Claire Buchar has found herself back on top of the podium frequently this season, and that’s come as a pleasant surprise, considering that she was unsure how much she’d be on a bike at all this summer.
Buchar won the elite women’s race while husband Chris Kovarik captured the elite men’s title on Sunday (Aug. 4) during the Western Open downhill races held at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, where the Kovarik Racing duo also hosted a skills camp before putting on a clinic on the race course.
“It was a bonus for us to be able to race as well, and to come out with a win was pretty awesome,” said Buchar.
It was the second weekend in a row that the Whistler riders both found themselves atop the podium, as both won the B.C. Provincial Championship races held at Panorama the week prior. Kovarik and Buchar have once again been dominating the local Phat Wednesday races held in the Whistler Mountain Bike Park this season as well.
It was just five months ago that both were involved in a serious car crash in Kovarik’s native Australia just one day before they were set to return to Whistler. While Kovarik walked away with a fractured rib, Buchar suffered more severe injuries and blacked out from the accident.
Their plans to return to Canada were put on hold by a month, and Buchar spent another five weeks recovering from concussion symptoms after arriving home in mid-May.
“It was crazy because I didn’t know if I was going to be able to ride at all this summer. I’m pretty happy with how I’m riding, considering,” said Buchar, the only Canadian woman to win a downhill medal in senior-aged competition at a world championships in the past 20 years. “I’m still not quite there mentally and physically, but I can’t complain. I’m getting stronger and more confident every day.
“The first time I got back on my bike, it was like nothing. I remembered how to ride and everything — you never lose it and it was just the best feeling.”
Buchar finished the Kicking Horse course in four minutes, 34.06 seconds, which put her nearly seven seconds ahead of the field.
Kovarik (had a less comfortable margin of victory in his race, holding off North Vancouver’s Adriano Digiacinto by less than a half-second. However, he was able to erase memories of last year’s heartbreaking runner-up finish at the Western Open, when a mechanical problem left him unable to pedal over the bottom quarter of the course and finished one-hundredth of a second behind Digiacinto.
“This year I pulled it through,” said Kovarik. “The course was more blown-out and rougher than last year, so it was pretty fun to ride but difficult to race.”
Now on the eve of Crankworx Whistler, both Kovarik and Buchar are riding with some confidence as they get set to welcome the world’s top downhill riders into their own backyard.
“I’m pretty happy with my riding and I’m feeling strong,” said Kovarik, who’s pleased that he switched to a larger bike frame this year. “It seems like I can maneuver it a little better and the complete package is working well.”
Iles brothers back on top
Whistler’s Iles brothers laid down some more quick runs at Kicking Horse and won their respective categories at this year’s Western Open.
Jack Iles secured the junior expert men’s (17 and 18-year-olds) victory in a time of 3:55.02, which was nearly 10 seconds ahead of the rest of the entries in his division. The elder Iles is now off to Quebec, where he’ll compete in a World Cup downhill at Mont Ste. Anne before returning home for Crankworx. Whistler’s Isaac Marangoni raced in the same category at Kicking Horse and placed 11th.
Finn Iles similarly blew the field away on Sunday, winning the U15 men’s race with a time of 4:09.66, following on his provincial title victory from the previous week.
In other local results, Alex Auger rode to a fourth-place finish in the men’s U17 sport category. Whistler’s Bracken Camilleri competed in the U17 expert race and finished sixth.