Stages 3 and 4 wrapped up at BC Bike Race 2019

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Yesterday we summarised the action so far, via the press releases from BC Bike Race. But stage races don’t stop – here’s a look at Stages 3 and 4.

In Solo Men it was looking more and more like a game of inches between frontrunners Geoff Kabush (Team Yeti-Maxxis) and Felix Burke (Rocky Mountain). A battle of wily experience and youthful exuberance. An equally entertaining contest was unfolding among elite women, with Courtenay McFadden (Team Pivot-Maxxis) and Jenna Greaser (Rocky Mountain) out to prove that the Queen’s crown was far from secure. But behind the smile of repeat yellow jersey holder Katerina Nash (Team Clif Bar) is a killer instinct. Her depth of experience is unquestionable, whether crushing an uphill climb or carving up a loamy descent like a knife to butter.

From the top of Rhizome, yahoos echoed across the treetops. It was the sound of good times as riders on the first lobe of the stage soaked up the seriously sick, entire Vanilla descent.

Photo: Dave Shaer

 YouTubers and shredding couple Syd Schulz and Macky Franklin (Syd and Macky) flatted out on the chunder of Stage 2’s grinding Davis Lake Main and had to claw back more than a hundred riders. They were hoping for a mechanical free-stage today, and they got their wish.

“Roads are not really our thing. We’re good on the technical climbs and the descending. We’re from New Mexico so we’re not used to wet roots and rocks, but we’re loving it. The descending so far has been technical and fun, but not technical and scary,” said Schulz, after he and Macky improved on yesterday’s 3rd place in Teams of 2 (Open Mixed) to snag 2nd on Cumberland’s short course. This category has so far been dominated by the Stars and Stripes, with Kaitlin Keough and Stephen Hyde (Cannondale)  maintaining an iron grip on the yellow jersey.

Photo: Shaer

Meanwhile Tricia K Spooner, whose training grounds are the rolling Gatineau Hills around Ottawa, was proving once again that she has the chops for BC gnar. In fact she enjoys Cumberland dirt so much, she’s decided to move cross country and relocate to this Vancouver Island fat tire Mecca. Yesterday, she fell on the Davis Lake Main ascent after tangling handlebars with another racer. However a scraped, bruised and aching forearm didn’t slow this experienced shredder down.

“Today’s course was pretty slippery. People thought it was going to be easy  because it was short, but it wasn’t,” Spooner said, celebrating another top podium finish in Solo Masters Women, well ahead of 2nd place finisher Adriana Robles of Mexico.

Spooner’s got game. In her first BCBR foray in 2017, she finished first. But last year she dropped to 4th. Lucky 13 is setting up to be Spooner’s return  to the top.

70 minutes in,  the leaders were already on the second lobe, gobbling up hero dirt as they approached the Nikkei Mountain ascent. It was Burke dropping first into Rhizome, followed so close by Kabush he could count the teeth on the young  Quebecer’s cog set. But the unexpected drops and  surprise woodwork of Rhizome commanded focus.

 Kerry Werner (Team Kona-Maxxis-Shimano,) Payseen McElveen (Team Orange Seal – Trek) and Benjamin Sontag (Team Clif Bar) followed closely in a tight trio. Australia’s Jon Odams was also riding strong but would be unable to crack the top-3. After railing down the 50 to 1 washboard switchbacks, again it was Kabush and Burke sprinting to the line for a photo finish.

 “It would have to be a pretty violent attack to make any big gains, but I haven’t seen any weakness in Felix. He’s definitely comfortable on these trails,” Kabush said, after reclaiming the yellow jersey with 1-second, stage-win margin over Burke. “I’m focused on keeping it smooth, but a lot of the guys are twisting the throttle on and off, trying to take advantage of their technical skills.”

In Solo Women Katerina Nash (Team Clif Bar) shows no signs of relinquishing the yellow jersey – or fatigue – smiling her way acrosss the finish line for another stage win. McFadden and Fernie-based crusher Greaser,  battling in 2nd and 3rd, have a small mountain to climb if they want to chip away at Nash’s lead.

Things tightened up slightly in Teams of 2 (Open Men,) but Belgians Jef De Cost and Cedric Parys still have their eye on the prize.

As the sun  set over the Strait of Georgia, it was goodbye to the roots and rocks of Vancouver Island and hello to some loamy Sunshine Coast loveliness. Racers boarded buses for the Little River ferry terminal and the 90 minute crossing to Powell River, a town with a big heart and even bigger network of trails to showcase. Every year the Powell River Cycling Association rolls out the red carpet for BCBR participants, complete with the wail of bagpipers to serenade them ashore.

BC Bike Race 2019 Stage Four

A tad lower on the technical scale, this stage threatened to shake things up among the men at the top and perhaps play into the hands of a Paysen McElveen (Team Orange Seal – Trek,) a Benjamin Sontag (Team Clif Bar) or a Michael Van den Ham (Garneau – Easton Cycling,) all three of them monsters who can eat asphalt and gravel for breakfast, lunch and dinner, if they’re hungry enough.

