It's been a season full of runner-up results for Dave Burch, so the Team Whistler rider was happy to stop that streak on Saturday (Sept. 14).
Burch earned a victory in the 20th annual Westside Wheel Up, reaching the Rainbow Park finish in one hour, 15 minutes, 27 seconds.
"I haven't even won a Toonie Race this year," said Burch. "I've been second four times and had 10 top-five finishes, so … I'm stoked to pull this out.
"I won that Red Bull (Downtime) descent at the Nimby (Fifty) at the start of the summer, so it's nice to bookend the season."
Burch outlasted the field on the short but demanding course that follows a selection of Westside trails, finishing off with A River Runs Through It. Chris Clark wound up in second place, 1 ½ minutes off Burch's winning pace, while Mahon Lamont earned top junior honours and finished third overall at 1:19:00. Michael Boehm placed fourth and junior rider Austin Reith finished fifth.
Burch is now a two-time winner of the Wheel Up, Whistler's longest-running mountain bike race. But he had some work to do off the start, heading into the Danimal climb in third spot.
"I was able to get by Mahon, but Clarky was quite a bit ahead," said Burch. "Both of us at one point were pushing our bikes up that nasty climb. But I just felt good on the climbs and reeled Clarky in over Beaver Pass and never looked behind me."
Lamont, 17, said he blew up on the first climb but had a fairly uneventful ride after that.
"I was by myself the rest of the way, so it was pretty of fun going through River (thinking) 'OK, let's just be smooth and hopefully I can catch someone,'" he said.
Robin O'Neill (1:40:22) had to fend off a late charge from Sarah Olner to take the women's victory, as the two came across in 20th and 21st place overall, just 11 seconds apart.
"I didn't see (Olner) until the end, and she was on fire," said O'Neill. "Today was mostly a suffer-fest; it was mostly climbing."
Saturday's race brought out 105 riders — short of the goal of 150 that race organizer Phil Chew was hoping to meet. However, Chew said that was understandable with many regular racers having various commitments to meet on Saturday, plus summer seemingly having a last gasp with temperatures in the high 20s on race day.
Chew expected that the race, which serves as a fundraiser for the B.C. Para-Alpine Ski Team he coaches, would collect as much as $4,000 for the team.
With Saturday also being the 20th edition of the Wheel Up, Chew said it was special to be able to celebrate two decades of the event, particularly as race founder Les Clare was on hand to mark the anniversary.
Chew took over the race 12 years ago when Clare was paralyzed after a fall from a roof. The race raised $6,000 to benefit Clare that year, and has been a fundraiser for the ski team ever since.
"(Clare) started it 20 years ago and it was kind of like anti-mountain biking … anti-Cheakamus Challenge — nobody was going to tell us what to do," said Chew, referencing the now-defunct race that used to hold the title of Whistler's oldest.
"I've kind of homogenized it a bit — made it legal, got licenses for everything … and was able to grandfather in our spot (at Rainbow Park)."
Participants on Saturday said the Wheel Up's grassroots feel is one of the things that makes the event unique each year. And while the race has been around even longer than Lamont has been alive, this year's junior champ said it's a highlight for him each September.
"I've been doing it for five or six years and it's my favourite race. I just like the trails — they suit me pretty well and it's not super long, so it's a lot of fun and there are lots of prizes at the end," Lamont said with a grin.
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