• The BC Bike Race 2011

  • Huw Thomas of Loco BM Racing tackles the "Ultimate Singletrack Experience", the BC Bike Race

Words by Huw Thomas - posted 21/08/2011

The BC Bike Race 2011

The BC Bike Race: “The Ultimate Singletrack Experience”. That’s a bold tag line to carry, especially when up against dozens of other similar stage races around the globe offering claims of amazing riding experiences. But it drew me in.

It was July 2010 and I was sat in front of my computer, credit card in one hand, a very strong cup of coffee in the other. It was 5am and I was waiting for entries to open for the 2011 BC Bike Race. The earlier you enter the bigger discount you get. I hit the refresh button time and time again and then, the system opened and I was in. Now all there was to do was wait. And train.

The year went by relatively quickly. I finished several successful MTB races along the way, trained, worked, and all of a sudden it was time to pack and leave for Vancouver with my good friend and racing partner Mark Deacon.

Reality didn’t really sink in properly until we were stood at the registration desk on an ice hockey rink (no ice) in North Vancouver and I saw my name under the Men’s Pairs Category List : “Huw Thomas : Loco BM Racing (Wales), No. 29-1”. At that moment I thought “this is it, I’m here and I’m ready”.

The registration process went by, forms and disclaimers signed, including one that confirmed that I wasn’t entering the BC Bike Race for “mental illness rehabilitation purposes”. I had to think about that. We picked up our 'goodie bag', which included BC Bike Race branded t-shirts, riding jerseys, magazines, thermos coffee mug, water bottle, toiletries bag, socks, Ryder’s Eyewear sunglasses, oh and an enormous BC Bike Race-customised 100 litre Dakine suitcase, on wheels. A pretty impressive haul!

After a long but hilariously funny race briefing which included such pearls of wisdom as “If you see a black bear, wave your arms around and make a lot of noise. If it fights back, fight it, and fight to WIN!”, and the rather worrying “If you come across a brown grizzly bear, lie down, and pray”, it was time to board the big yellow school buses to Horseshoe Bay. This would the first of many ferry crossings which would take us to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island and on to Cumberland which would be home for the first two stages of the race.

We were given some advice in the pre-race briefing, like “If you see a black bear, fight it and fight to WIN but if you come across a brown grizzly bear, lie down, and pray”...

Home was a 4-man tent to share with Mark in a huge tent village erected on Cumberland’s recreation ground. The first night was very quiet, with all 450 teams suffering pre-race nerves and thinking of the week ahead.

BC Bike Race

Photo by Huw Thomas

Stage 1 was a 55km course with 2 big climbs. It soon dawned on us that racing in BC was going to be very different to what we were used to. We were racing on well established trails, with mile after mile of tight, twisting technical singletrack, that went up as well as down. Not a fireroad in sight. One minute we were descending along some sweet flowing singletrack, the next we were being thrown down steep, rocky technical sections. You never knew what was coming up next. I’d been asked by my sponsors, Loco Tuning and Diverse Suspension Products to test their new prototype remotely operated adjustable seatpost, and within a few kilometres I was very glad I had it. My Giant Anthem X had its work cut out!

We were racing on well established tight, twisting technical singletrack, with not a fireroad in sight. You never knew what was coming next!

BC Bike Race

Photo by Dave Silver Photography

Another night was spent in Cumberland but Stage 2 started and finished down the coast in Campbell River. A slightly shorter course today, only 50km, but according to my Garmin GPS, we rode 33km of uninterrupted rollercoaster singletrack with what was quickly becoming common features of the BC Bike Race - incredibly technical steep sections thrown in to the mix.

BC Bike Race

Photo by Mark Deacon

It was becoming apparent that the BC Bike Race was something of an annual spectacle in the area. Throngs of spectators would turn out in the start and finishing towns as well as at random spots around the course. Flags flew and bear bells rang each morning as we rolled out of the town centres escorted by an entourage of local police cars and motorbikes blocking side streets and holding up traffic as the peloton of mountain bikers thundered along.

