Whistler’s Michael Robinson is looking for some redemption in this week’s B.C. Bike Race, in which he’ll have hometown advantage for the event’s final stage on Saturday (July 7).
The seven-stage race, which highlights some of southwestern B.C.’s best mountain bike trails in a different community each day, kicked off on Canada Day (July 1) in Cumberland and continues with today’s (Thursday, July 5) fifth stage in Sechelt and Langdale.
Robinson participated in the B.C. Bike Race last year but made a quick exit due to injury. A regular top finisher in races around the Sea to Sky corridor, Robinson hopes to have put the bad memories of 2011 behind him when the sold-out field of 500 riders crosses the last finish line at Whistler Olympic Plaza on Saturday.
“I broke my hand on Day 1 last year, so I was pretty devastated,” Robinson said before racing began. “Really, finishing will have to be my most important goal. Anything else will be a bonus.
“Either way, it’s going to be amazing fun. I only did the one day last year but the atmosphere was so good.”
Robinson is among a handful of local riders who are taking part in this year’s race, which hits Squamish on Friday (July 6) before the Whistler finale. Joining Robinson in taking on the race’s solo Epic division are Whistler’s Graeme Fitch, Ross Chafe and Fanny Paquette and Brackendale’s Matteo Abel.
Pemberton’s Nicole Bortolussi is riding the shorter Challenge courses on a team of two with Steph McDougall, while Scotty Aitken and alpine skiing star Manuel Osborne-Paradis are among others with Whistler ties racing on Epic-distance teams of two.
After Monday’s (July 2) second stage, Robinson sat 11th in the solo men’s Epic class, while Paquette was sixth in the women’s Epic.
Robinson has had a strong start to the season, recording a sixth-place finish in this year’s Nimby Fifty and a top 20 at last month’s Test of Metal. But the grind of racing for seven consecutive days will be a new challenge.
“I think it’s gone really well,” Robinson said of his season to date. “I’ve never done a stage race before so I really don’t know what to expect. I’ll just have to wait and see, I suppose. The most I’ve ever done is two races back-to-back… but I’ve definitely geared my training towards stage racing and (riding) day after day.”
Andreas Hestler, both a competitor and the event’s director of marketing, said he’s impressed with the elite field and happy with the high international participation – riders from 33 countries are taking part – in the race’s sixth year.
“We’ve got 33 countries showing some serious interest in riding our B.C. singletrack and it’s pretty heavily stacked,” said Hestler, a former Olympian.
Chris Sheppard is looking to win his third consecutive B.C. Bike Race title but Squamish’s Neal Kindree, last year’s Whistler stage winner, and Oregon’s Barry Hicks, himself a two-time champ of the event, are among those looking to unseat Sheppard. Wicks was in front after two stages but Kindree and Sheppard were both within three seconds of the lead.
Whistler course designer Grant Lamont has set a new route for this year that features trails in the Whistler Mountain Bike Park and the Lost Lake section.
“We couldn’t do justice to (the trails) of Lower Mainland B.C. if we didn’t have them do as much time as possible in the Lost Lake area,” said Hestler.
This year’s race features 12 Gravity Enduro sections throughout the week. These ‘races within a race’ are mostly downhill segments of the course timed separately. Whistler has one Gravity Enduro section on Toad of the Short Forest and surrounding trails, with best spectator access from Nicklaus North.
Riders will leave the Village start at 9 a.m. on Saturday and the leaders are expected to arrive at Whistler Olympic Plaza starting at 11 a.m. See www.bcbikerace.com for full details and the most recent results.