In the BC Bike Race traveling circus, Thursday was the first day really on the move.
Riders relocated from Basecamp #1 in Crofton to Basecamp #2 in the wonderful village of Cumberland. But not without a quick, or not-so-quick, 40km stop on the rough and fast trails of Nanaimo.
Thursday also marked the halfway point of 2023 BC Bike Race. And it was a doozy. The big climbs were tough in the heat. But they were well rewarded. Long, continuous descents were fast, alternately flowy, rough and occasionally loose.
Max Power, Maximum Excitement
After a quick rip through the classic XC trails of the Abyss and a warm-up descent on Gatekeeper, racers dropped into the Max Power / Hutz section of Nanaimo’s Simpsons-themed trilogy of trails. It was an early reward for the elevation gained and an instant favourite among the racers.
Victor Cortese from Panama was whipping and pulling shapes all the way down Max Power. After a few fist-bumps and high fives his review was simple: “That was the best trail ever! That just made the entire week worth it, already!” And it’s only day four!
Every trip down South Benson earned new fans. For Scott Hove and Terence Duff from Utah, it was the continuous descending that won them over.
“Today, the climbs, while they were difficult, the downs were goooood. So you got rewarded. The downs were slightly longer today so each section made you feel a little bit better about all the work you put into it,” Scott Hove said as the pair relaxed in the finish area before moving on to Cumberland.
“‘The Hill’ and the heat sucked for everyone, but the trails are awesome,” Terence Duff added. While Utah is known for summer heat, a cool spring south of the border meant the Park City racers were just as caught off-guard as the rest of the field. They’re enjoying the change of scenery. “The trails are rad and just being in the green room. We’re happy to traipse around in the woods for a couple days.”
“The trails are an opportunity to get a little bit steady on the hectic side, instead of sparse where we live,” Scott said in an understated assessment of Vancouver Island’s relentless tech. “It makes the experience much better, instead of searching around for it.”
Humpday Hill and a Rollercoaster of Emotions
The other, more infamous feature on Thursday’s course, was a 2.2km grunt of a climb, “The Hill,” gaining 350m of elevation and averaging well over 12% grade of loose, bouncy, traction-killing gravel that is out in the open and exposed to the elements.
As much as racers suffered, most were in good spirits as they worked to gain higher ground. There was consistent praise for their efforts. After topping out on the climb, racers dove into a raucous ride down the decades-old Nanaimo classic: Rollercoaster. The emotional lows of the climb faded as a highlight reel of drifty corners and easy doubles on the descent came to life
“Today was exhausting but very exciting. The downhills are insane,” Valerie Tang said after the finish.
Part of the high spirits could be due to racers passing the halfway point of this year’s BC Bike Race. While the days are hard, riders are realizing they’re up to the challenge.
“I’m feeling fresh!” Valerie said.
“I’m feeling better than I thought I would feel at this point, which is awesome,” added Marc Pereira, also over from Singapore.
The trio of Singapore riders are all thriving at BC Bike Race’s wide-ranging singletrack buffet.
“Yesterday, Maple Syrup, the double black one,” Valerie quickly lists as her favourite trail. “We also loved the Maple Syrup shots,” her teammate Lee Yi Tian quickly added.
For Marc, Maple was stickier sweet, but Tzouhalem’s flow was stellar. “I love flow, not so technical.”
Victor Armada, part of a group of seven from Baja, Mexico, is also settling into the heat and the long miles heading into the second half of the week.
“I’m looking forward to it! The body is getting used to this punishment. Super trails. The heat is challenging, but I just keep hydrated and have good food. Excellent!”
“The Ultimate Singletrack Experience” is all about serving the experience of overcoming a challenge. It’s not just a lot of trails, but trails that might be outside some riders normal zone of comfort.
“My day was fun, and funny. More funny. BC Bike Race is a “red” race,” says Ramon Comulada, over from Girona, Spain. “We come from Spain, we don’t have this kind of mountain biking. It’s very authentic.”
Like others, he’s settling into the week’s miles and happy to be getting within sight of the finish line.
“Yes! Yesterday I was tired but today, I feel good. They’re good days, and I’m enjoying it. That’s the most important part.”
Good days for sure. Comulada is racing well into the top 20 of the open men’s race.
Hot Days and Heated Racing
The front of the race continues to shift and twist and turn as the trails move around Vancouver Island. Craig Oliver, Katerina Nash, and close racing are the only consistent factors to this year’s BC Bike Race.
Thursday brought a few new twists to the front of the race. 2022 champion Sandra Walter made her first podium appearance on the women’s side. She joins Katerina Nash and Evelyn Dong on the women’s podium, though Eva Poidevin still sits in third in the overall.
On the men’s side, Andrew L’Esperance took his turn challenging the current race leader, New Zealand’s Craig Oliver. While the racers are friendly on the podium, consistent single-digit winning margins meant elbows were out as the course shifted from climbing to descending. L’Espy and Oliver rubbed elbows jockeying for position entering Max Power. Geoff Kabush and Rob Britton had friendlier words, but were still dueling for position into the single track.
At the finish line, it was 2021 BCBR champion Andrew L’Esperance earning the win. Like every day this week, just a handful of seconds separated the top two men. Craig Oliver takes second with Peter Disera rallying for a third place spot on the podium.
Westwood Lake and a Journey North
After a day in the heat, riders were keen to take a quick detour crossing the timing mat, and dipping into Westwood Lake to cool off before the neutral roll back down to the finish area. If the trails were good, then the recovery really made an impact.
“That just changed my day,” one rider said, exiting the lake. “That might have just changed my life,” another replied with a laugh. “Canada’s got it figured out!”
Riders are now settled into Basecamp #2 in the heart of the village of Cumberland. Tomorrow’s course delivers 41.3km of racing, entirely on the clock and starting from the center of town. Along with 1,346m of elevation gain, Cumberland serves up a mix of classic woodwork, tech and a bit of new-school flow. There’s also the dreamy new Sobo no Michi climbing trail. Roughly translated from Japanese as “Grandmother’s Way,’ connecting the local Chinese & Japanese communities' history of mining these hills with the town’s current state of singletrack flow. Alternatively described, it’s a comfortable express elevator to the upper reaches of Cumberland’s forests and a near-polar opposite to the steep, grunty suffering on Nanaimo’s climbs.
2023 BC Bike Race - Stage 4 results
Open Men’s Results
Andrew L’Esperance - 1:37:12
Craig Oliver - 1:37:15 (+0.03)
Peter Disera - 1:37:57 (+0.45)
Open Women’s Results
Katerina Nash - 1:57:17
Evelyn Dong - 1:59:34 (+2.17)
Sandra Walter - 2:00:53 (+3.36)
Full Results BCBR