Of all the long bike rides in Sea to Sky, few have the history of the Cheakamus Challenge. This is the 21 st anniversary of the race, not counting the few years where the very first mountain bike riders in the province raced an event called See Colours and Puke. It's an event that predates disk brakes, tubeless tires, carbon fibre, air shocks, and for many riders, front shocks, but it doesn't get any easier to race - just a lot more fun.
The course is always a work in progress and this year is no exception. The full race weighs in at just over 70 kilometres from the start at Squamish Airport in Brackendale to the finish at Creekside, while the shorter Cheakamus Lite event is close to 40 km in length and gets underway at the Calcheak FSR past the campground.
Keeping with the trend of adding singletrack and removing fire roads wherever possible, race director Grant Lamont announced a course change this year. Riders will no longer do the upper section of the Riverside trail and then bike back to the Logger's Lake junction on the road. Instead, riders will pass the yellow gate at the bottom of Logger's, then head straight to Riverside Trail back to the feed station at House Rock. Snipping off that section cut about three kilometres from the length of the race.
Some of that lost distance was added back into the race by another course change. This year riders will continue down to the bottom of Tunnel Vision, which Lamont says adds about 900 metres of fast, winding singletrack to the competition. On the flipside, it also spits riders out further down on Kadenwood Road, adding another 600 metres of road climbing before the final descent down Big Timber.
"I talked to the riders and this seemed like a good idea, so I went and looked at it and it does flow a lot better," said Lamont. "For Tunnel Vision, the goal is always to add more singletrack where we can and this seemed like a good way to do that without adding a lot of distance."
Once again, Lamont made the decision to leave Trash off the race course given how difficult the trail is and how much harder it gets if it's wet. It's also a hard trail to mark for a race.
The field of competitive riders is starting to shape up. Max Plaxton, a past winner, has said he will ride on Saturday, as has Squamish's Neal Kindree. Lamont has sent invitations to a variety of World Cup racers and the usual local riders are expected to compete.
On the women's side, he has commitments from Squamish's Brandi Heisterman and Katherine Short from the Sunshine Coast.
There are cash prizes for the top pro elite riders, as well as a prize for the first male and female out of the canyon. Age category winners will get prizes as well.
But the most unique prize this year is a draw prize that's up for grabs by all participants - a full-body MRI scan, courtesy of the Whistler MRI Clinic, that's worth thousands of dollars.
Online registration is open until 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 18 and day-of-race registration is available at the start line at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday until 15 minutes before the 10 a.m. start. Riders doing the 40 km Cheakamus Lite are asked to register online so the organizers can better plan the food stations and ensure there are enough burgers at Dusty's for all the participants. However, some pre-race registration will be available at the start from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., with a 1 p.m. start.
In terms of difficulty, most of the race is moderate with the exception of the top section of Tunnel Vision, and a few pieces of Big Timber. Riders take three to six hours to finish the full race and fast riders complete the shorter course in just over two hours.
Online registration is available at www.cheakamuschallenge.com.
Lamont is also looking for more volunteers to help out with the event, which is challenging to run as a point to point event that crosses the highway. If you can spare a few hours Saturday contact Grant Lamont at email@example.com.