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By Zack Vestal
It wasn’t this way for all of us, but for race leader Jeremiah Bishop, the 65km second stage of the Intermontane Challenge in Kamloops, British Columbia, unfolded in much the same formula as stage 1: a neutral rollout through town, followed by roughly an hour of dusty desert riding, an hour in the forest above town, and a third, final hour weaving through sagebrush on the way to the finish line back in town.
Winning a sprint for the stage win in front of Chris Sheppard, Bishop’s finishing time of 3:07:15 meant a quick return to the Thompson Rivers University Conference Center housing for a shower, lunch, and massage.
On the other hand, most of the rest of the pack pushed, churned, and ground away for upwards of five to six hours in another day of hot temperatures. Not as warm as stage 1, temperatures still ranged in the 90’s, and the course included an extra dose of the exposed, dry, sage-covered foothills near town.
However, organizers doubled the number of aid station opportunities, tripled the course marking, and even permitted riders to skip the stage (in exchange for a healthy time penalty), in an effort to keep riders safe and happy. By all accounts, the efforts were successful and most participants reported no difficulty finding the route or finding food and fluids as needed.
Immediately after finishing, Monavie-Cannondale team manager Matt Ohran even commented to organizer Chuck Brennan, “That’s the best marked course I’ve ever seen.”
Despite the “Challenge,” a lot to like
After many riders reported confusion with course marking on stage 1, Brennan and his team of volunteers took pains to ensure the course was intact for stage 2. And despite two downed trees on the course, new-fallen as of the morning of the event, the marking paid off. Riders rolled across the finish hot and dusty, but not frustrated with lack of direction.
Unique among stage races, the Intermontane Challenge starts and finishes each day in Kamloops. Stages 1 and 2 included a neutral rollout from the university, across the Thompson River, through town, and into dry hill country to the north. In stages 3 and 4, racing will commence almost directly from the university and head south, into forested higher terrain.
Most are enjoying the format and the comfort afforded by staying in one hotel room for the week, as opposed to packing up and traveling every day. The conference center rooms are clean and comfortable, meals are good, and best of all, all are in an air-conditioned building.
“Due to the conditions here, it’s a blessing,” said Niner-sponsored singlespeeder Deejay Birtch. “Sleeping in tents in the heat like this would be pretty hard,” he admitted. In 2008 he raced the province’s older sibling, the BC Bike Race, in which riders bivouac every night in tents provided by the promoters. “But if weather permits, tents are awesome because it’s more social,” he said. “It’s a little more ‘real’ mountain bike style.”
Good place, good people
Rider Duncan Harrison of South Africa commented on the volunteers. “If I had to say one thing, it’s that the volunteers are amazing, just great.” He added, “Anything you need or ask for, they bend over backwards to find it for you.”
Harrison traveled from Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, (the hometown of downhiller Greg Minnar, and host of the XC World Cup season opener) to combine a visit with his brother and the race. He makes the 30-plus hour journey every four to five years to see brother Andrew Harrison, who lives in Toronto.
“Andrew phoned me up and said, do you want to do it?” related Duncan Harrison. “Andrew’s a little more enthusiastic than I am,” he added. “He’s more optimistic about my ability than I am, too. It’s more difficult than I expected. I think I’m going to sit out tomorrow’s stage,” he said.
For his part, brother Andrew said of the race, “It’s intense, but it’s great.” He raced the Canadian TransRockies event in 2008, and is signed up for Cape Epic in 2010. In that case, it will be Andrew making the long trip to South Africa, balancing out the travel tally with his brother.
Stage Two Results
1. Jeremiah Bishop, 3:07:15
2. Chris Sheppard, s.t.
3. Benjamin Sonntag, 3:10:57
1. Sue Butler, 3:41:16
2. Amanda Carey, 3:41:48
3. Jennifer O’Connor, 3:48:21