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By Zack Vestal
Adding to the list of mountain bike stage races dotting this year’s off-road racing calendar is the inaugural Intermontane Challenge, which begins today.
The five-day race starts and ends in Kamloops, British Columbia; in fact, every stage starts and ends in the town, making the event logistically simple for organizers and athletes alike. Promoters have enhanced the event’s appeal further by offering $10,000 Canadian each to the winners of the men’s and women’s solo categories.
Race organizer Chuck Brennan said Sunday that 105 athletes are registered to race as either solo riders or two-person teams. Canadians and Americans are highly represented, but he also counts participants from the Netherlands, Germany, New Zealand, South Africa and Great Britain.
“Obviously we want lots of people to come and race, and I think a hundred in our first year is pretty good,” said Brennan.
The race begins with an 85km stage through rolling hills north of town. The forecast calls for clear skies and near 100-degree heat all week.
Who made the trip?
The largest and strongest team on hand by far is the MonaVie-Cannondale squad, which brings top riders Jeremiah Bishop, Tinker Juarez, Sue Butler and Benjamin Sonntag. Up-and-comer Brandon Cross is also on hand, helping with team chores in addition to racing, said team manager Matt Ohran.
“We like these kinds of races,” said Ohran. “Races like World Cups and the US Cup have their place, but here we get to do five days of racing.”
Indeed, the team has made a point of filling its roster with endurance specialists and sending them to events like the BC Bike Race and Breck Epic.
“We’ve got several more stage races still on our schedule, later in the year,” said Ohran.
A glance at the rest of the start list finds relatively few highly recognizable names. On the men’s side are Canadian local Chris Sheppard (Santa Cruz-WTB) and Evan Plews (Domenic’s Marine Ltd), while on the women’s side, Lynn Bessette (Thule Team) and Amanda Carey (Kenda-Tomac-Hayes) are likely to be near the front of the race.
Riders and teams are pleased with the format and the accommodations for the week — the newly built Thompson Rivers University Residence and Conference Center.
“Initially when we agreed that we were going to race, the cloverleaf format was a big draw,” said Ohran. “It makes it easier logistically, especially given the heat.”
Kamloops is a town of 87,000 situated at the confluence of the North and South Thompson Rivers. It’s about three hours east-northeast of Vancouver by car, and seven hours north-northwest of Spokane, Washington. Situated between the high northern Rockies of Banff National Park and the lush coastal mountains that make Whistler famous to the west, Kamloops lies in a sunny, semi-arid sage-and-grassland valley.
The economy is principally resource-based, heavy on logging. However, tourism is growing as a source of sustenance for the quiet community, along with its popularity as a sporting destination — Kamloops hosts more than 100 regional and national sporting events each year. Tourism Kamloops and the provincial lottery (BCLC) are major backers of the Intermontane Challenge.
Kamloops was first made famous by gap-jumping dirt riders in freeride films like “Kranked” and “Pulp Traction,” in which filmmakers featured newfound terrain in the dusty hills around town. It’s also home to Luna’s Catharine Pendrel, a top World Cup rider, as the plentiful sunshine and warmth suit nearly year-round riding.
But while Kamloops has many legal mountain bike trails, many of the best are on private land or government land, without sanction. Brennan hopes the Intermontane Challenge will help establish the legitimacy of the trail network while putting his hometown squarely on every mountain biker’s list of places to go.
“Big picture — that’s why we’re here, having this race,” said Brennan.
Check back all week for periodic reports on the Intermontane Challenge, the location, bike tech and more. Also, be sure to pick up the September issue of VeloNews, on newsstands now, for Fred Dreier’s story on mountain bike stage races like the BC Bike Race and Breck Epic.