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Gravity series gets off the ground

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Mountain bike race series offers something for everyone

Mountain biking isn’t a sport any more, but at least three sports rolled into one.

First, you have cross-country cyclists, a fitness-obsessed group that prefers lighter bikes and doesn’t mind uphill climbs. Then you have downhillers, a specialized group of thrill-seekers that prefer heavy bikes and going uphill via the gondola. Lastly you have the freeriders, the stuntmen on specialized bikes that you find on the dirt jumps and racing in bikercross events.

This year all three disciplines will be combined into the new Whistler Gravity Series, which will determine who is the best at everything.

"With all the different elements, the climbing and the bikercross, it will be the best all around rider that actually wins," says organizer Paul Fournier.

Last year Fournier organized the popular four-race Whistler Downhill Series. The year before he held a Dual Slalom series.

"The sport is evolving so much, especially here in the valley, and there wasn’t really an event that sort of catered to this new crowd of riders. I figure this is a fun way to get everybody together, to get them to challenge themselves, and get some racing in as well."

The event kicks off on May 18 with a timed Uphill/Downhill race. The first cyclist to bike from the base of Whistler Mountain to Olympic Station and back again wins their competitive division. You can bring two bikes if you want, and a shuttle will be provided to bring your uphill bike to you after the race.

It continues on June 18 with a four-person bikercross at the base of Whistler. The first two riders to cross the finish line move on to the next round.

There are downhill races through the bike park on July 2 and 23, and another bikercross on Aug. 13.

The final downhill race of the series takes place on Aug. 27, and will be followed by a dirt jumping competition.

Participants are allowed to have a partner for the jumping event, as well as for the uphill/downhill race.

There will be pro, amateur, junior and masters’ categories for racers, as well as a category for disabled mountain bikers. "They will obviously need partners for the uphill/downhill race, and we will design the downhill races so there aren’t any flat areas," says Fournier.

"There are some just amazing wheelchair racers around, but there aren’t a lot of races for them to compete in.."

For last year’s downhill Fournier managed to raise over $7,000 in prizes for competitors, including over $1,000 in cash, from event sponsors and entry fees. This year he hopes to have over $10,000 in cash and prizes with the help of a major title sponsor.

As to who that major title sponsor will be, Fournier is still looking.

"It’s an opportunity to be associate with the mountain and the bike park, which is really high profile. You’ll have a presence in the park, on hill banners and posters, and it’s an opportunity to be associated with a lot of our smaller sponsors as well," says Fournier.

"The downhill series got a lot of attention last year with the local media, and it’s going to be bigger this year with more events. Whistler Cable wants to cover it. We’re also hoping to do the bike jumping under the lights this year, which should get a lot of people out."

The Whistler Mountain Bike Park is one of those sponsors, providing timing, transportation, logistics and first aid to the series. They’re also providing the venue, free of charge "because they see the way the whole bike scene is going and they like what’s going on," says Fournier.

"We’re keeping it grass roots, and affordable. Last year the mountain fixed it so competitors could pay their entry fee and get a day on the mountain for less than it costs to buy a day pass."

The Gravity Series is still looking for volunteers, including a new chief of course. Ordinarily Fournier would serve as chief, setting the course and co-ordinating the volunteers, but after a recent heel operation he has to take it easy for the next few months. Last year volunteers were fed and given clothing and passes for helping out with the downhill series.

If you are interested in racing, more information will be posted on the Whistler-Blackcomb Web site ( www.whistler-blackcomb.com ) as it becomes available.

If you are interested in sponsoring the event, or volunteering to help out, contact Fournier at 604-932-6300.

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