The No. 1 on Kevin Calhoun’s bib was a sign of things to come on Day 1 of the inaugural Whistler CycloCross race Saturday, Sept. 20, where the North Vancouver rider took top honours on the high-intensity course.
The first race of its kind in the resort, Whistler CycloCross is part mountain bike race, part cross-country grind and part crit, testing riders’ all-around skills on a short but challenging course that sets off from Creekside Medals Plaza, incorporating the cobblestone pathways of the Franz’ Trail shopping area before climbing up the lower hillside base of Whistler Mountain.
Normally a mountain biker, Calhoun led for most of the day in the Elite Men’s division made up of UCI circuit riders, and gained a slight lead early on over his closest competitor and never relinquished it through the race’s 10 laps, finishing with a time of 54 minutes and 18 seconds. Fellow North Vancouver native Bob Welbourn finished second in 56:23.073, while Parker Bloom of Victoria came third in 57:38.107.
“I had to ride a little bit conservatively at the beginning just to gauge everybody’s fitness,” Calhoun said. “As the race panned out I could see where my competitors were a little bit weaker in some sections where I was quicker and I learned where I could make up time.”
Calhoun was able to build his lead up on a steep run-up on a particularly difficult section of the course that many riders struggled through. Of the 16 riders in the Elite category, only nine finished the race, with some suffering flat tires on the rocky hillside terrain.
On the women’s side, Steed Cycles rider Carey Mark zoomed to a solid finish, wrapping her seven-lap run in 43:17.632 over fellow Nanaimo resident Janna Gillick, who came over the line in 45:09.088. Kelly Jones was third, finishing in 47:02.247, capping off a strong outing for the Steed Cycles team.
“Steed has been so good to me and they’ve supported me for seven, eight years now,” Mark said. “It’s awesome to have my teammates out and everybody together, it makes for a great team event.”
Mark will be competing on Day 2 of the Whistler CycloCross as well, when organizers will reverse the course and alter certain elements to make the race slightly faster than it was Saturday, a day that riders had to contend with tough, rocky conditions as well as unseasonably warm temperatures.
“The heat was really challenging and I definitely realized why this is a cold weather sport,” said Whistler’s Chloe Cross, who finished fourth as the top local female rider.
Like many riders, Cross had to deal with a mechanical issue on the course after she dropped her chain when her chainring struck a step near the end of a lap, dropping her from second position to fifth.
“It was kind of demoralizing so I just put my head down and didn’t really pay too much attention to the position I was in,” she said. “I just gutted it out.”
In the Masters Men’s division for males over 40, North Vancouver’s Kim Steed, owner of Steed Cycles, took top spot, finishing seven laps in 38:43.814, with Team Whistler racer Michael Boehm hot on his heels, earning second with a time of 38:56.553. Vancouver’s Matthew Drown came in third at 40:13.334.
Boehm believes he was the only entrant to use a mountain bike for the race, which proved to be both a gift and a curse for the Whistler resident.
For me, (the biggest challenge) was the climb,” he said. “On the descent with a mountain bike I had a clear advantage with the bigger wheels, and the way the bike is set up instead of a cycle-cross bike, I was able to bunny hop the boards and I only saw one or two other guys doing that.”
A 10-year veteran of cyclo-cross, Steed called Whistler “probably the most challenging course I’ve ever done,” and suggested several tweaks to draw more racers in future years.
“Maybe a little less elevation would be a good thing because a lot of people were having a hard time with the temperature and the distance of the climb. It really took a lot out of people and they were having a hard time getting to the end,” he said, adding that he enjoyed the energy and atmosphere the crowd at the mountain base and nearby Dusty’s Bar brought to the event.
Between the elite and intermediate divisions, there were 110 race entries on Saturday, the majority of which are expected to race tomorrow as well.
Day 2 of the 2014 Whistler CycloCross kicks off with the kids’ race at 10:15 a.m. Visit www.bike.whistlerblackcomb.com/events for more information, or to register.