Written by Paul Wojciak Saturday, 22 July 2017 00:00
Over the last ten years, the BC Bike Race has become one of the premier mountain bike stage races on the planet. With over 600 competitors from 33 countries and registration that sells out in less than 24 hours, BC Bike Race is THE hot ticket and I had mine for 2017. "Nothing but good times" is their slogan and they totally back that up.
Having done the 2014 installment of the British Columbia, Canada race, I knew I would come back to BC. I'd been looking forward to this year's event for the past 12 months. Now, after doing this year's race, I can say for sure that I'll be back again. But, let's not get ahead of ourselves.
The BC Bike Race covers seven different courses along the sunshine coast, north shore, and inland mountains of British Columbia.
The event promoters provide racers camping, transportation, meals, bike support and more. The race relocates five times during the week, moving over a 1000 people with gear between venues via ferries, trucks and buses. The host towns are wonderfully supportive with residents coming out to welcome riders as we arrive and cheer us on as we race.
While the food, settings, and logistics are exceptional, any stage race comes down to the terrain and BC has got the goods. This is the real deal as far as temperate rain forest with moss, old man's beard fungus, and loamy soil in coniferous forests. The beauty of July for the race week is that the weather is generally dry and pleasant. This year was particularly dry with no rain and temps in the mid-70's all week. The trails are a mix of custom built singletrack and doubletrack, and logging roads. Of over 180 miles of trail during the week, 60% is pure singletrack and doubletrack, 35% is logging roads, and the remaining 5% is pavement.
There are solo and duo categories offered and I raced the men's 50+ field with almost 70 racers starting. Racers are released in waves of 100 according to your day one finishing position and this keeps things from bunching up in the singletrack. Participants range from novice riders looking for adventure to seasoned veterans and pros looking to test their metal. I'll unabashedly admit being of the seasoned veteran persuasion. Having scoped out the participants during the rider meeting, it was clear I was the only Bikeman team member at the event. In addition, there was only one other person from New York state racing. Looks like I'm stepping up to represent!
After the rider meeting, we take two busses and a ferry boat to where we'll be sleeping in Cumberland (on the ground since my air mattress bit the dust this first night). For day one, we'll race some incredibly flowy and fun trails. Racers self seed in the starting chute on day one. Knowing I intended to go only 80% effort all day, I seeded myself with the three hour riders. This was a good guess as I finished about 3:10 on the day. After one big climb you descend for miles and miles through dense forests and amazing trails.
You're in the backcountry riding across meadows with flowers as far as you can see. There are some really technical descents too with rock rolls that make you pucker. The weather was perfect. My time put me in the "orange" group starting second all week. This was right where I wanted to be and my conservative effort netted me 9th in the 50+ for the day. There are some fast guys, but we'll see how everyone's faring as the week rolls on. After the race, we ferried to Powell River where the town turned out to greet our arrival.
After picking my sleeping tent, my first order of business in Powell River was acquiring a new air mattress. Success! A delicious dinner was accompanied by live music in the local recreation center. Waking refreshed from my solo tent (that I paid an upgrade to secure), we raced the fast and fun forests of Powell River. The highlights of the day's course are the loamy, mossy natural pump track trails and a long descent down 'death rattle', one of the most fun descents all week.
Weather was again perfect. The course was almost the same as what I raced in 2014 which was welcome since I really liked this stage. I moved up a few spots and finished 5th on the day with only a marginally harder effort.
The next morning, we bussed and ferried to Earl's Cove for the start of the longest, and what some would say hardest, stage of the race. There's less singletrack and more fire roads on the Earl's Cove to Sechelt stage than any other, many of them in the open under the sun. There's a couple tough climbs right at the end too, but the descent into Sechelt is ample reward. I felt good all day and rolled in 4th. Dinner was delicious and sleeping on my inflatable air mattress was heavenly.
