The BC Bike Race finished up in Whistler on Saturday after seven days of riding and racing with a relatively short 27 km ride that started and finished at Whistler Olympic Plaza. The ride headed up into Blackcomb and back down to the start of Yummy Numby - a new climb that brings riders to the start of the descent of Comfortably Numb. After that riders took on a long course through Lost Lake, enjoying some of the resort's most popular singletrack.
The last stage came after six days of racing on Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast and in Squamish, with an emphasis on singletrack. Some rides were as long at 65 km, although riders had the option of doing shorter courses on five of the seven ride days.
This year, both of the top spots overall went to Kelowna riders.
Chris Sheppard won the men's race with a seven-day time of 16 hours, 34 minutes and 54 seconds. Sheppard got out to an early lead, winning the first day by almost 11 minutes and the second day by almost nine minutes. Although he wouldn't win another stage, he had a lot of time to play with.
American Jason Sager placed second in 16:45:25, and Squamish's Neal Kindree third in 16:53:47. Kindree lost his hometown Squamish battle to Sager, but came back by winning in Whistler in 1:22:01 - about 40 minutes faster than the organizers expected.
"I've ridden these trails quite a bit and knew that there were going to be some sharp rocks out there," he said. "So I put extra air in the tires and throttled through the descents. I just kept telling myself, 'ride smooth. Ride smooth.'"
Brian Lopes, a top American downhiller, also participated and finished a very respectable 12th overall in 18:47:35. He placed second on the final day in Whistler, just two-and-a-half minutes back of Kindree.
Lopes also won all of the added timed downhill sections, a new race within the race that was added this year to select descents on the course.
Kelowna's Jennifer Schulz won the solo women's title in a combined 22:33:52, almost half an hour faster than closest competitor. She won five out of seven days of the race, including the short but technical ride in Whistler.
Hannah Thorne of New Zealand was second in 23:02:53, followed by Wendy Lyall of the U.S. in 23:19:37.
Whistler's Katrina Strand, better known for her downhill mountain biking career, finished fourth in 24:47:37.
While she's done a few long cross-country rides, she's never competed in something like this. And she had less than three weeks to train for it.
"After my shoulder injury last September (in Red Bull Exodus 5,000 Down) I didn't know where my body was going to be, so I decided this summer that the best plan was to fly by the seat of my pants," she said.
She took part in the North Shore Bike Fest in early June - an event she entered the night before - after she was talked into the race by one of the organizers. "I was a little intimidated to take it (the BC Bike Race) on, but I'm also on my bike a lot and I went in with zero expectations."
Strand also planned to ride the shorter Challenge category, with courses that ranged around 25 km per day instead of 50 km. However, she didn't want to miss any of the trails on Day One in Cumberland and by the fourth day of racing she wasn't worried about the distance any longer.
She ended up riding with other Whistler cyclists, including Graeme Fitch - who has done every BC Bike Race to date, and placed 37th in Masters Men - and the team of Les Ecker and Chris Susko, who placed fifth in Teams of 2 Veterans 80.
Strand says 70 per cent of the race was on singletrack on average, which suits her style. For that reason she said she would do this race again.
"I feel that if I can pull it off, coming in three weeks prior and with my injury, then anyone can really do it. It's not something you should be intimidated by," she said. "If you've got the time and the money then it's definitely something that should be on your hit list.
"It was such a mellow race, I've never done a race with such a mellow vibe in my life. Everyone was so cool, and the race etiquette was so unbelievable. It was only positive."
Strand placed third on one section and also won two of the added downhill challenges.
Complete results are posted online at www.bcbikerace.com.
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