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Cheakamus Challenge gets bigger and smaller

Mountain bike epic now part of B.C. Cup Marathon series, while shorter ‘good parts’ race will be available

The 23rd annual Cheakamus Challenge Fall Classic mountain bike race, scheduled for Sept. 24, has undergone quite a few changes in the last few years.

With the addition of new singletrack sections in 2003 and 2004, the race is almost three kilometres longer than in the past, at 72.5 km, but at the same time it’s far more difficult – the top 2004 time of 3:16:27, set by Andreas Hestler, is close to half an hour slower than the time set by Roland Green on the original course in 2002.

While making the race a lot more difficult, the addition of new singletrack sections has had one benefit for the Cheakamus Challenge – this year the event will be the finals for the five-event B.C. Cup Marathon Series.

The Marathon Series features a selection of bike courses over 40 km in length, such as the Test of Metal in Squamish.

Not only will the B.C. Cup increase the size of the field by an estimated 150 riders, it also gives the event some additional exposure around the province, while bringing in new sponsors and a new race category system that is based solely on age. As a result there will be fewer categories, and a lot more people in each category will receive prizes.

Last year some riders had trouble making the cut-off points. This year the cut-off has been extended by half an hour to ensure more people get to the finish line.

Also this year, Cheakamus Challenge organizers have created a beginner Cheakamus Challenge race. It’s 42 km and includes all the hardest singletrack terrain, but organizer Grant Lamont saw a need to offer a shorter version as the main event has gotten longer and tougher.

"One of the biggest reasons is to get more people participating, a lot of people are intimidated by this race, they’ve heard how hard it is, and they’re saying ‘no way’," he said. "What this allows people to do is to really get their teeth into the race, and it’s still a very challenging course."

The beginner race starts at the Cal Cheak Forestry Road (campsite and Whistler Bungee bridge area) at noon, after most of the racers have already passed through the area.

Also new this year, $2 from every race entry will go towards the Cops for Cancer program, which raises money for the Canadian Cancer Society by cycling from community to community. The Cheakamus Challenge has entered into a long-term partnership with the Cops for Cancer program, which will kick off in Whistler the day after the Cheakamus Challenge.

The race will also have a new finish. Previously the Challenge has finished at the base of Whistler Mountain, but this year the race will continue through the village as far as the Brew House, where the post-race festivities are being held. The Resort Municipality of Whistler approved the route change recently, and will provide the fencing all the way to the finish line.

"This is one of the major things I wanted to do this year. I think that it will be an exciting finish for the riders, and it’s one way to get the whole village involved. After riding 70 kilometres, it’s nice to have someone cheer you on for the last few hundred metres," said Lamont.

The main race begins with a mass start in Paradise Valley, and works its way up the Cheakamus Canyon Trail to Godfrey’s Lookout. After a short highway section the riders are redirected back onto trails to Brandywine Falls, where the mountain biking begins in earnest. That’s also where the slower riders will be joined by participants from the beginner race.

From Brandywine the trail heads north on an old road before turning off onto the Trash bike trail near the Whistler landfill. After Trash the trail heads up the Riverside Trail and Farside Trail to the Microwave Tower Road climb, which it follows as far as Tunnel Vision – a challenging singletrack descent with rock sections, chutes, wood bridges and other expert features.

Tunnel Vision takes riders to the 2.4 km Kadenwood Road climb to Big Timber, another singletrack downhill that leads down to Creekside and to the final climb up Northwest Passage. The last part of the race is in the Whistler Mountain Bike Park.

As one of the last major events on the mountain bike calendar, the Cheakamus Challenge frequently draws some of the top Canadian riders. Andreas Hestler, who has won the past two years, will be back to defend his title, as will first time women’s champion Jean Ann McKirdy. Other riders expected include Roland Green and Alison Sydor, both past world champions and both multiple Cheakamus winners.

More information and registration for the race is available online at . Register early as the price goes up closer to the day of the event.