BC Bike Race 2011: From a racer’s eye

A challenge, but not a death march like some mountain bike stage races

British Columbia in Canada is a bucket list kind of place for mountain biking, and the BC Bike Race is a great way to sample a ton of the province’s tremendous trail systems. Think of it like a seven-day greatest hits album – Cumberland, Campbell River, the Sunshine Coast, Squamish and Whistler – with racers getting a chance to shred BC’s most famous locales buoyed by the support of a well-organized event management team that takes care of food, lodging and much more.

Indeed, on the eve of this year’s BCBR, founder Dean Payne called his event a race that doubles as summer camp for cyclists. Stages are tough and challenging, but it’s not the daily death march that defines some of the other famous multi-day mountain bike epics. Instead, time in saddle for your average mid-packer ranged between three and four hours per day in 2011. Drinking a few beers afterward was standard operating procedure for many. The longest day was 65km and took most riders in the 4.5 to 5.5 hour range. The shortest was the stage 7 Whistler circuit, which measured just 27km and for most folks was over in less than three hours. 

Weaving through the woods, by Margus Riga

“We want people to be able to have a little fun when they’re done riding, spend a little time checking out the communities that we go through,” said BC Bike Race marketing director Andreas Hestler. “You can’t do that if you’ve just spent six or seven hours in the saddle and are completely shelled. So that’s not what we ask of our racers. We really want this event to be challenging – and fun. Not just challenging. Next year we’re even thinking of pushing the start times back an hour so people can sleep in a little more.”

This year, wake-up calls typically came at 6.30am with racing underway between 9am and 10am, save for stage 3, which didn’t start until noon, but was preceded by a picturesque, early-morning BC Ferries ride across the Strait of Georgia from Vancouver Island to the Sunshine Coast. 

Most transfers happened via bus or BC Ferries. Some racers got lucky, and got to take a sea plane ride

But don’t equate these relatively short days – or the possibility of extra sleep next year – with easy. The BC Bike Race isn't easy. Not physically. Not mentally. All but a handful of the event's roughly 500 racers logged in excess of 20 hours' saddle time during the seven-day adventure that started in Cumberland on Vancouver Island and finished inside Whistler’s Olympic Plaza a week later. In between was a near constant barrage of roots, rocks and testing technical riding that proved especially challenging for non-BC locals, your author included.

Each night, dozens of battered bikes were lined up outside the Obsession Bikes mobile bike shop tents waiting for overnight repairs. Each day, the BCBR’s medical staff tended to a wide variety of injuries. Most were minor but there were several major mishaps, including a pair of broken ankles on the first day of the race, and several ugly faceplants that required stitches in chins.

The author gets his groove on during stage 1 in Cumberland

“We like to call this the school of singletrack,” said Hestler, whose event is fairly billed as the “ultimate singletrack experience”. “If you ride start to finish, you’re probably going to become a better mountain biker.” You’ll also get to see an off-the-beaten path view of one of North America’s most beautiful places. From the drippy enchanted tall timber forests on Vancouver Island, to the quiet coastal quaintness of the Sunshine Coast, to the majestic menage-a-trois of Howe Sound, the Coast Mountains and the towering rock faces along the Sea-to-Sky Highway, British Columbia is a wonder of sights and scenes.

Perhaps the shame of the BC Bike Race is that you’re racing at all, and not taking a little time to stop and soak it all in. Of course organizers have thought of this, too. Later this month, they’ll launch BC Bike Ride, a tour company aimed at showing off these same trails, albeit at a more relaxed pace. Tempted to give the race a go next year? Better make up your mind soon. Just two days into the 2012 registration window, BC Bike Race have already sold 64 percent of their entries. You can read more about this year's race on Cyclingnews and find out more at www.bcbikerace.com.

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