The Queen stage of Earls Cove to Sechelt in the BC Bike Race is often the most tactile of all the stages. Bodies are beginning to feel the aches, pains, and euphoric effects of three days of trail riding. The forest texture changes from the extra lush first three days to a crispness that tells the tale of a dryer understory when tires press into loamy trails minus the moisture content. Visually the eyes are constantly adjusting to a white light piercing through the forest canopy, causing a dappled effect that often feels more like riding in a club with a strobe light and disco ball. By day four the bike, body, and trail are starting to become one unit dancing together between the start and finish lines.
Today’s sea level start from the Earls Cove Ferry terminal gave the climbers a chance to make an early impact on the race before traversing the upper elevations of the Sunshine Coast. Over the years this has proven to be a stage where moves are made and the race can often shift in a new direction towards a rider who has been playing their cards close.
The riders with experience have been keeping something in the tank to get over this midweek hump and to start attacking those who burnt a little too bright in the early stages. Energy management is a critical part of stage racing and the inexperienced often pay with a stage or two when their bodies automatically go into preservation mode. It’s the pro’s at the front of the race who know the knife’s edge most intimately and their calculations get sharper every year. Many things can go wrong and knowing how to handle adversity is the mark of experience and a lesson you are forced to confront during seven days of mountain biking some of British Columbia’s finest singletrack.
We saw a first time stage winner in the women’s open category with Sonya Looney (Topeak Ergon) shaking off the effects of a stage two in Cumberland that didn’t go well. After spending the week going hard early, only to be caught every time, Looney didn’t change her approach and stuck to the same tactic. It’s a bluffing move that can sometimes work if the other riders get complacent and hesitate a little too long. If you got only one tool and it’s a hammer you’ll eventually find the right place to use it. Looney powered to a 2 minute gap over Wendy Simms (Kona) and another 7 into Lea Davison (Specialized Bikes).
“Today suites me because it was hot, it’s rocky, there is lots of climbing, and I just went for it.” Looney
Her early departure put Davison and Simms on the defensive.
“I was waiting for Wendy to come around me at any time. It’s kinda stressful to be chased all day. It makes it more fun and makes you ride at your best.”
For Davison it was a disappointing stage after taking the previous day’s top spot. She missed a turn going up a climb as she sat 30 seconds between both Looney and Simms.
“We had a great battle going. I had my head down and took a wrong turn. I was definitely deflated after that, kinda had a governor on, and it was a lot of double track out in no man’s land. I finally came around mentally once we hit the singletrack.”
It should be noted that Davison was eating a hotdog from the food truck who was serving homemade dogs. As a passerby jokingly commented on her food choice for athletes she quickly said “I eat hotdogs, you can tell the world.”
Kris Sneddon (Kona Racing) won his hometown stage for the second year in a row but it wasn’t an easy job and he had to fight his way back from an early mechanical. After a flat on the first singletrack descent his Kona teammate Barry Wicks did a quick wheel swap so Sneddon could get back in the race before the lead group got away. It’s easy to stay confident on trails you ride regularly and his patience got him back into the main group only partially spent. The group of Sneddon, Jason Sager (Backcountry Bikes), Tristan Uhl (787 Racing), and Spencer Paxson (Kona Racing) reformed and motored on. It was a day where almost everyone had a mechanical issue to deal with.
After Sneddon fixed his flat, Sager was delayed at an aid station with a loose crank. He chased back on to the group eventually but his strength was fading. Just before the Cabin Fever Trail, Spencer’s spare tube fell into his rear cassette and left him falling off the pace of Sneddon and Uhl who had a clean race for the day. They all managed to come back together through aid station two but Sneddon finally got his second wind and started reeling in the finish line with some pressure in the singletrack. Sager had another issue, Paxson couldn’t call a lifeline to increase his pace and eventually Uhl came around the fading Paxson but it was too late for him to close down the gap in the final stretches of the day and he ended with a second place podium only 23 seconds down with Paxson only down another 18 seconds.