 2016 BC Bike Race and calibrate their compass for the remaining days of this adventure they’ve signed on to. What awaits them when they disembark is a singletrack heaven with a passionate community who always greet the ferry riders with cheers and bells as they step off the boat and walk to their tents on the shores of Powell River. They’ll have two nights to settle into a routine they are just starting to understand before moving further down the Sunshine Coast in search of the next golden singletrack vein to tap into.
More info at http://www.bcbikerace.com/