In Solo Women, Katerina Nash (Team Clif Bar) was proving equally punishing on the climbs as she is on technical descents. So far she was leaving little room for doubt, and less room for attacks.

“I’ve been asking myself that question for the past two days,” said Bellingham-based Courtenay McFadden (Team Pivot-Maxxis,) who enjoyed her best stages in wet and greasy Cumberland and is hungry to chip away at Nash’s three-minute plus lead. “I’m really hoping for a stage win.”

And would the full-on, punch-for-punch, singletrack battle underway in Teams of 2 (Veteran 80+) between Mike Rauch and Simon Blythe (Cahilty Racing) and Graeme Martindale and Norm Thibault (TNA-Frontrunners) continue unabated in the ring of Powell River dirt?

“The problem is they’re really nice guys,” Martindale said, about their nemesis.

Sometimes hatred does fuel the fire of competition. Though this a friendly rivalry, once out on the trail, there’s little time for pleasantries. Marintdale and Thibault were hoping to take a  chomp out of the leader’s more than 5-minute overall lead.

Stage 4’s start line on picturesque Willingdon Beach was within staggering distance of the racers’ tents, and at 9 am it was on. Fifty minutes into the stage, the leaders were flowing Suicide Creek Trail, staying focused on a thread of dirt with no shortage of roots and handlebar clipping tree-squeezes. The pack was tight, with some less familiar faces in the mix, like Belgium’s Kristof Schrauwen and tenacious pit bulls Chad Black and McKay Vezina who have made a habit of infiltrating the leaders early in stages throughout the week.  Yellow jersey holder Geoff Kabush (Team Yeti-Maxxis) was in 5th spot, calm, cool and collected. The pace looked comfortable, almost relaxed, with nobody yet making a move to attack.

Nash was holding down a top-20 overall position, with a cautiously comfortable 2-minute lead on McFadden, who stacked into root and twisted her handlebars. Uninjured, she made a rapid pit stop at the Shimano tent/aid station and  was back in the saddle, with Jena Greaser (Rocky Mountain) spilling out of Suicide Creek Trail 300 a mere metres back and with the eye of the tiger. McFadden quickly dropped the hammer on the road climb toward Aloha Trail hoping to recover lost seconds.

Deep in the pack, Craig David Preece was channeling the strength of his bib number, 99, digits that are sacred to Canadian hockey fans.  He was struggling to overcome a nagging chest cold, but showing the kind of inspiring grit he and his fellow British military amputees have brought to BCBR all week.

“Feeling bloody awful right now,” he said, enjoying a little respite on mellow Green Road before turning down Death Rattle, the stage’s feature trail.

Among the leaders it remained light and tight as they carved down the burms and rolls of Death Rattle. Fireworks started flying at around the 40 km mark when Felix Burke (Rocky Mountain) started attacking. But the competition had an answer, and after the final trail and road descent back to seaside, it was McElveen crossing the finish line first, a second in front of Kabush, and Kerry Werner (Team Kona-Maxxis-Shimano.)

The heat is intensifying. Burke maintains a 3 second lead on Kabush but he’s far from comfortable.

“I’m hoping it doesn’t come down to the last day in Squamish. That would be stressful,” said the Rocky Mountain upstart. “My ideal would be a punchy climb followed by a technical descent that I could carry to the finish line.”

Sounds like Burke is describing Squamish. But there’s tomorrow to contend with first – the Earl’s Cove to Sechelt point-to-point .

At the end of the day in Solo Women, familiar faces ascended the podium with Nash in top spot followed by McFadden in 2nd, 4 minutes back,  and 3rd place finisher Jena Greaser (Rocky Mountain.)

Some people fear rain like they fear Satan. But McFadden is looking forward to tomorrow’s soggy forecast

In the hotly contested Teams of 2 (Veteran 80+,) this stage proved that North Van’s Cahilty Racing combo of Rauch and Blythe have no reason to celebrate early; a mechanical put them a minute back of rivals Martindale and Thibault at the finish line. This battle is far from over.

If it wasn’t for Team of 2 (Open Men) repeat stage winners, Belgians Jef de Coster and Cedric Parys, Europeans would be absent from podiums at BCBR Lucky 13. Perhaps it’s time to prescribe a steady diet of BC tech-gnar to Euro mountain bikers. Or perhaps they should tear a page from Parys and de Coster’s book, guys who sharpen their tech skills in the Ardennes, a rugged forested region along the Belgium-France border. And they are also more than at home on West Coast roots and rocks, having both competed solo in past BCBRs.

“It’s incredible. The whole BCBR experience is a big adventure,” Parys said, while relaxing back at Willingdon Beach.

These boys appear destined to head home to Europe with a trunk full of metal assuming their winning streak continues.

Tomorrow racers will wake to the squawk of the chicken. They’ll fortify with breakfast then board buses for the shuttle to the Saltery Bay ferry terminal. A shirt crossing will deliver them to the sea level start line of Stage 5. This one’s hefty – 1600 vertical metres of climbing packed into a 58 km  course packed full of sinuous, Sunshine Coast singletrack.

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