BC Bike Race

Photo by Mark Deacon

Stage 3 was an early ferry transfer to the Sunshine Coast and Powell River. By the time we started, the sun was blazing and temperatures had started to soar. Today’s course seemed to climb all day, and we were exposed to the relentless sunshine, not hidden inside the cool temperate BC rainforest like we had been during Stage 1 and 2 on Vancouver Island. There was no respite today, no sections to rest the legs, so no places to recover along the way. The demanding technical course also meant the upper body got a hammering.

The course seemed to climb all day, and we were exposed to the relentless sunshine, not hidden inside the cool temperate BC rainforest like we had been on Vancouver Island

BC Bike Race

Photo by Dave Silver Photography

Another early morning ferry transfer for the start line at Sechelt where the course would go point to point to Earl’s Cove. Stage 4 didn’t get any easier, riding straight off the ferry on to a big granny gear road climb with legs that were starting to feel the pain from the previous 3 days. This was the longest and toughest day of the BC Bike Race, just short of 70km with well over 2,000m of climbing. Doesn't sound much does it? But when the climbs are long exposed technical steep grinds in temperatures topping 30ºc, and the descents are a mixture of tight twisting technical singletrack and fast relentless rocky descents, it makes some of my local trails in the UK seem like a tow path pootle. Stage 4 was my favourite day so far.

A quick time and position check after Stage 4 showed that Mark and I were within the Top 10 and still riding strong.

The organisation of the BC Bike Race was second to none. With an army of volunteers following the racers, each assigned with their own tasks from baggage handling, tent setup duties, racer relations and bike storage, the BC Bike Race was slick. Bikes were stored each evening and transferred to the start line of each stage in huge articulated lorries. They were handled with care and there was never any doubt that your bike would reach the start line in one piece. The evening meals and breakfasts were fantastic, meeting all the needs of a hungry mountain biker. Toilets and showers were cleaned every hour and the showers were hot and powerful.

BC Bike Race

Photo by Mark Deacon

Next to Stage 5, another point to point from Earls Cove to Langdale. Today was the shortest day of the week before we reached Whistler. Easier day? No chance. More steep climbs right at the start of the ride which was punishing for those with tired legs from yesterday's big day. One of the descents on this day was the best so far with seemingly endless fast flowing singletrack and technical sections giving you a surprise now and again. There was a lot of woodwork as well; some pretty narrow and high up. Normally these things freak me out but they were quickly becoming standard fare as the week progressed.

BC Bike Race

Photo by Dave Silver Photography

Today ended with a ferry crossing back to the mainland and a bus trip inland to Squamish for Stage 6, the penultimate day. Squamish was an amazing stage, a 50 km loop that took in some awesome descents. Some were more groomed and manmade than what we'd seen before, with super-fast berms, tabletops and jumps that you couldn't help launch off and release a loud "whoop!" (Everybody does it out there). We also had some super technical singletrack traverses, roots, step-ups, you name it. One thing I noticed during the week that fellow racers were happy to complement you on good riding. It really does give a boost to your confidence. It seems to be common practice out there and I think I’ll adopt it.

Fellow racers were always happy to complement you on good riding. It really does give a boost to your confidence. It seems to be common practice out there and I think I’ll adopt it

At the start of the final day, Mark and I were sat in 10th. With just a short finishing stage in Whistler, my goal of making the top ten was a real possibility. We just needed to finish strong and fast. Stage 7 began and finished in the Olympic Plaza in Whistler, a very short stage, just 30km, with one big climb and one huge singletrack descent which took in some of the best of what Whistler had to offer. And boy did it impress. If you look up 'singletrack riding' in the dictionary, there’ll be a picture of this stage.

BC Bike Race

Photo by Huw Thomas

Writing this brings up a lot of emotions, remembering riding down the finishing strait with Mark, clutching our Welsh flag, to cross the finish line in 10th place. We’d been through a rollercoaster of highs and lows that matched the singletrack we’d ridden during the week. The BC Bike Race is an amazing experience both on and off the bike, and an experience I’ll never forget. As for the bold tag line “The Ultimate Singletrack Experience”? It most certainly is!

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