- Mike Cushionbury
Defending solo champ Chris Sheppard faces international field
Traditionally, the BC Bike Race's biggest classes were the teams of two. This year as the races enters its fifth anniversary edition, there's been a shift as the solo categories have morphed into the marquee event
Rocky Mountain's defending men's solo champion and local boy Chris Sheppard, who has also won the team category with Seamus McGrath, is set to take on an international field of racers led by France's Thomas Dietsch, World Cup winner and former French National Champion, of Team Bulls and Italian Marzio Daho of Team Olympia, who won the TransRockies in 2008 and the Mongolian Bike Challenge last year.
Also in contention for a high GC placing will be Jason Sager of Team Jamis. Sager, who just came off a second overall at the Trans-Sylvania Mountain Bike Epic, won the TransAndes Challenge earlier in the year with teammate Ben Sonntag, the winner of the 2010 La Ruta De Los Conquistadores. Sonntag is also attending BCBR this year as a solo racer.
As part of the BCBR's long term plan to attract all types of riders, American gravity racer Brian Lopes (Oakley/Ibis/ENVE/Kenda) will be on hand as well and could be a dark horse contender in the solo category. Lopes, who has been racing select short course and World Cup cross country events this year, could be the surprise of the class if the terrain suits him.
In the team category, early favorites are defending champions from Team Kona: Barry Wicks and Kris Sneddon. Downieville Classic legends Mark Weir and Jason Moeschler of WTB-Cannondale will also be combining forces to form a team. The two veteran racers are known for their bike handling skills as well as cross country speed.
A new, intriguing twist to the stage format caught the attention of Lopes, Moeschler and Weir. It is the inclusion of special timed sections within stages. "This year we're really excited to get Lopes, Weir, and Moschler here so in a couple of stages we have a few internal sections timed that are mostly downhill to bring a real enduro feel to the event," said Andres Hestler, BCBR's Course Director.
Two stages will feature double timed sections, while two other stages will have just one timed section within. Hestler wasn't ready to reveal the details of which stages just yet.
"We want to reach out to all riders, not just hardcore cross country racers. We want people see it as a do-able event and there's a chance for everyone to shine," he said.
There is another twist. Even though the event began with the two-person team format, the introduction of the solo category in 2009 has changed the atmosphere. So much so that Hestler says it's now a 50/50 split between team and solo entrants. And this year, the solo category is more stacked than the teams, perhaps a sign of things to come.
In its quest to attract riders of every level from World Cup winners to weekend warriors the BCBR is continuing The Challenge, an easier loop each day that starts and ends at the same point each day but takes a slightly shorter route. According to Hestler, this gives every rider maximum bang for their buck by letting riders hit the best, most fun sections of the courses all week without the pressure of the sweep crew on their rear wheel for hours or the threat of having to quit. "It was a success in its introduction last year even though we know it takes a few years to get riders to understand it."
With a sold-out starting grid ready to start this Sunday in Cumberland, stay tuned to Cyclingnews for full daily coverage of the BC Bike Race.
Last year's mixed team winners Catharine Pendrel and Geoff Kabush will not be at the BC Bike Race this year; instead, they will be racing the Mont-Sainte-Anne and Windham rounds of the World Cup.