The BC Bike Race went into it’s 10th edition this year and has grown into one of the Worlds premier MTB stage races. Starting on Vancouver Island, racing across Powell River, the Sunshine Coast, North Vancouver, Squamish and finishing in Whistler it is a great tour of the Canadian West Coast. This year was exceptionally exciting as we tested our new redesigned Kona Hei Hei DL race bikes and prototype Shimano XTDi2 electronic shifting.
For the trip my Kona teammate Spencer Paxson and I teamed up with his buddy and housemate Stephen Ettinger. We travelled together in my old work truck for the course of the week, staying with our Kona teammates across the coast and trying to tear each other’s legs off. Both these guys were late additions to the race as they were vying for the USA Olympic team spot but came up short in spots # 2 and 3, as the USA only qualified one rider . This added a great dynamic to the race as the lead group was already loaded up with defending champ Tristan Uhl, French Marathon Champion Frederic, Squamish hero Quinn Moberg, my Euro buddies Anderl and Manuel and 12 time Tour de France legend Udo Bolts. The tension was high going into stage one as we tackled a 30 minute climb in the rain to the top of the singeltrack in Cumberland to kick off the week.
Having done some scouting back in June I fought hard to hit the trails first but came up short clipping a bar and getting knocked around doing a full 180, losing the hole spot to a couple Euros. These guys were good sportsmen and let me by as I came storming back to regain the lead just before the first wet and rooty Furtherburger decent. It was hard to be smooth, pin balling down the slick roots opening a small gap to the chase group. This lit a fire for the week as I’d stay out front for the rest of the day, eventually claiming a 45 second lead over the chasing trio of Paxson and Ettinger and Moberg. It’s always nice to win the first stage as it goes along with claiming the Yellow leaders jersey.
Stage 2: Powell River- Day 2 the trails are a little tamer with no real selective climbs so the race generally stays together. We had a nice lead group of 8-10 riders enjoying the relentlessly flowing trails deep in the forests of Powell River. Putting in an effort towards the finish the lead group was dwindled down to 3 riders and it was a rock-paper-scissors battle with Ettinger and Paxson to take the win with my teammate coming out on top and myself content to keep the jersey.
Stage 3: Earls Cove- Sechelt: This has historically been the big day at BCBR with numerous short punchy fire road climbs and a hard 15 km section of nice singeltrack descending to the finish in Sechelt. The legs were ok as Stephen, Quinn and Spencer stayed ahead for most of the stage. I’d catch them on the last climb and put in a pre-race planned attack, gapping the boys by a minute going into the last descent. Having recon’d the course with teammate Kris Sneddon, who grew up on these trails, I had an Ace in my hand heading down to the finish line. Unfortunately a flat tire on the first part of the descent dropped me back to 4th. Chasing back to the lead trio the days efforts were further derailed by a stick knocking my chain off with it ending in a knot around my crank. It was like fishing line as the more I tried to undo it the the bigger knot it went into. At the same time the rear tire started leaking sealant all over the place again. The day quickly turned into a course on problem management, trying to ignore the deflating tire and prioritize the efforts towards the bigger problem first.
Eventually the chain was untangled only to realize 6 links were bent. Removing these and reconnecting it with a quick link the chain would barely fit around the hardest gear in the back and would allow me to single speed out. 1 more link and it would’ve been game over and a long depressing hike-a-bike. Now the problem was the tire, having used one co2 and trying to conserve my last one in case I needed to put a tube in, I started racing ahead to catch my European buddies, Anderl and Manuel, who had just raced by in 4th and 5th position. They would kindly lend a C02 to inflate the tire once more. From there it was a battle to the finish line, running up the hills, riding what I could and hoping the leaking tire would stay inflated long enough to hit the finish without having to lose more time putting a tube in. I’m not sure why anyone would ever willingly race a single speed bike as it’s like trying to race a nascar stuck in 2nd gear. Thankfully the last 8 km was mostly downhill or flat as I would roll in 6th, losing 5 minutes in the GC, and also the leaders jersey, but still within striking distance in the days to come.
