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By Zack Vestal
The 75km first stage of the Intermontane Challenge in Kamloops, BC was defined by heat, and in some cases, confusion about the course. Temperatures ranged near and above 100 degrees Fahrenheit on a course of roughly 50 miles that included exposed desert sage land plus some higher altitude evergreen forest. A mix of established fire roads and double track, plus some well-worn motorbike trails and barely-there game trails lead to occasional directional miscues by riders, but everyone finished safely.
Hot and … hot
Kamloops and much of the interior west of British Columbia are in the grip of a hot, high-pressure weather system. Most locals acknowledge that summer heat is typical, but that current blast-furnace conditions are extreme.
“This is the hottest I’ve seen it,” said race organizer Chuck Brennan. “We’re going to make adjustments,” he added. Brennan noted that the stage-2 start time of 9 a.m. was unchangeable, due to the course routing through the center of Kamloops with a police escort, but he plans to start the subsequent stages by 7 a.m.
Brennan also thinks that some riders underestimated the heat. “We had 900-liter water tanks at each aid station, and at that first one, only 200 liters were used,” he said. “I bet that’s going to change for stage 2,” he added.
Fortunately, despite some riders running out of water with more than an hour still to race through the hottest of the shade-free scrub brush, no emergency evacuations were needed. Even so, promoters allowed participants to skip stage 2 and accept a time penalty, given that many had stories of extreme heat distress in stage one.
Jeremiah Bishop (Monavie-Cannondale) won the first stage, just ahead of teammate Tinker Juarez. Benjamin Sonntag, also Monavie-Cannondale, was third, and former Kamloops resident Chris Sheppard ended the day in fourth, about 15 minutes back.
“There were a lot of strange turns,” said Bishop. “I just wanted to stay out of trouble.” He did so by riding comfortably in a group with Juarez and Sheppard. The three came together after the first feed zone. “Chris was setting the pace and I figured it was good to stick with him, since he knows the trails,” said Bishop.
Three hours into the stage, Sheppard suffered a broken chain, and then cramps, to end up dropping off the pace. Meanwhile, Sonntag, who had suffered early from the heat, made a comeback in the cooler shade of the forested portions of the course, and held on to give Monavie a podium sweep.
In the women’s race, Monavie-Cannondale rider Sue Butler rode with Amanda Carey (Kenda-Tomac-Hayes) for much of the race, before Carey dropped back by half a minute. Butler rode in for the win, but Carey misread a course marking with about 10 miles to race, and lost over half an hour. A course marshal in place for most of the riders was apparently absent when Carey and several other riders passed through. Sarah Kaufmann slipped in to second place, about 25 minutes behind Butler.
Looking comfortable after the finish, Butler said, “I actually rode really well in the heat.” She credited a steady pace and consistent hydration.
On the other hand, Carey was frustrated. “It cost me the race,” she said, referring to the misdirection. “I had great legs but bad luck. It’s a really cruddy situation that can’t be resolved.”
Many riders crossed the finish line with at least one story of a missed turn or difficulty interpreting the course marking. In addition to fireroads and established double tracks, the course included a blend of well-worn motorcycle tracks and less visible, branching singletracks. Most of the trails included on the course are not specifically signed or designated for legal riding, and as such, include many offshoots, shortcuts, and subtle side trails.
“We had some issues with course marking,” said Brennan, on the evening after stage 1. “We’re heading out now to make sure there are no problems for stage 2.”
Check back for more from the Intermontane Challenge, including some bike tech, and tips on how to travel and race as a self-supported privateer. Also, don’t forget to pick up the September issue of VeloNews, for Fred Dreier’s story on the rise of mountain bike stage racing.
1. Jeremiah Bishop 3:44:35
2. David “Tinker” Juarez 3:44:53
3. Benjamin Sonntag 3:50:19
1. Sue Butler 4:19:07
2. Sarah Kaufmann 4:45:22
3. Kate Aardal 4:58:53