BC Bike Race - report by Ken Winston
The BC Bike Race is a seven-day mountain bike stage race from the trail Mecca of North Vancouver and the Sunshine Coast to its conclusion in Squamish along the way taking in four Ferry trips. For some of its 600 racers this is the culmination of a year or more of training. As a mountain biking goal it is a lifetime achievement award, a top three on the bucket list with over 35 countries represented. It is the western hemisphere’s largest mountain bike stage race. Five UC Cyclery/JW Floors team members made the trek to Vancouver British Columbia to race the BC Bike Race:
Rhonda Geiszler in the women’s 50+ Solo (11 racers): 3rd place
Guy Sutton and Ken Winston in the 100+ men’s duo (14 duo teams): 1st place
Pascal Bonaventure in the men’s 40+ solo (154 racers): 8th place (27th out of 600 overall)
Dan Mahlum in the men’s 40+ solo (154 racers): 5th place (22nd out of 600 overall)
The logistics of the BCBR is akin to a race within a race. Just to get to the day zero rider meeting we had to lug 7 days of gear and our bike bags from San Diego to North Vancouver, BC. This involved 2 car rides, a plane trip, a train trip, a ferry, a bus, and a taxi. But there’s more. To get to the 1st stage in Duncan, there was in additional two buses a ferry and our first night in a race-issued tent. We had 6 different camps covering 7 stages of racing so there were many more busses, ferry’s, water taxi’s etc. Each day it was a race after the bike race to get showered and on the first bus in order to get a good tent pick.
Stage 1: Cowichan Valley. The start and finish were in Duncan on Vancouver Island. There were 14 teams in 100+ men Duo. Guy and I decided to stage in the top 50. Ahead of us in the corral we could see Dan and Pascal as well as well-known pros like Geoff Kabush and Katerina Nash. We did not see any duo teams from our category however.
The stage profile had two big climbs and descents separated by a 4 mile neutral section. Total distance was 25 miles with 4500 feet of climbing. The race started with an uphill paved road that transitioned into a smooth, narrow singletrack climb. The pace was slowed by two racers blocking the trail and refusing to let anyone in the long line behind get past. Eventually we got past however and headed into a smooth, fun descent. After the 4 mile neutral section we head into the second big climb. This climb had technical sections and switchbacks. The descent off the second big climb had very steep shoots and several blind drops and rolls. Not being familiar with the trail my self-preservation instinct had me climbing down a few of these on foot. Many of the locals rode down them however. Guy was braver on the blind drops and rolls so he had to wait a bit for me until he suffered a flat tire and told me to go ahead. I used this as an opportunity to back off the pace and recover a bit. After a quick blast of CO2, Guy quickly caught back up to me. It was clear that Guy was riding stronger than me. On the open climbing sections, he turned this into a plus for our duo team by giving me sustained pushes like I had seen Jaroslav Kulhavy give to Howard Grotts at the Cape Epic. Humbling but kinda cool at the same time. This took a little getting used to, but by the end of the weeks we had the technique honed to perfection.
At no time during the 1st stage did we see any duo team from our category. After we crossed the finish we found out that we had finished 1st in our category about 18 min ahead of the 2nd place team from Chile. We also earned a top 100 start spot for the rest of the race out of 650 total entrants. At the awards ceremony Guy and I were each awarded yellow race leader jerseys.