Stage 4: Sechelt-Gibsons: Heading into another solid day on the Sunshine coast the plan was to conserve energy then attack the last climb and hopefully stretch the lead on the long section of HWY 102 trail heading to the finish line. This plan drastically changed in the opening kilometres when the emotions got the better of me and I sent a hail mary on the first climb. Sometimes you gotta go with your gut feeling and use the adrenalin rush when it comes. Opening a gap the lead extended on the single-track descent along Chapman creek. There was a long open fireroad up next which was troublesome to stay ahead with a group of 10 guys working together chasing behind. The lead would shrink down to as little as 20 seconds but a 2nd wind opened the throttle to attack on the last climb and extend the lead to just over 3 minutes by the finish. This closed the gap to within 1 minute of Paxson and Ettinger with 3 stages to go: Game on!
Stage 5: North Shore Vancouver: This was a short and hard 15 km ripper behind one of our Kona boss’s, Richard Cox’s house. We wanted to win this one for him so Spencer and I attacked on the first climb, dropping everyone. Ettinger caught back on briefly so it was back on the gas a little harder, leading Paxson down the descent, dropping Ettinger and then we’d team up on the small road section to extend the lead. On the final climb Paxson dropped back and I’d take the win by 35 seconds which really tightened up the overall standings with my teammate holding onto the leader’s jersey by just 22 seconds over myself and Ettinger a further 30 seconds back.
Stage 6: Squamish: This was a big day in the race with the most climbing and a lot of technical singeltrack through the backwoods of Squamish, one of Canada’s premier riding areas. Spencer and I came up with a game plan to try and lock up our 1-2 gc positions with him going off the front early with local hero Quinn Moberg, who we figured would be fired up to take his home town stage. I’d sit back in the chase group and hopefully be able to attack them on the first climb going up 50 shades of green and drop our main competitor, Ettinger, and ride up to Spencer.
This plan worked brilliantly and soon team Kona was crushing it, 30 seconds behind Quinn but surely gaining on any riders behind us. Things were going perfect until I started having wheel troubles, pulling into the first feed station for repairs. Telling Spencer to keep riding, the pit stop was around a minute getting things sorted out before chasing back up to him. From here we decided to keep working team tactics as there was a fair bit of fire road riding between trail sections and then we could sort it out between the two of us later on in the stage.
In full control of our destiny we took the descents a bit slower to avoid any catastrophes. This plan blew up in my face as the rear tire detonated going over a small rock on Pseudo Pseuga. Dang, some years I go all year without a flat tire riding way harder, but this race I must’ve crushed a 4 leaf clover somewhere along the trail. Only having one tube and enough C02 to fix it once I stopped to do it right and told Spencer to carry on as we could hear the other boys coming behind and needed to protect his yellow jersey. Dropping down to 8th, losing 4-5 minutes in the process, I’d eventually get rolling again with just under 20 km to the finish.
From here the only logical choice was full gas and try to limit the losses. It was either that or play it safe and be content with 3rd overall but that wasn’t what I came to the race for. Crossing my fingers I rode the tubed tire as hard as possible and miraculously it held up as soon the 3rd-5th place riders were in sight. Attacking them hard to make sure I didn’t pull Ettinger up to my teammate, the adrenalin fuelled ride continued to the finish line. The moral was at a tipping point after all the troubles but a girl I couldn’t recognize yelled some motivating words 1km from he line and reminded me to keep the throttle down. Thanks whoever this was as it lifted the spirits ? In the end it was the best of a worst situation, managing to put another minute into Ettinger and hold onto 2nd overall, but definitely losing some time to my teammate Spencer.