We start the race right from base camp today. I really liked the Sechelt to Langdale stage in the past for two reasons. There is steady climbing for 85% of the course (and I really like to climb) and the final 15% is all downhill on one of the most amazing custom built descents you will find anywhere on the planet. Seriously, trail 'Highway 102' is incredible bench cut flowing through old growth forests that go on and on. The smile on my face and flutter in my heart attested the pure joy this trail brings. I had decided to put a bit more effort in today and to my surprise I took third on the day putting Bikeman on the men's 50+ podium! Sweet! After the race, we took the ferry back to Horseshoe Bay and North Vancouver.
"North Van". The infamous north shore Mecca with riding known for incredibly technical trail features by mountain bikers throughout the world. BC Bike Race course designers take it easy on event participants. The short stage, more of a time trial distance, includes just enough gnar to put the scare into you but nothing so dangerous that you risk life and limb. However, your self image may be tested. The descent down 'Forever After' is the quintessential North Van tech with super steep sections strewn with rocks, man made "Dr. Seuss" features, and good ole trees and roots. The second descent on the day was much more flowy bringing me through the finish line for 7th on the day. Afterwards, we boarded motor coaches that took us to Squamish.
Locals will tell you that the are enough trails in and around Squamish, BC to do the entire seven days there. While that's easy to believe, I do know that every trail we ride here is creme de la creme. There's a lot of climbing too, so, if you're me, that doesn't suck either. The race was rolling along and I had been passing folks when a female rider flashed past me. I recognized Katerina Nash, the leading woman pro in the event, who was coming back through the field after suffering a flat. Well, thinking this was no opportunity to squander I jumped on her wheel with another fellow. She pulled my arse through the forest for miles. Even after the other rider dropped off, I hung on. She was faster on a downhill section and eventually left me in her dust. Whew! That. Was. Awesome! As the day wore on we rocked 'Pseudo Tsuga' a descent with enormous machine made rollers. You're sweeping around so much on that trail that you literally lose your horizon at times. Later in the day we descended the 'Powerhouse Plunge', a very east coast roots and rocks technical trail. Finishing up the day doing 'Hoods in the Woods' and 'Crumpet Woods' I rolled in 3rd on the day. Another podium for Bikeman and on a very tough course. Delicious dinner and well earned sleep in Squamish should make for a great day seven.
There were some upgrades to the course for day seven in Whistler, BC. They were all good too. The result was a challenging yet rewarding final day of riding. There's a bunch of gnar at Whistler. There's also a bunch of climbing. The trick for the course designer is to combine the two synergistically. After a week of racing, everyone's pretty depleted including yours truly. As the race unfolded, I was cranking the climbs and rolling the descents but had managed to crash with authority a couple times. Pushing hard early in the day was making me earn my turns at the end. I got passed right at the finish and thought I had just missed podium. However, my fuzzy brain failed to compute that the Aussie rider passing me had started two minutes ahead of me. Thus, I was 3rd on the final day at Whistler! Bikeman secures a third podium. A great week of riding was capped off with a congenial, inspiring, and laugh filled final banquet.
Reflecting on the past week, I'm feeling that this was my best week on a mountain bike ever. Three podiums and fourth place overall in the men's 50+ sure help, but there's so much more. The trails are unmatched and they were even better than I remembered. The weather, the fact that it was dry and pleasant all week, really made sleeping, racing, and just hanging out wonderful. The people I've met, shared time with, and rode with from all over the world are as passionate and personable as anyone would ever hope to meet. The race organizers and crew and the community members were supportive and enthusiastic. You totally feel that they thrive on your success. The logistics from camping accommodations, to meal time, to course design, markings, and aid stations, to bike storage, washing and care, to transportation, to just the fresh air, taken all together combine to make something truly special unlike anything you will experience in your lifetime. If you are even curious about BC Bike Race, even wishing about it, even dreaming about it, do it. Make the investment in yourself. It's work it. You're worth it. Next time, you'll be the one gushing about it in your race report.
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