From the start, the competition aspect of the women's-only Betty vs. Veronica race was downplayed. The goal was to be inclusive of all skill levels, foster some friendly competition between two big teams and raise money for a worthy charity - the Howe Sound Women's Centre, which is establishing a centre in Whistler.
For the most part organizer Tony Horn succeeded, and huge crowds converged on Stonebridge Road and at the finish to cheer the 200 riders - 100 Betties and 100 Veronicas. But quite a few riders were racers by trade and gave everything they had on the two-part race course - a downhill on Crank It Up and Heart of Darkness in the morning and a 15km cross-country race on Whistler's west side in the afternoon.
Pro downhiller and all-around athlete Kathy Pruitt was the top female rider overall, placing first in the downhill and seventh in the cross-country race. Because of the format, riders were awarded points by their finish position instead of ranked by their overall time.
Pruitt finished the downhill in six minutes, 23.42 seconds, followed by fellow Betty Sarah Leishman in 6:26.14 and Veronica co-captain Katrina Strand in 6:28.78. Rounding out the top 10 were Simmone Lyons, Sylvie Allen, Marilyn Manso, Candace Shadley, Amalie Budgen, Crystal Rose-Lee and Michelle Chang.
In the cross-country - which included a mix of big climbs (Cemetary Road, Scotia Creek) and singletrack (99er, mid-Danimal, Lower Sproatt, Beaver Pond, north Danimal, Whip Me Snip Me, Rainbow Flank, Surf's Up, Bob's ReBob) - the top rider was Brandi Heisterman. She had over five minutes on her competitors coming through Stonebridge the first time, and finished with a gap of over 10 minutes to her credit. Her clock time was 1:13.27, followed by Cathy Zeglinski 10:36.2 later and Chrissy Devall about 19 seconds after that. Also in the top 10 were Kristen Johnston, Sylvie Allen, Katrina Strand, Kathy Pruitt, Cynthia Young, Marla Zucht and Marilyn Manso.
With a win in the downhill and seventh place finish in the cross-country, Kathy Pruitt finished with 7.75 points. Katrina Strand (Veronica) was second with 9.0 and Sylvie Allen (Veronica) third with a 10.0. In the top 10 were Marilyn Manso (16), Chloe Cross (27), Chrissy Devall (34), Nicole Heisterman (40), Meghan Illingworth (40), Cynthia Young (42) and Yael Greenfeld (44).
Brandi Heisterman said she enjoyed the entire event, from the downhill to the reception and auction. While she's had a strong season in cross-country racing she said the race did push her out of her comfort zone a little.
"It was such an amazing event, I'm so pleased that it inspired so many women in the corridor, and even North and West Vancouver to sign up," she said. "And it was difficult. It was a difficult cross-country course, there was a lot of timing and it was very technical.
"It was great to see so many women empowered to ride everything and do the downhill too - for me that was the scariest part because you're going really fast but at the same time you don't want to take too many risks. I couldn't believe how fast the girls were going downhill, over 60km/h for some of them, so I'm really impressed."
Heisterman's season will go on for another few weeks. This weekend she'll race in the elite category of the Xterra Canadian Championships in Whistler, followed by the GranFondo the following weekend and the West Side Wheel Up on Sept. 17.
Team Betty ended up winning the overall points score, but the real winner was the Howe Sound Women's Shelter - the event and auction raised $11,500, or almost double what race director Tony Horn was expecting.
"It was all pretty amazing," he said.
That said, he hasn't committed to bringing back the event again next year - it takes a lot of time and volunteer energy to put on an event like this - but he's thinking about it. No matter what, he believes there's room on the calendar for a women's only mountain bike event.
"I was surprised," he said. "When I originally set the limit at 180 riders I thought it would be a miracle if it sold out. In the end I think if I had 400 spots it would still have sold out.
"The best part for me was how involved people got, especially people that that don't do these races. The interest in Monday Night (WORCA) rides and Women's Wednesdays in the bike park was up, and we got people out riding and riding more - to me that's the most rewarding part of the whole thing."
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