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Claire Buchar takes national downhill title

Whistler riders quick on Panorama course



Taking a break from travelling and competing on the World Cup circuit turned out to be a pretty good decision for Whistler's Claire Buchar, if this past week's results are any indication. In less than seven days, she placed second in the Canadian Open DH to World Cup leader Rachel Atherton, first in the Garbanzo DH, fifth in the Air Downhill and then - after a long drive to Panorama - first overall in the Canadian Mountain Bike Championships downhill.

"It was a big week and we (Claire and husband Chris Kovarik) got thrown into the deep end, and I'm so glad I did well," said Buchar.

The two were not able to fund their own way to the World Cup circuit this year and so elected to stick with local and regional events. They didn't even have proper downhill race bikes until the day before Crankworx.

"It was a bit of a struggle for us to even get our bikes together," said Buchar. "We just got them together the day before Crankworx. Near the end we were using rental bikes just to get in a few runs, and I've been riding cross-country mostly."

Buchar said she was nervous before the Canadian Open DH, which was her first race since a competition in Australia in February.

"I was so nervous and I didn't feel super-confident," she said. "But I actually felt really good on my bike, and got around it mentally."

Winning the Garbanzo DH was a bigger surprise.

"It was crazy because I haven't done a lot of really sustained, long downhill runs and to jump into Garbanzo - my left calf actually seized up the next day because I wasn't used to doing full runs."

The day after the Air Downhill they left Whistler at 4 a.m. and drove to Panorama Mountain Resort for the nationals. They squeezed in two days of training in the rain then awoke to sun and warm weather on Saturday that dried out the course.

Buchar was slower in the finals than in the qualifiers but still managed to win her second national title, to go with her win in 2009.

"The course had a little bit of everything, and you have to be pretty adaptable to be a downhill racer so it was good from that perspective," she said. "There was one uphill pedal traverse that was just horrible, but otherwise it was pretty good and challenging.

"I actually won by a hair. I'm glad I was able to pull that off, but I didn't have the greatest performance. The pressure and the nerves, which I put on myself, got to me a bit so I was lucky."

A win at the nationals guarantees Buchar a place with Team Canada for the world championships in Switzerland. This is the 10th consecutive year that she's made the cut.

She doesn't know if she'll be competing in any of the World Cup events leading up to the world championships but said she and Chris would go if they had more funding.

"We're at the point where we can't spend our own money anymore on racing," she said. "There comes a time when you have to start saving your money."

Watching their spending had another advantage.

"It's actually nice not being stuffed in a van and driving through Europe all summer," she said. "I feel we can train properly and enjoy riding a bit more.

"We'll see what happens. If an opportunity comes our way where we can get to more races we definitely will go, but if not we're going to keep doing what we're doing and stick to the local races."

Buchar's winning time at Panorama was 3:57.90. Revelstoke's Casey Brown was second in 3:58.13. Miranda Miller of Squamish was close behind in 3:58.38. Pemberton's Jaime Hill was fifth.

Andrew Mitchell of Victoria won the Elite Men's title in 3:24.80, followed by Chris Del Bosco - a member of the national ski cross team who is racing downhill this year - in 3:25.09. Dean Tennant was third in 3:25.78.

Whistler's Tyler Allison was fifth in 3:28.58.

Squamish's Laurent Rosser took the Junior Expert Women category in 4:09.44. She was followed by Kelsey Begg in 4:43.02.

Ontario's Kyle Sangers was first in Junior Expert Men in 3:24.58, followed by Riley Suhan in 3:29.07 and Luke Stevens in 3:32.21. Whistler's Max Horner was fifth in 3:36.16. Kip Shortreed of Squamish finished in 10th place.