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By Zack Vestal
The Intermontane Challenge wrapped up last week with a 30-kilometer time trial, providing a chance for Chris Sheppard (Santa Cruz-WTB-FOX) and Sue Butler (MonaVie-Cannondale) to cement their overall wins in the week-long stage race.
Neither winner faced significant threats to their overall race leads, and both protected their positions by riding carefully on the sinewy singletrack of Kenna Cartwright Park just on the edge of Kamloops.
Their consistency in the face of heat, hard efforts and confusing courses was rewarded with ten thousand dollars each (Canadian), possibly the richest winner’s purse in mountain biking. In the men’s race, Brian Cooke and Evan Plews were second and third, while Amada Carey (second) and Sarah Kaufmann (third) rounded out the podium in the women’s race.
The time trial
By the stage 5 TT, many participants were exhausted and simply ready to wrap it up. A week of record temperatures had made for unusually challenging conditions.
The course began and ended at race headquarters, the Thompson Rivers University Conference Center. After a short section on pavement to the edge of town, the course dove into Kenna Cartwright Park, a dry, timbered ridge overlooking Kamloops. Woven with singletrack, the park is popular with riders, runners, and hikers, but race organizers secured exclusive access from the city for the race. The course used nearly every inch of trail in the park, spanning its entire length several times before doubling back. Generally non-technical, the trails were smooth, buffed-in and well marked.
The race started 45 minutes late, as several portions of the course reused the same trails and upon a rider’s suggestion required more marshals than originally planned. At one-minute intervals, the fastest riders rolled out first.
Sheppard stamped his authority on the race by crossing the line with the fastest time of 1:27:42, more than two minutes faster than Plews. Among the women, Carey was faster than Butler by more than eight minutes, but it was not enough to erase her deficit on GC, and she slotted safely into second overall.
“I went hard today on the climbs, because you can’t just go easy, and regardless, it would have been a hard battle today,” said Sheppard, later that evening. “Ben was just 3:20 behind (overall, had he finished stage four),” he continued. “Who knows, you could have gone off one of those corners… just those subtle little mistakes can start piling up.”
After picking up his winner’s check, Sheppard said he was happy with the win, but would rather have not seen his competitors crash out. Jeremiah Bishop and Benjamin Sonntag had sustained race-ending injuries on prior days, and Tinker Juarez forfeited his overall position after getting lost and DNFing on stage four.
“I’ve never been a fan for it to go down like that,” said Sheppard. “But you know, I guess that’s part of the deal. Everyone has their brush with a tree,” he said. “Before Jeremiah went down, on that trail that I built, I brushed a tree, right there, and was like, wow, that was close!”
Sheppard grew up in Kamloops and has seen the area rise to prominence as a mountain bike destination. His trail building legacy dates back to 1989. In addition to building near to town in the park, he helped build more technical trails in the forests to the south.
“It’s not just me, it’s my friends over the years,” he said. “Kamloops has so much diversity, we only touched on a fraction of what’s here,” he added.
Sheppard hopes that the race builds on the area’s reputation as a mountain bike haven. “We’ve been trying to sell Kamloops my whole life. It’s been so good to see that slowly it’s coming around here. It’s a great place to train, a great place for riding,” he said. “The city is starting to take notice of that.”
Mixed results after a rocky spring
By now, word of relative disorganization, course confusion, and other issues plaguing the race has spread by way of news reports and Internet forum posts.
Promoter Chuck Brennan does not deny that his first-year event withstood more than its share of growing pains. Asked how he felt after this year’s event, his first as a race promoter, he said, “Educated! We’ve got a bit of work to do.” But he added, “We’re definitely a ‘go’ for next year.”
Prior to managing the Intermontane Challenge, Brennan had little to no experience with mountain bike races. “I’ve done lots of large tours, like 40 riders in groups on cross-country bikes, but not racing,” he said. “I checked out a couple events but never got totally immersed in it. Definitely it showed,” he concluded.
The event was originally organized by a three-way partnership that collapsed in March, just months in advance of the race date. Brennan ended up buying out his original partners Dustin Adams and Kelly Servinski. By all accounts, Adams and Servinski brought the most direct experience with mountain bike racing, trail building, and event management.
But opinions differ among partners as to the event’s prior financial health, and who was responsible for certain tasks as the event date drew closer. Adams was the original course designer, and Servinski was essentially handling registration and marketing. Ill feeling between the two halves of the partnership still runs deep, evidenced in part by Adams and Servinski being escorted away from the TT finish by police.
Brennan told VeloNews at one point that over the winter, he felt his former partners were not on track to get the work done, and that when they offered to buy him out in the spring, he successfully countered their offer. His association with the race was essential in securing sponsorship from the city, tourism board, and the BCLC lottery—without which, he contends, the race never would have happened.
On the other hand, the two former partners point to Brennan’s lack of experience with mountain bike racing, and wondered about allocation of funds. They feel that their passion for the sport and experience with events outweighed their profit motive. A different source close to the race felt similarly, saying, “There should have been some more money spent on this event for infrastructure,” and separately noted that some riders canceled their registration when the partnership split.
So far, “it’s a go” for next year
Brennan is pledging to improve for 2010. He says that the city of Kamloops and the tourism board are still behind the event. He’s not had a chance to speak to BCLC, the provincial lottery that also sponsored this year’s edition.
“The first thing we’re doing is recruiting someone with an endurance race background and I’ve already started that process. We want to make sure the race is done right,” said Brennan. “There were obviously some signs we could have done a better job and experience played a role in that. I need someone with some serious experience,” he concluded. “As a group, we learned a ton.”
During and after the event, Brennan received a great deal of feedback from riders. Most comments related to inadequate course marking, motorcycle support during and after each stage, and safety. He acknowledged, “There were a few areas we missed the mark on.”
In general, Brennan said he was somewhat understaffed. “We needed more people to help out,” he said. “And definitely more race support on the course so racers don’t feel so abandoned,” he added.
“We’ve put a lot of work into it and want the race to go forward in a positive aspect,” concluded Brennan.
Speaking after the neutralized stage 3, Brook Mayberry of Edmund, Oklahoma still felt OK about the event. “It’s what I expected — this is what I came here for,” he said. “We don’t have singletrack in the forest like that. I’ve never ridden stuff like that, and it was great!”
Mayberry had heard about the Intermontane Challenge on the Internet, and decided to give it a go. “I just got into mountain biking, and I wanted to do an epic,” he said. “But, I wanted to stay in a bed.” He’s having a good time, and making a vacation out of it. “My wife came along, and she’s been doing other things in town, wine tasting, and stuff like that.”
On the flip side, other riders lost patience. Terry Turpening of Seattle, Washington, turned around on stage four after half an hour, saying he felt unsafe. He’s diabetic, and depends on a predictable, well-marked course with prepared medical support and safety precautions.
“I want my money back. I know I’m not going to get it, but that’s how I feel,” he said. “The people at highest risk are the ones like me in 50th place, and the ones behind me,” he continued. “I pay for the safety of it—the food, water, medical support.”
Turpening has done the BC Bike Race, and feels that event sets a high standard for course marking and monitoring of participants welfare. He wanted to give the Intermontane Challenge a try based on the idea of riding in Kamloops, and the premise of sleeping in a real bed each night.
He’s still bullish on the approach taken by the race.
“The concept is amazing. I think it’s a great place to do the event,” he said of Kamloops and the race format.