Cheakamus Challenge to get more epic 

UCI sanctioning, longer route in works for mountain bike race

For the past 20 years, the Cheakamus Challenge Fall Classic has been a grass-roots mountain bike event, putting riders through a punishing fitness test while exploring the backroads and trails between Whistler and Squamish.

It’s a competition that has rolled with the times, progressively getting longer and harder over the years as the number and skill of riders increased.

After almost being cancelled this year due to skyrocketing insurance costs, the Cheakamus Challenge is preparing to grow even larger next year.

"It’s still a grass roots event," said organizer Grant Lamont, "but it’s a grass roots event with a good paint job."

Lamont has been organizing the Cheakamus Challenge for 14 years, but said no event has run as smoothly as it did this year.

"It went really well, and I’m really pretty happy the way it turned out," he said. "The organization of the event was the tightest it has ever been, and we have the same crew in place for next year already."

The event also had more support from businesses and the municipality than in the past. According to Lamont, John Rae and Bob Andrea at the municipality were great to work with, and Rob McSkimming at Whistler-Blackcomb came through with a lot of additional support. Tourism Whistler also helped to promote the event. As well, corporate sponsorship came on board this year, notably with the addition of Powerade.

Most of the riders Lamont has spoken to liked the changes to the course, including the addition of the Trash trail, although a few participants were frustrated when they missed the cut-off coming out of Function. It was never meant to be easy, said Lamont.

"I think most of them were secretly glad to get cut off. When they came out of Trash, they just looked so worked over. It was hard on people, so it did what it was meant to do.

"Next year they’ll know to punch it harder to the Microwave Tower Road," he said.

Lamont is already planning a longer harder race for next season.

"Next year when the riders get to the other side of the MacLaurin Bridge, they’ll be turning left instead of right, and heading back down the Riverside Trails to the Microwave parking lot. From there they will ride up the old Microwave Tower Road," he said.

After the Microwave Tower Road, Lamont wants to clear the debris off the old Bear Ridge Trail down to the Kadenwood Road, adding a singletrack descent that used to be part of the race.

"That will put the course length at 75 kilometres on the beam," said Lamont. In the last few years, the course length has increased from 68 km to 72 km.

The added sections are not just for the sake of challenge, said Lamont. He recently applied to the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the world governing body for mountain bike racing, to add the Cheakamus Challenge Fall Classic Mountain Bike Race to the newly created World Cup Mountain Bike Marathon circuit.

In its first year, the marathon circuit took place entirely within Europe on courses that were a minimum of 60 kilometres.

"We’ve got the support in place to go out and do this," said Lamont.

Alison Sydor, the women’s Cheakamus Challenge champion for four years, supported the idea of putting the race on the World Cup marathon circuit.

"This race has been going on longer than any of the races in Europe, and with the addition of the new singletrack section, it’s gotten a lot more difficult as well. It belongs on an international circuit," said Sydor.

If Lamont’s application is successful, Whistler would host World Cup marathon events from 2004 to 2006.

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