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Whistler Secondary sends mountain bikers to B.C. Championships

James and Nadine Crowe, Brandon Semenuk and Alex Prochazka to compete against schools from across B.C.

Despite the fact that Whistler has produced several provincial and national junior champions over the years, riders from the community have yet to land a single B.C. High School Mountain Bike Championship title.

On May 28, with a $500 grant from WORCA’s youth program, Whistler Secondary is sending four athletes to represent the town at the provincial championships for the first time at Chatelech Secondary in Sechelt.

James and Nadine Crowe, Brandon Semenuk and Alex Prochazka will take part in the cross-country race, accompanied by Constable Devon Jones from the Whistler RCMP and Whistler Secondary teacher Miriam Bride.

The course is six kilometres long and includes a mix of dirt roads and singletrack. Senior boys do three laps, junior boys and senior girls do two laps and bantam/juvenile boys and girls do one lap each. The start line should be crowded as over 500 riders are expected from across B.C.

For James Crowe, a senior who has been a B.C. and Canadian champion over the years, it’s a fun, low-pressure event, and a rare opportunity to represent his school.

"I haven’t been to the championships before because the opportunity hasn’t come up, but (WORCA youth director) Greg (McDonnell) hooked us up this year which is great," he said.

Nicknamed "Crunch," Crowe has been one of the top local juniors for years, winning his category in races like the Test of Metal and Cheakamus Challenge. He’s also a regular at Loonie Race events, and has been near the front of the pack since he was 14.

"I’ve been racing as long as I can remember, but this (race) is different, I’ve never ridden for the high school before," he said.

James will focus on the B.C. Cup series this season, where he hopes to win the Junior Expert title. He also plans to enter the western Canada Cup races and, if all goes well, the national championships in Quebec.

Because it’s still early in the season he doesn’t have any goals for the high school championships.

"I haven’t raced my mountain bike at all besides Loonie Races. This is really my first race of the year, where I usually work out all the bugs for the season. I have been riding lots, on the road and on my mountain bike, but I’m not taking it that seriously. I’ll still be racing, but I’m not too worried if I don’t come in first because I’m still just gearing up for the season."

James is 18, and will graduate from Whistler Secondary in June. After racing this summer he is planning to attend an automotive fabrication school in Wyoming in the fall.

He’s sponsored by Kona, Evolution, and Team Squamish, a project supported by the Squamish Off-Road Cycling Association to encourage youth development.

James’ younger sister Nadine will also be taking part in the championships, although she only races occasionally.

"I travel with my family to all of the B.C. Cup races, and if I like the course I’ll enter sometimes," she said. "I like good, technical courses where you’re totally focused on the trail instead of the race. I’d rather ride than race… you can enjoy the trail and not worry about someone taking you out."

Nadine looks at mountain biking as cross training for her winter sports. She competes in cross-country skiing, and represented Whistler in the last B.C. Winter Games.

She is also a star women’s hockey player. This year she played on a boy’s bantam league team that went undefeated in 30 games through the regular season and playoffs, getting rave reviews from her coaches.

Last weekend she took part in an international women’s hockey tournament where players from across North America are scouted by post-secondary schools and private high schools.

"It was a lot of fun. There were girls there from everywhere, Arizona, Alaska, all over the States and Canada. They just put you with a team and you play, and it’s really good hockey," she said.

While mountain bike racing is not her first priority, Nadine grew up riding with her father, a competitive rider in the Masters category, her brother and her mother, and has learned to keep up.

As a Juvenile Girl, her race will be relatively short with just two laps of the course. "It’s going to be a sprint the whole way, just go as fast as you can and hold on through the technical stuff," she said. "Sometimes longer courses are good because you can move around and take your time, but if it’s a good course it doesn’t matter if it’s a little shorter.

"I don’t have any goals for the (championships) I’m just going to go out and ride the course the best I can."

Brandon Semenuk and Alex Prochazka, also 14, are two of the top young riders in the valley.

Semenuk is no stranger to racing, and is ranked among the top cross-country athletes in his age group. He frequently competes against older riders for more of a challenge, and wants to win his age group on the B.C. Cup this year.

He’s also becoming a lot more known for his freeriding abilities, and was featured in a movie called Unknown Soldiers doing street riding and hitting the dirt jumps.

Alex Prochazka is more of a downhiller and freerider, and would have won his age category in the Sea Otter Classic downhill by more than 4 seconds. Instead he competed in the Junior Experts 18 and Under group, finishing in the top third of the field in 23 rd place.

He’s only raced cross-country once, taking part in a six-hour Enduro race in Whistler four summers ago. He’ll be competing in the "big bike" category in his age group at the B.C. High School Championships.

Pique caught up to Alex and Brandon at the skateboard park as they were waiting for the dirt jumps to reopen after some maintenance.

They played around in the bowl, spinning 360s, trying out tailwhips and fastplants, and gapping the concrete features.

Semenuk said he is looking forward to the high school races, but isn’t sure what to expect. "I’ve only been doing the Loonie Races this year, but I’m going to do all the B.C. Cups and a few other races," he said. Like James Crowe, he’s also looking to win his age category.

"I’ve been biking every day since it stopped snowing. Mostly I’ve been dirt jumping and freeriding, but I’ll be doing more cross-country now we’re getting into the season," he said.

When asked how much time he spends on his bike on an average day, he shrugged. "It depends if I’m dirt jumping or freeriding, but I can be out anywhere from four to nine hours. If I’m riding cross-country it depends on the trail."

Brandon doesn’t have any goals for the high school championships , nor knows what to expect – his strategy, as always, is to stay close to the front of the pack in the sprint from the start, then attack in the singletrack.

"I don’t like starts. Once you’re in the singletrack it’s okay, you can pick people off, but I don’t really like the start," he said.

Brandon is riding for Specialized, Alpina, Evolution Bike Shops, and Avalanche Pizza.

Alex Pro spends most of his time riding downhill with pros like Richie Schley and Thomas Vanderham, and is on the Rocky Mountain Team.

He’s getting more into dirt jumping and riding stunts, but will always enter downhill races.

He’s also been featured in a few movies, and lists Rocky Mountain, ,Oakley, Marzocchi, Fanatyk Co, Shimano, Gyro, Syncros and Race as his sponsors.

Last year in the Max Vert Enduro Alex lost his chain on his second lap, but still managed 10 laps of the Garbanzo Zone, 22,000 feet of descending, in three hours.

Although he doesn’t race cross-country normally, he decided to enter the high school championships for something to do. As a small high school with only a few teams, there aren’t many opportunities to do something to represent your school he said.

"I’m just going for the experience, and to race in the big bike category. I have no idea what to expect until I get there, but it’s a little different than what I’m used to and you don’t get an opportunity to do something like this every day," he said.

Like Brandon, Alex also hates starts. "Group starts are the worst thing in the world. I like downhill better where you go one at a time."

Because it’s a short course, Alex’s strategy is to sprint the whole way and make the most of the singletrack section. With only one cross-country race in all the years he’s been riding bikes, he doesn’t have any goals for Sechelt. "This is a fun race for me," he said.

With just four riders this year, Whistler isn’t in the running for any team awards. For the past two years teams from Don Ross Secondary in Squamish have won the B.C. high school title.

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