Stage 2: Cumberland. The course was 24 miles with 3300 feet of climbing. This stage was rather dramatic. All was going well as we were riding in first place on the stage. I was leading us down a winding, bermed descent when I heard Guy go down on a slippery bridge. For a few seconds I continued on, and listened for a distress call. And a call I got. Guy had broken his stem! With handlebars detached from his bike, it appeared our stage and our quest for the cumulative race win was done. After a short discussion, we decided that I would go ahead to find a course worker and report our need for mechanical assistance and Guy would hike backward in search of the same. About 5 minutes up the trail I found a worker and quickly reported the situation. Meanwhile Guy hiked his broken machine reverse on the course while dodging riders on the downhill. He eventually found a couple of guys in a truck that agreed to take him to the Aide station. Once there, he convinced the guys in the Shimano tent to take a stem off a demo bike and put it on his bike. I was up the trail pleading with the course worker to give me feedback on what they were doing to help, but she was unable to provide it. After 35 minutes of standing still next to the course worker I spotted Guy slashing through racers the congested trail, once again riding his bike. What followed was a hectic and hard effort as the two of us blazed through slower riders. Even after his extra miles and hard pace just to catch up, Guy was still able to provide me pushes on the fire road climbs. Amazing, but what should one expect from a mountain biking legend! At the second aide station I saw him guzzle an entire can of Red Bull. And he isn’t even a coffee drinker! Then, as if the broken stem was not enough drama, Guy broke his chain. Many of the racers we worked so hard to pass just pedaled by as we struggled to get the master link to engage. A few more minutes later we were once again slashing past slower racers on our way to the finish line. We finished 3rd on the stage, 25 minutes behind the first place Chilean team and X minutes behind a team from Canada. We were now about 8 minutes behind for the cumulative lead in our category. After losing so much time, we were both surprised to still be in the hunt.
Stage 3: Powell River. The course was 30 miles with 2600 feet of climbing. We had a slow start, which is not unusual for me. However we picked off many riders once I got warmed up. This stage was marked by many roots that pound the bike and my hands got numb at times. There was also sheer joy as we bombed the “Death Rattle” descent, slaloming through the trees in the loamy soil. There was no drama on this day. We won the stage by 6 minutes. Racing as a duo with a strong rider like Guy was apparently very motivating for me: my power data showed a personal record average weighted power of 260 W over the stage duration. After the stage we were 2 minutes off the cumulative lead in category.
Stage 4 Earls Cove to Sechelt. The course was the longest of the race at 37 miles with 5400 feet of climbing. After a bus and sea taxi ride, the race started on the coast of one of the many islands in the Vancouver area. There was a really long exposed switchback climb called Frogger. I used more of my granny gear than I like to admit. At the start of the climb I wanted to walk but didn’t. As we crested the top of the long climb, we were riding with a comfortable lead when more drama hit. I was leading Guy on a fast downhill singletrack and concentrating on not hitting a tree when I missed a hard right turn in a rather steep section. Heading down the wrong fork in the trail, we went quite far before recognizing our mistake. What was so easy to descend was a bitch to get up! It was steep and I was gassed. In my condition it was too steep to ride and the hike seemed to take FOREVER. The mistake set us back seven minutes according to Guy’s Strava. The remainder of the stage was uneventful and we rolled across the line 9 minutes ahead of the Chilean team of Patricio and Carlos in second. We were now in first place cumulative and were the proud wearers of the yellow Jersey once again. In each stage, my legs were holding up for the first few but fading late. It had been hard for me to keep up with Guy’s strong pace. I was concerned that I would fade even more in the three stages that remained.
Stage 5: Sechelt to Langdale. The course was 29 miles with 4800 feet of climbing. The profile had five significant climbs and then one long and glorious downhill of 2300 feet that ended at the finish line. This stage was tough and started with a long rollout through town on pavement. We had some significant climbs then windy single track in dry conditions. This stage was a low point for me energy-wise as the cumulative effect of 5 consecutive days of hard racing took its toll. We didn’t catch the Chileans until an hour into stage and it took a few attacks and strong pushes from Guy to finally drop them.
We had our aid station routine polished by now. I would give my bottle to Guy to fill, he would grab a Red Bull to guzzle and some food, all while I soft pedaled to recover. Once he powered back up to me I would get my bottle back and the racing would resume. Nice for me!
The last downhill into Langdale was fantastic and went for miles. At one point we thought we took a wrong turn and backtracked a bit only to discover that we were indeed on the course. We finished first on the stage, 7 minutes ahead of our Chilean competitors in second.
Pascal nearly collapsed at the end of this stage from the pain of a rib injury that he experienced in stage 2. After a trip to the hospital, he was given some meds and cleared to continue racing.
After the stage we got to enjoy a shady spot on the shore and ride the ferry again to Vancouver. There was surprisingly good ice cream on the boat and a whale sighting that I missed.
