By Cory Wallace // Photos by @chrisstenberg

BCBR Doubleheader

The BC Bike Race has grown into one of the go-to stage races in the World.  This year we lucked out and had two of them to race within 2 weeks!  First up was the the Inaugural 5 day BCBR Gravel Explorer kicking off in late September in the Okanagan, then after 1 day rest, the traditional BCBR Mountain bike race from October 2-8! This would be 11 days of racing in 12, definitely making up for lost time after the 1.5 year Covid 19 pause.

The BCBR Gravel was the one to focus on as it came first, so I’d have fresh legs, and also due to the fact I’ve been riding/racing almost exclusively on my Kona Libre Gravel bike this season. The stages were also a bit longer, as BCBR MTB looked quite short this year at 40 minute to 1.5 hour stages, a bit of a sprint for a marathon/24hr racer!

Stage 1 of BCBR Gravel in Naramata kicked off in a hard fashion with the proposed 10 km parade loop/neutral start turning into an all out race within a couple minutes after 3 strong roadies went off the front.  Off road triathlon ace, Karsten Madsen, and I joined forces to limit the damage on the long road section to the single track as we were both caught off guard thinking neutral start meant not going 110 %. Hitting the 15 km single track loop at Mount Campbell about 45 seconds behind the roadies, I put in a big effort to try and close the gap ASAP.  To my surprise I couldn’t even get a glimpse of even 1 of them after chasing at max effort for 20 minutes on the technical terrain.  I was thinking oh damn is this ever going to be a tough week if these roadies can ride single track this well.  Starting to question if they might had gone off course, a camera man on course yelled “go get them”, which to me meant I was still behind them. Hitting the feed zone mid course their were 8 volunteers standing in the middle of the trail which was a clue I was either a very long ways back, or was the race leader.   

What had happened is Karma hit the 3 roadies for attacking in the Parade loop, and they went straight off course at the first turn into the single track and thus I’d been chasing ghosts around.  I’d put in a good effort to close out the stage with a solid 5 minute lead over Karsten, launching straight into the race leader jersey which would provide some control over the week. What a turn of events!

Stage 2 was another tough start with the two red truck riders, Alex Fraser-Mraun and Declan Kelly, taking turns attacking, setting a blistering pace out of Naramata and into the hills. Karsten, Lucas Strain and I did our best to hang on and then once we hit the 12 km single track into the 3 blind mice trail network we went to the front and everyone would fall into their place. Feeling good, I’d take a couple minute lead over the top of the climb, and would extend it a bit over a pretty cool 5 minute hike a bike section, which connected us through a tight gorge over to the Kettle Valley Railway (KVR).  From here it was a blistering descent down the negative rail grade, onto the Naramata road and down to the finish.  I was lucky to have a new Dura Ace crankset on my Libre gravel bike with roadie gearing which allowed myself to extend the lead to around 4 minutes by the finish.  Karsten would roll in 2nd, solidifying himself as the main contender, while the roadies lost a solid amount of time.

Stage 3 was one for the roadies with a 90 km gravel road course from Penticton to Kelowna. Starting with a big 1 hour climb before traversing across a plateau at 1200 meters, then dropping down a wicked gravel road descent to the finish line.  The early 7:30 am start meant it was going to be a chilly ride with the fall temperature hovering around 2 degrees up top. The roadies came with a plan this day with Alex immediately going off the front, dressing like he was going for the KOM in a skin suit, no gloves, and a very light setup on his bike.  I tried to follow him but the watts being put out were unsustainable. The chose was to start ditching water bottles, spare clothes and tubes, to the lighten the load, or to let Alex go and settle into a nice rhytym.  When I looked back after the first 15 minutes, I couldn’t see anyone as Alex was going all in for this climb and had substantially dropped everyone.  After the race I had to google to see who he was and realized that he is a climbing machine with some crazy fast ascents around the Vancouver area.

