Though the Whistler Mountain Bike Park is still a couple of weeks away from opening, some local riders have their downhill race seasons underway after travelling south for events in the U.S.
Junior standout Jack Iles already has three races under his belt this season, including a solid eighth-place result in the Category 1 boys’ 17 and 18 race at the Volkswagen Sea Otter Classic that ran April 18 to 21 in Monterey, Calif.
Prior to that, Iles had raced to a 15th-place finish in a race held in Fontana, Calif., and he was back at it Sunday (April 28) at Port Angeles, Wash., where he recorded a 10th-place result in his age group.
This year marks the first time that Iles has gone down for some spring races ahead of the season at home, and the Whistler rider said it was well worth the experience.
“It was awesome,” Iles said Tuesday (April 30). “It’s a lot better than sitting around, not riding.”
Though the 17-year-old has posted some respectable showings early on, Iles still feels like there is plenty of room for improvement as the season rolls on and as he becomes more accustomed to a new bike.
“I haven’t been feeling great,” he said. “I feel like I need more time on my bike and I’m not quite used to it yet.”
Still, the two-time Prince of Crankworx left the Sea Otter happy with his first appearance at the massive biking festival.
“I felt pretty solid, like I had a good run,” said Iles. “There were definitely places I could have worked on better, but I felt it was an overall pretty solid run.”
Whistler’s Zander Geddes is also off to a strong start to the season in the same age category. Geddes finished second at Port Angeles on the weekend to follow his 10th-place finish in the Sea Otter. Whistler’s Bowen Irvine finished 35th at the Sea Otter.
Meanwhile, the younger Finn Iles was the winner in Washington on Sunday, taking top spot in the Category 2 boys’ 14-and-under race.
Several other locals headed down for this year’s Sea Otter and turned in great results, including Whistlerite Sarah Leishman.
Now riding for the Norco Factory Team, Leishman raced the pro women’s division in Monterey and finished seventh while making her first trip to the event — and after shaking off a spill that might have left the average rider intimidated.
“I’ve never been there before, so I had to spend a lot of time learning the track more than anyone else,” said Leishman. “The contrast was that (winner) Jill Kintner got there and was race-ready after her first run. It took me the full amount of time, so by the time I raced, I was pretty beat and had a really big crash in training — probably the scariest crash I’ve had, ever, on a bike.
“I’m OK with (the result). I think I could have done better but it’s tough to know, not being there before. The course was fun and it was my style.”
B.C. riders grabbed many spots in the top 10 — Sechelt’s Holly Feniak, who makes Whistler her home for the summer, finished fifth, and Leishman was sandwiched between Revelstoke’s Casey Brown and Squamish’s Miranda Miller. Sitting just outside the top 10 was Pemberton’s Jaime Hill in 11th spot.
Whistler’s Christina Chappetta had a very impressive showing in Monterey, as she won the Category 1 women’s 19 to 29 race by more than 2 ½ seconds over the field. She was also in action at Port Angeles and placed third. In the 30 to 39 race at the Sea Otter, Whistler’s Lisa Mason placed second.
Leishman said the Sea Otter was a “big one” on what will be a limited schedule for her this year. Her public relations job for Crankworx will keep her close to the resort for the summer, but she said she’s getting lots of support from the Norco team to balance both positions and is already eyeing up the North American Enduro Tour finals at Moab, Utah, in September.
“(I’ll hope to) show up and do respectably well at that, kind of Sea Otter-style,” she said.