Stage 6: North Vancouver. The course was 11 miles with 2600 feet of climbing. It was by far the shortest stage but also the most technical. After breaking a rear wheel at the Moab Rock stage race earlier in the year, I used extra tire pressure. The profile was simply up-down-up-down. The first climb started about a mile from the start and it was a steep one. My engine was slow to get going but Guy was there to push me enough to keep us in the top 100 group that we started with. Near the end of the climb we moved past several riders including Patricio and Carlos. The first descent was not over-the-top technical. We held our position with the Chileans a few seconds back. Exiting the first section of single track descent, my front wheel washed out on a gravel fire road, but I managed to get going while still in front of the second place team. On the second big climb of the day we held our position up front. Then we dropped into the top of a trail called Dale’s, which was new to the BCBR this year. I had heard from several sources that this was a very difficult technical trail due to rocks, roots, and steep incline. The trail is built for long travel bikes, not short travel XC machines with no dropper post! To make matters worse, it was wet and slick in spots. Guy navigated this section of trail faster than me. I just couldn’t get a flow on my short travel Epic. I longed for a bigger travel bike! I kept thinking about being careful not to throw away the cumulative race lead with a big mistake. As a result I walked several sections where I could not immediately spot a good line. As a reminder of how quickly it can all go wrong, we saw a gal from Switzerland that we had met earlier get rear ended by the rider directly in front of us and her wheel was destroyed.
In spite of my conservative approach to the technical sections, we stayed in front of Carlos and Patricio and won the stage by a slim 2 minutes. At the end of the race I was met by my nephew Joel who is a local from North Vancouver. After a brief visit, I head off to the second race of the day (showers, bike wash, bus to Squamish stage 7, tent setup, etc.). My teammates opted to stay in a hotel in Squamish. They shared a single room between the 4 of them. I decided to get the most of my REI purchases and stay in my roomy tent.
Stage 7: Squamish. The course was 32 miles with 4900 feet of climbing. This was the last stage and our goal was to win the stage. However our top priority was to stay out of trouble since we had a good margin to win our category on cumulative time. On the first two climbs our Chilean competitors are staying with us even though I was receiving strong pushes from Guy. Patricio is a trainer for the Chilean Olympic team and he has been training his partner Carlos for this event. As the race progresses through some technical sections, we pull ahead and lose sight of them. With a few kilometers to go I got a big puncture on a high speed rocky section. Thinking I heard my wheel crack (paranoia), and thinking we had about 1 km to the finish, I decided to ride it in. This set up a rather traumatic few minutes because the finish line was more like 3 km away. As a testament to my Maxxis tires, the flat tire stayed on the rim without further damage, allowing us to finish about 4 minutes ahead of Patricio and Carlos. We did it! For the cumulative 7 stages we won by 20 minutes.
I want to thank my teammates Rhonda, Pascal, Dan and Guy for all their support and comradery. And a special thanks to Guy for not only his performance on the bike that propelled our duo to victory but for his daily logistical guidance that consistently put us all in the right spot at the right time.
Addendum from Guy Sutton:
My lasting impression from BCBR was not just the racing and endless single track but the positive experience from the other racers and volunteers we encountered through 7 days. Where else can you hang out with the likes of San Schultz and get daily race info from Jeremy Bishop?
We met many friendly people every day at BCBR. The exception was getting stuck behind slower climber on Stage 1 single track, but racers throughout the week were always courteous and let us around and vice versa. Many times People offering help and even took my questionable race advice.
Summary race report from Pascal Bonaventure:
I knew that this was going to be an amazing experience but it exceeded my expectations on and off the bike. Coming into this 7 day stage race we knew that no one was going to have a seamless race. Among the 5 of us we experienced a broken stem, broken chain, three flats and injuries.
I started the race really well with solid results in the first 3 stages despite a stacked field of 160 riders. The first three stages were eventful for me with top 10 finishes. Recovery was going well and my only minor concern was a weird incident on stage 2 where my saddle had hit my ribs pretty hard on a technical section but I did not feel any pain after the stage. Stage 4 was the hardest/longest stage with punishingly steep climbs. I rode most of the day with Dan in a really fast group getting a top 5 finish (Dan got 4th). After that stage I started to feel some sharp pain near my ribs and some swelling was apparent. The pain was so severe that I did not sleep that night. I still don’t know how I managed not only to finish but also to ride at a decent pace. I finished 11th for the day and salvaged my overall top 10. After crossing the finish line I immediately went to the race doctor who sent me to the ER for x-rays and more exams. I got the green light to continue the race and stronger medication to manage the pain. I lost more time on stage 6 but it was a relatively short stage. After stage 6 we were staying in a hotel and this saved me. The last stage in Squamish was much smoother and I had a solid ride coming in 8th for the day and securing an overall top 10.