 Eventually I could see Karsten coming up the climb, about 20 ft ahead of Declan, Alex’s teammate.  My decision was to ease up and wait for Karsten, then give him a good pull away from Declan, thus setting us up to work together to catch Alex across the long flat middle part of the stage.  The plan worked great, as Karsten and I would work together, eventually catching Alex, who was pulled up in the ditch, asking a motorbike guy for some gloves as he could no longer feel his hands in the near freezing temperatures.  From here the 3 of us would roll together, with Karsten eventually falling off the pace before the fast downhill finish.  Alex was pushing hard but his chain would fall off, I’d wait a few seconds to see if he could get it back on, on the fly, but once he had to pull over, I decided to cruise ahead for the victory.  This day caught many riders off guard with the chilly temperatures, although the fall colours were out in full force and helped us forget about any cold extremities we may of had!

Stage 4 was the single track dominant day with a 10 km road climb, leading into about 15 km of single track in the Crawford trail system.  Alex would attack on the climb, we’d let him go, I’d attack over the top of the climb, caught up to Alex pretty quickly on the trails then decided to send it hard on my gravel bike decked out with a Fox suspension fork.  It was fun having some of the BCBR media team try and follow with their go pros as it gave me a reason to push a little harder.  Having a big lead in GC, I probably should’ve ridden a bit more conservatively to prevent any meltdowns, but I was having too much fun rallying the Libre down the trails!  

Heading down the fast final descent I ran into a pile of hikers and bikers.  One group with about 6 kids and two adults turned into a bit of a gongshow as the one guardian was yelling at me to slow down, while I was basically at a standstill watching one of the kids on the trail doing the Squirrel tactic moving back and forth.  I politely told the lady I was basically stopped and asked if her kid was going to get off the trail anytime soon or was just planning to continue squirrelling around.  The unleashed dog walkers were also a challenge, but I’d eventually get down in one piece.  The rest of the race we had a lead motor bike which made life so much easier but for this section no motorized bikes were allowed.  Cruising in with another 4 minute gap meant the grand finale for Stage 5 could likely be a bit of a cruise and allow Karsten and myself to rest up a little before the BCBR kicked off just 1 day later. After both the Kelowna stages, I’d head over to Valeo Health Clinic to relax, get a massage, or chiro adjustment, and some compression. Chilling properly between stages makes all the difference in stage racing.

Stage 5 was another brisk early morning start at 7:30 am.  Alex would attack pretty early, but we decided to let him go and would cruise in a group of 8 riders for the day.  Lucas was doing almost all the work as he had a slim 4 minute lead on Alex in GC for 3rd overall.  With 20 km to go a few other riders started to get cheeky and were attacking Lucas,  I decided to put in a few small efforts to pull it back together as I figured Lucas deserved a bit better treatment after pulling us along all day.  Towards the end of the stage I hit one rock pretty hard and unclipped as it was tough to follow wheels on the rough terrain. Going to the front, the group split as four of us took the lead on the fast fire road descent.  Eventually Lucas and Jesse Sholtes and I would roll into the finish together in 2-4, a few minutes behind Alex who took the W.  Clinching the overall title was a great feeling, while at the same time being able to save a few bullets for the days of mountain bike racing to come.   The Woman’s race was the exciting one to watch with Amity Rockwell taking a slim 1 minute lead into the final stage after Sammi had a big bike meltdown the day before.  Sammi would win the stage but Amity would roll in a half minute later, conserving her overall title by just under a minute!

What a race the first BCBR Gravel turned into with a great mix of trail, gravel roads, pavement, and hike a bikes.  This part of the Canada in my opinion is the gravel hub of the country with it’s rolling terrain, good climate and endless selection of gravel roads and trails.  It will be exciting to see how BCBR continues to evolve in the coming years.  

Day Off.  Bike repairs, eating, sleeping , pre-riding, registration, racer meeting, eating, then back to bed. I was lucky to have a great basecamp in Summerland crashing with my friends Aart and Kerry.