Stage 7: Whistler- Heading into the final stage the race was up for grabs with Spencer up 1:13 on myself, and Ettinger just a further minute back. It was a short 25 km stage so we had to watch Ettinger carefully as it was right up his alley, being a 1.5 hr sprint type race. Again we worked together for the first half of the race taking turns leading and extending the gap to secure our 1-2 GC positions. Hitting the first steep climb of the day our French rival Frederic headed to the front with Quinn while Spencer and I barely hung on. It was nearly mission accomplished for us as we had a large gap to Ettinger and now it was time to battle it out amongst ourselves for the overall win. Starting to get dropped with only 15 km to the finish, it was go time if there was any chance at reclaiming the yellow jersey.
It’s crazy how the body can respond as it went from from getting dropped into an adrenalin rush as I overtook the lead heading into the gnarly tunnel vision descent. Here the gap continued to open, soon after popping out on a small road section. Sitting up a bit to let Quinn regain my wheel, we would work together before we hit the last large climb up Danimal then a rough descent to the finish at Alta lake. The legs hit another level as the mind harnessed all the surrounding energy possible firing it all into the efforts. Going over the top of the climb the lead moto gave the heads up that Spencer was 1:15 behind. With just 5 km of descending to go this was going to be tight!
Soon after after a piece of mud flung up in my eye so I took a hand off the bar to try and remove my foggy glasses to see a bit better. The front wheel hit something and next thing I was flying over the handlebars onto a rocky landing. Laying there in a pile beside the trail all I could think was “you gotta be f”””ng kidding me”. Assessing the damage things appeared ok. My shoulder which has been problematic in the past was still in its socket, the glasses were somewhere off in the bush but that didn’t matter, the right leg was numb and bleeding but that probably didn’t matter, the bike seemed ok, except the stem had twisted 45 degrees making the handlebar unrideable. Banging it against a tree and twisting it between my knees it was somewhat fixed. Knowing Spencer was close behind it was time to remount before he got a glimpse of what was happening. Hopping on I banged my upside down brake lever back into place then noticed the stem was still off 10-15 degrees but it would have to stay that way as it was all or nothing at this point.
The last part to the race was wild as the mind went into a 5th dimension, letting go of the breaks and forgetting anything I’de ever learned about risk management. Quickly catching back up to Quinn, he showed great sportsmanship by giving up his chance of a stage win, pulling over to let me by as I continued to hone in on to the finish line. It was the roughest and ugliest I’d probably ever ridden a bike but it was getting the job done.
Drifting out on the last gravel corner before the pavement I nearly lost it again but dragged a leg to regain composure and was soon sprinting full out towards the finish line. Starting to see stars I looked at the lead moto asking how far it was to go but he had no clue. Oh dang, I thought as the body started to get dizzy and was in an unknown state. Thankfully the finish line was just another 2 minutes up the road. The countdown then started as 73 seconds needed to pass to gain the overall victory. Quinn came in 20 seconds later and then time seemed to stand still as the seconds lingered by ticking over one at at time. Eventually Spencer would roll in 2 minutes later.. Hell yeah!!!! Mission accomplished by 58 seconds!! This victory was especially rad after being on the brink of elimination so many times throughout the week and having put so much focus into the race over the months leading up to it.
Spencer has now been 2nd, 4 years in a row, but at the same time we both deserved this win working well together all week and getting the job done taking the top two steps on the podium for Kona. He’ll get his time I’m sure.
This race and the weeks and months leading up to it were a huge team effort. Big thanks to the Sneddons, Dik & Cory, the Verners, Max Palxton and Petra for opening their homes to us over the week and to my teammates for the pre-rides on their hometown trails before the race. As always a huge thanks to my sponsors as without them these opportunities wouldn’t exist: The Kona Bicycle group, Shimano, Wilderness Trail Bikes, Maxxis Tires, MRP Forks, GIRO, Smith Optics, Accent Inns, Freewheel Cycle, Straight Up Cycles, Russ Hayes bike shop, Beet-It, Clif Bar, Balance Point Racing.
Off to my hometown trails in Jasper with my Euro buddies Anderl and Manuel for a week of training before Marathon National Championships in Quebec in a couple of weeks.
Over and out.
PS Thanks Erik Peterson for the finish line pictures and Mike Lowell from Shimano for the Trophy and wine shot.