Big thank you to my teammates for their support!
Summary race report from Dan Mahlum:
The BC Bike Race is touted as the “#bestweekonabike” and despite the lofty expectations it lives up to the hype. The logistics between stages as detailed in Ken’s report are so elaborate that BC Bike Race put together a production quality 30-minute video that shows great behind the scenes footage of all the logistics: https://vimeo.com/273803180
I had an amazing time riding some of the most technical trails (especially when wet) and sharing the experience with a great group of people.
Stage 1 was a really fun course with a really fun descent called Maple that had tons of rock rolls that make you question your sanity at the top of every rock formation but once you commit rolled you smoothly into the next obstacle. I was feeling good through Stave 1 having safely cleared all the obstacles up until 1 kilometer from the finish when I flatted my rear tire on a loose turn on a gravel road. I quickly hit the rear tire with CO2 trying to get the sealant to do its job but with the small hole being right on the tire bead this is when I realized it wouldn’t seal. This is about the time I see Katerina Nash (4X Olympian and eventual Pro Women’s winner) towing a group of 5-6 riders. One of the Bike Patrol riders then yells to me that I am about 1 km from the finish so I picked up my bike and sprinted the last kilometer. The result being about 3 minutes of lost time and 5-6 places in the men’s 40+ category.
Stage 2 was a rough start for me still feeling the effects of my kilometer sprint (I’m not a runner). After suffering through the long climb the first descent was really wet and snotty from some rain the night before and I struggled to find any flow slipping and sliding all over the place. The rest of the stage included more suffering but I was able to stay with Pascal most of the race until he cranked it up over the last 5 kilometers and I dropped back about a minute.
At the start of Stage 3 I was feeling a lot better and rode well. I had one pedal strike on a stump I didn’t see in the ferns that sent me airborne coming to a stop when my quad hit a fallen tree trunk. I bounced up from the adrenaline, straightened out my suddenly crooked handlebars and jumping in behind a group of 3 riders. I had to adjust my brake lever while chasing back onto the fast group of Canadians I was riding with. The rest of the stage was uneventful and I was able to finish 7th in the men’s 40+.
Stage 4 was the longest stage and oddly enough I was looking forward to it. I knew I had some time to take back and had been doing a lot of climbing leading up to BCBR. I had a solid day with the only mishap being another hard pedal strike on a rock this time that broke my pedal. The pedal was working fine right after the pedal strike but later in the stage I dropped my chain on a technical climb that I had to jump off the bike to reset. After getting the chain going again I couldn’t get my shoe to clip in while pedaling back to Pascal’s tire. I slammed my shoe on the pedal several times thinking I had picked up a rock in my cleat and after several attempts the pedal rotated to the other side and I was able to clip. After the race I found the pedal broken on one side and it all made sense. Clipped in again I pushed hard the rest of the stage and was able to finish 4th on the day in the men’s 40+, also gaining a couple spots in the general classification.
I was happy to be getting stronger as the week went on and raced well in Stages 5-7 without any mishaps. I was feeling really good on the long gravel road grinds and regularly found myself pulling 4-5 other riders but anytime I could get one of them to take a pull they would drop pace and I would go back around. This started to work out well as the group I was pulling tended to be the same group of guys the last 3 days and they were all Canadians from different parts of BC and they really knew the trails well. This helped a lot as we ended up working together with my pulling on the gravel roads and climbs and them leading through the technical descents. By Stage 7 I was even able to lead them through some of the Squamish descents which felt great knowing that one of my main goals coming into BCBR was to gain technical experience in new terrain. In the end I finished 5th out of 154 in a stacked Masters Men’s 40+ and 22nd overall.
The BC Bike race was the kind of amazing experience you can relive for many years. I feel extremely fortunate to have experienced this with such a fun group of team mates.