The B.C. Bike Race is celebrating its fifth season in July, with a seven-day trek that includes some of the best singletrack riding on Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast and Sea to Sky - including a day in Squamish and the grand finale in Whistler.
Former World Cup racer Andreas Hestler has been involved since the beginning, and this year he said the word is out about the ride - not just in B.C. or Canada, but around the world.
"We have a few spots left but we're pretty much at capacity with 450 people going into the fifth year," he said. "We're pretty excited about that, as well as the fact that our international content is around 50 per cent - around 30 per cent American and 20 per cent national. We have 21 countries represented.
"The ripple has spread out and reached Europe, where we're getting huge media exposure in places like France and the U.K. We have Portugese, Belgian and British Magazines coming out.
"We are pretty much the largest mountain bike stage race in the Western Hemisphere right now. We're happy to showcase B.C. and host international people and celebrate what we have here, all the riders and builders."
There are a few significant changes to the event this year. For one, the race is going to Campbell River and Powell River for the first time, mountain bike areas that were left out in past years.
The Whistler course is also new. It will start at the Whistler Olympic Plaza with a rolling start up the road to Base II. From there the course continues to climb before descending Roam In The Loam and heading back up to Yummy Nummy - a trail that connects to the top of the Comfortably Numb descent (once known as Foreplay). From there, the course heads back into Lost Lake singletrack before finishing at the Olympic Plaza.
"We were looking for the perfect route in Whistler that didn't cross the highway, that would be the icing on the cake for the seven-day experience," said Hestler, who worked with Grant Lamont to pick the course for this year's event. The B.C. Bike Race has always finished in Whistler, and has tackled different trail areas each year.
All of the riders in the event will do the full course. There is a challenge category for five out of seven days, where participants do a shorter ride.
Also new this year is a challenge created by an Italian company where riders are timed on specific downhill sections as well as over their entire ride. There will be three days with mid-stage timing.
"We want to give everybody a chance at the spotlight," said Hestler. "Some people want to push five-inch all-mountain trail bikes, but it's not the same people that are going to win a 50-km stage race against pro cross-country riders. It gives some riders that might finish a little further back a chance to showcase their skills on the downhill."
A local call for volunteers will go out soon, with the Whistler stage wrapping the event on Saturday, July 9.
"We're pretty excited. Finishing at the Whistler Olympic Plaza in a globally recognized resort, and handing out medals there, is a big deal," said Hestler.
"We'll have almost 1,000 people there with racers, supporters and staff, so it's going to be a pretty big entourage at the finish."
Course information is posted online but the total distance is around for Epic racers.
Day One is a 54-km loop in Cumberland on Vancouver Island (Challenge category is 35-km) with rolling hills for the most part and a one big climb and descent on local singletrack.
Day Two is Campbell River, with a roughly 50-km Epic course and 33-km Challenge.
Day Three is a ferry ride to Powell River with a 51-km Epic ride and a 35-km Challenge.
Day Four is a point-to-point race starting at Earl's Cove and finishing at Sechelt. The Epic category takes a few diversions for a total of 65-km of trails, while Challenge riders go 28-km.
Day Five is from Sechelt to Gibsons, with both Epic and Challenge riders doing the same 38-km route that finishes at the ferry.
Day Six features some of Squamish's best singletrack; 50-km for Epic riders and 29-km for the Challenge group.
Day Seven is 27-km from start to finish for both groups.
For more on the race, visit www.bcbikerace.com.