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Cheakamus Challenge ready to roll

Volunteers still needed for Sept. 24 race

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After a few major course changes a few weeks ago, exact stats for the 21 st annual Cheakamus Challenge Fall Classic mountain bike race are finally coming together.

The new course, which begins at Squamish Airport and will finish at Dusty’s in Creekside, is 71 km in length with about 1,900 metres of elevation gain from start to finish.

Overall the climbing is less technical without the Northwest Passage section, and organizer Grant Lamont is expecting some fast times even though the course is only 1.5 km shorter than last year.

"It’s going to be a different course than last year. I wouldn’t say there’s less climbing, but the new sections have a lot better traction than the Northwest Passage, and the trails are in great shape – I think we’ve really improved the quality of the ride," he said.

So far over 260 people have signed up, including more than 25 junior riders. Most riders usually sign up in the last week.

The "light" course option, a 38.5 km route that joins the course by the Whistler Bungee bridge in Cal-cheak, is also popular.

"One reason we offered the light course was to get our numbers up, but also to give people in the low-end who are worried about making the cut a chance to ride that part of the course with all the singletrack. Nobody is going to get cut off," said Lamont.

"It’s all for people who aren’t up to doing the whole route, or are beginners, or don’t have the ultra-light cross-country bikes and still want to take part. I’ve also talked to people that have done the whole course in the past, but want to do the light course on their big bikes. It’s really like a double Loonie Race."

After going over the logistics, Lamont decided that there won’t be a bus service to Cal-cheak for the short race. Instead, riders can park in Creekside or Function Junction, and ride down the highway to the start line, or arrange their own transportation to the start. Cal-cheak is about 10 km south of Function, but the route is mainly downhill.

But while the short course is popular, the competition on the full course promises to be tight. According to Lamont, the men’s elite field will include Roland Green and Andreas Hestler, and possibly Geoff Kabush. Andrew Kyle has also committed, as has Squamish rider Neal Kindree. The top Whistler riders will also be on course.

The women’s elite race will include top Canadians Kiara Bisaro, Lesley Tomlinson, 2004 Cheakamus winner Jean-Anne McKirdy, Amanda Butler, Meaghan Kindree and possibly Alison Sydor. Whistler’s Nikki Kassel, who won the women’s race in 2002, could also be at the start line this year.

Sydor is the favourite with five Cheakamus Challenge titles to her name, although Bisaro managed a sixth place finish in the final World Cup of the season last weekend.

"We’ve got a lot of strong local riders in every age category," said Lamont. "Joanna Harrington is really strong these days, Lesley Clements is leading the Marathon standings. In the men’s race you have guys like Matt Ryan who was fourth last year. Tyler Allison is in it, and he’s just dominating junior races this season."

This year the Cheakamus Challenge is also the fifth and final event in the Cycling B.C. Marathon series, and should attract some of the top long-distance athletes from around the province.

Inclusion in the Marathon Series has also simplified the categories, with all athletes except the pro elite riders competing in their age groups.

With fewer categories, more people in each age group will qualify to win prizes. There will also be cash prizes for the winners in the pro categories, to be determined by the size of the field on race day.

If the race is more popular this year, it should be even bigger next year after some international television exposure. This year the Ride Guide, a mountain bike show on Discovery and OLN, will be doing a half hour show on the Cheakamus Challenge.

The full-course race gets underway at 10 a.m. on Saturday. Buses are available for Whistler riders to get to Squamish, and for Squamish riders to get home at the end of the day. The short course race gets underway at noon by the Whistler Bungee bridge.

There are two water and food stations on the course, but riders are advised to bring their own water and food. The first aid station is at Brandywine, and the second is at House Rock in the Whistler Interpretive Forest. The House Rock aid station will be hosted by IGA as the Ken Quon Memorial Aid Station in recognition of Ken Quon, a store manager who died of a heart complication while guiding a Wild Willies ride on Sept. 5.

The cost of entry is $60 until Sept. 20, after which point the cost goes up to $65. Day of race registration is available in Squamish, but will cost $75. The price includes the post-race barbecue at Dusty’s, as well as a chance to win draw prizes.

Race organizers are looking for more volunteers to help with course marshalling and first aid. All volunteers will receive refreshments, free swag and a chance to win draw prizes.

For more information, registration or volunteering, visit the website at www.cheakamuschallenge.ca .