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By Fred Dreier
It seemed fitting that Wednesday’s fourth stage of the 2009 BC Bike Race fell on Canada Day, as Stage 4 exposed the 400 or so racers to more of Canada than any day other of this year’s race.
Riders awoke at 4:30 a.m. at the tent village in Cumberland, a teeny single-stoplight town on Vancouver Island and then boarded busses for the town of Little River. An hour long ferry ride took riders across the Georgia Strait to mainland British Columbia, where riders again boarded busses, this time Sultry Bay, where another ferry boat took the whole BC Bike Race production to the day’s starting line in Earl’s Cove.
By the time riders toed the line for the 11 a.m. start for the 65km journey along the Sunshine Coast to the town of Sechelt, they had already seen hundreds of miles of jagged mountains and pine covered coastline.
From his post at the steering wheel of his 30-foot vintage RV, aptly titled “The Executive,” race director Dean Payne oversaw the movement of men and material.
“This is the day that takes the most planning for us, we work months on just today,” Payne said. “And everything has to go off on time. If we’re late, or if we hold up the ferry, it’s not good.”
Indeed the race receives a hearty sponsorship push from the local transportation companies BC Ferries and Harbor Air sea planes, which effectively allows the entire organization to travel across the waterways at no charge. Without that help, holding the BC Bike Race on both sides of the Georgia Strait would be impossible.
As it was, the early trip to the Sunshine Coast was not without a SNAFU. Seven riders arrived at the Little River ferry terminal late, only to see the boat miles off shore. Payne called his contacts at the seaplane company, which arranged for a pickup, and the riders were waiting in Earl’s Cove when the final ferry arrived.
It’s that type of community and business support, Payne said that the race needs more of if it is going to survive in British Columbia. Unlike South Africa’s Absa Cape Epic or the Trans Alp in Germany — which have most of the riding land and services donated — the BC Bike Race pays for the use of local infrastructure. The cost is reflected in the race’s registration fee.
Payne hopes future agreements with local towns and governments will lead to more support, which could lead to a smaller price tag.
“I think [local communities] will see that this race has an economic impact on their community,” Payne said. “[Racers] come into a town like Cumberland and spend money.”
There was little room to spend money at the Earl’s Cove starting line, and racers sped out of the starting gate and onto an open section of fire road. Unlike the opening three days of the BC Bike Race, the fourth stage included plenty of fast, dusty double track and fire road, with the traditional technical singletrack sprinkled in between dense areas of forest.
And with temperatures soaring into the 80s, and most of the fire roads run on exposed ridges, riders saw a completely different climate than in the race’s opening three days.
“Today feels a lot different, it’s really dry,” said Zac Rudolph, from Lafayette, Colorado. “It was really loose and rocky. Not like the rain forests we’ve been riding in.”
The hot temperatures and fast course did not necessarily lead to blistering course times, and a handful of riders trickled in at the eight-hour mark. But at the front of the race the Kona squad of Barry Wicks and Kris Sneddon threw down a fast tempo to win their second stage of the 2009 race in just under three and a half hours. The two Kona riders, who are defending champions, put nearly 40 seconds into current race leaders Chris Sheppard and Seamus McGrath (Jamis-Santa Cruz), who retained their overall lead in the men’s race.
Wicks said he and Sneddon, who are both riding 29-inch, dual suspension bikes, cracked the two Canadians on the final section of technical singletrack.
“We kept pushing it in the singletrack and eventually [Sheppard] couldn’t maintain the pace,” Wicks said. “We knew we had the advantage in the singletrack. We can’t break them on the climbs.”
The victory marked the second consecutive Kona win in Sechelt, which gives major bragging rights to Sneddon, who grew up in the small town. Sneddon said he regularly rides on the trails used for Wednesday’s stage, and actually helped build sections of trail in between the day’s feed zones.
“Everybody who bikes [in Sechelt] also works on the trail. It’s a cool part of the community,” Sneddon said. “These trails are a big part of the dream to get a bigger network here and get the BC Bike Race to come back to [Sechelt].”
Taking the women’s stage was the Luna duo of Catherine Pendrel and Katerina Nash, who won their fourth consecutive day despite taking an errant wrong turn at the beginning of the day. Luna’s chief rivals, the Rocky Mountain duo of Lea Davison and Alison Sydor, lost nearly 10 minutes after Davison sliced a sidewall on a rocky descent.
Sydor made a repair with a used Powerbar wrapper, and the two were able to finish the race.