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Under brilliant blue skies and a hot summer sun, the BC Bike Race start gun fired to launch more than 400 riders from around the world into the first stage of the second annual multi-stage mountain bike event. Over the next 7 days, racers will cover stages totalling more than 550 kilometers as they race a combination of singletrack and logging roads from Victoria to Whistler.
Saturday’s first stage presented an 87km journey from Shawnigan Lake School to the picturesque Lake Cowichan finish. Riders experienced swooping singletrack through cool BC rainforest, sprawling double-track culminating in a grueling climb with a wickedly fast logging road descent onto reclaimed rail bed.
Team Mona Vie Cannondale — Jason Sager and Bart Gillespie — was the first to cross the line, with a time of 4:14:26. The Team Cannondale camp was thrilled with clinching the first yellow jersey of the race, as Sager and Gillespie are both family guys who work full-time and race as a passion. When asked about their first day’s experience at the BC Bike Race, they immediately commented on the strengths each brought to the table.
Sager and Gillespie dubbed themselves “Team Daddy”, stating that each found motivation in their young families back at home. “Not knowing the course, you’re riding by feel. The trails were a lot of fun, but we couldn’t really look around. It’s too bad because the view off the top was amazing.” Team Mona Vie Cannondale was riding tight with Team Kona right up through the big climb of the day, “We looked back and didn’t see them, so we’re not sure what happened.”
The race leaders rolled across the finish line 12 minutes ahead of second place team Kona – Kris Sneddon and Barry Wicks. Team Mona Vie Cannondale’s Tinker Juarez and Mitchell Peterson had a disappointing day, crossing the finish line in 5:22:37.
Last year’s overall race winners, Chris Eatough and Jeff Schalk of Team Trek suffered a potentially disastrous mechanical issue during the initial circuit. Mechanics worked hard to make the fastest possible repairs and get the Trek team back on course. With a 30-minute delay behind the very last rider on course, Eatough and Schalk had their work cut out to climb their way back to the lead.
Despite the relentless heat, Team Trek pushed to the limit and devoured the race course until they caught sight of third place Team La Ruta’s Manuel Prado and Marvin Campos. The two teams remained together for the remaining low-grade 20-plus kilometers of reclaimed rail bed trail into Lake Cowichan, where they broke out into a full-sprint finish. Team La Ruta just edged past Team Trek to claim third spot overall in a time of 4:26:33.
“We pinned it the whole time as soon as the course opened up,” said Eatough. “You have to keep fighting, no matter what happens.”
Hailing from the US, the Open Women’s team Sara Bersnick-Zocchi and Kelli Emmett (Taint Slo) captured the yellow jersey, blasting through the finish line in 5:15:04.
Canadian cyclocross diva Wendy Simms and partner Normon Thibault (Team Kona – Riding in Memory of Denis Fontaine) claimed top honors in the Open Mixed category finishing in 4:51:37.
Next up for the sun-soaked racers – stage 2 from Lake Cowichan to Port Alberni. With more hot, sunny weather expected, riders are hydrating in preparation for the 125km ride.