The sixth annual BC Bike race officially kicked into high gear with 500 racers from 33 countries completing registration and boarding their first of the weeks four BC Ferries rides to cross the Georgia Strait from North Vancouver to Vancouver Island.
From base camp in the historic village of Cumberland, racers will depart in the morning for their first of seven days racing the legendary trails of British Columbia. Over the next week, riders will explore lush singletrack in the woods surrounding the communities of Cumberland, Campbell River, Powell River, Sechelt, Squamish, and ending in the mountain biking mecca of Whistler.
"This year we (BCBR) want to really get deeper into the story of these trails and their history. Every trail in the race has a story behind it as well as a community who put countless hours, even years, into building great trails that we get to show off to the world," said Marketing Director Andreas Hestler.
For the 2012 edition, the BC Bike Race has 13 gravity enduro stages, a completely new course for the last day in Whistler, and two new kids' races for a total of four throughout the week. Each course gets minor changes as the local trail builders improve old trail or add more.
The expanded Gravity Enduro race is considered the "Race within the Race" and gives riders with different talents a chance to fight for bragging rights on the timed mostly downhill sections. For the first six stages, there will be two timed trail sections that will be marked as gravity enduro, and at the end of the day results from those sections will be posted along with overall results. Mostly downhill, each section will highlight a locals favorite piece of singletrack trail. The gravity enduro format has drawn new riders looking for a chance to shine on the most fun sections of trails.
Men's solo and enduro specialist
This year there are more solo riders than ever fighting for a top step on the podium. In the men's open category, the competition has reached a new depth with challengers intent on stopping Chris Sheppard's (Rocky Mountain Bikes) dominance. "Shep" is back looking for a third consecutive solo win and was up to BC earlier in June stretching his legs at the Test of Metal where he bagged second place, sandwiched between two other 2012 BCBR solo challengers. Neil Kendree (Specialized/ EMD) took the top spot while Cory Wallace (Kona Factory) followed up in third. Both Kindree and Wallace are locals and seem fit to give a challenge to Sheppard's goal of a hat-trick. Not a local but fully versed in the trails of BC is Barry Wicks (Kona/ Factory) who is moving from winning the BCBR duo men's category twice, to challenge for the solo top spot for the first time.
German riders Guido Thaler and Daniel Gathof, have crossed continents to get a taste of BC singletrack and podium glory. Gathof is a two-time winner of the Trans-Alp stage race known for its incredible amount of climbing, but will he be able to adapt to the lush singletrack flow of the BC forest? Both Germans claim to love it when the trail gets physical and came looking to prove they aren't just high alpine specialist.
Two other prized fighters who might pull some stage knockouts are enduro specialists Ross Schnell (Trek) and Josh Carlson (Giant). Schnell might be known for his enduro prowess but he has a motor and the flow to pull a top three from the hat any day of the week, and Carlson just won last weekend's Ashland Enduro and could surprise the favorites capturing a podium spot. Either way look for these two riders to be duking it out for wins on the 12 enduro sections of trail.
A rider of note is freeride pioneer Wade Simmons (Rocky Mountain Bikes), who is attending his first BC Bike Race in the duo class with partner Mike Hunter. As a North Vancouver local Simmon's attendance is long overdue, but it's probably the chance to challenge for enduro stages that finally brought him to the traveling circus.
Canadian Olympians Andreas Hestler (Rocky Mountain Bikes), for mountain biking, and rower Jake Wetzel are going to be on course racing. Wetzel is returning to the mountain bike after spending over 12 years as a rower, but he has the lungs and legs to possibly surprise the favorites.
Most notable in the men's duo category is Jason Sager (Jamis Bikes), who is switching from racing as a solo competitor for the past two years and was Chris Sheppard's biggest challenger. Sager is joining his stage race teammate Thomas Turner from the USA to challenge for the duo win. Sager and Turner raced the Cape Epic in South Africa earlier this year and have the experience to challenge for podium spots.
Teams that might be able to challenge the Jamis duo are British Columbia locals Kevin Calhoun and Keith Stark from the Rocky Mountain Factory Team 2. Power roadie Stephane Wiand from France and trail slayer Oscar vila Balsalobre of Switzerland on team Guignolss look to have a possible winning combination to fight for podium spots.
Women solo and duo
Wendy Simms of Scott Bikes has the best looking form coming into the BC Bike Race after winning the Test of Metal two weeks ago in some of the muddiest conditions ever seen. In the past, she has won the BCBR, the Trans Rockies and is a five-time Canadian Cyclo Cross Champion.
Simms might have the odds in her favor but Sonya Looney (Topeak/ Ergon) of Colorado has a recent win at the Yak Attak in Nepal under her belt and knows how to fight through. She left Colorado with the state having severe fires and people evacuating homes, and is humbled by the hardships suffered there. "Coming here is like visiting another world. It's so dry in Colorado right now but wet here."
Whistler resident Fanny Paquette (Rocky Mountain Bicycles) has local knowledge and the singletrack skills to place a serious challenge for podiums. Expect these three women to keep the racing exciting, but look for an unknown rider to jump in the mix.
Tomorrow's start coincides with Canada's independence day celebration, and racers can expect to be seen-off by Cumberland's marching band and a helicopter from Harbor Air. It's a perfect way to start the best stage race in the world. We'll have daily updates all the way into Whistler.