The 11th edition of the BC Bike Race still had plenty to be decided coming into its seventh and final day on July 13.
Thanks to a mechanical to front-runner Katerina Nash on Day 6 in Squamish, Quebec's Maghalie Rochette clawed back nearly all of the six-minute deficit in advance of the final stage, leading to some thrilling riding going down to the wire.
"I lost a little bit over six minutes of my lead," Czechia's Nash said of her lead shrinking to a dozen seconds. "I knew it was going to be tough because Maghalie has been riding really, really well all week. I tried really hard today to keep an eye on her and not let her get away.
"I was a little bit stronger at the end so I decided to just go for it and it worked out."
Ultimately, Nash held off Rochette's challenges to win the open women's division of the seven-day stage race, which began in Cumberland and wrapped in Whistler's Rainbow Park, by 53 seconds. Dutch rider Hielke Elferink took third, one hour, eight minutes and 25 seconds (1:08:25) behind.
"It's always fun to win a race, but to win a seven-day stage race, that means you have to have seven good days," she said.
Rochette, meanwhile, knew it would be tough to usurp Nash's lead in the final stage, but she was aggressive and tried to charge in front as many times as possible to make up the deficit.
"Coming in today, I was only 12 seconds out. I'd never really beat her before, so I really did my best. I had to try. I attacked her a couple times and we had a good battle, so it was super fun," she said after the final stage. "Basically, my strategy was to attack as many times as I could until I collapsed."
The win was a departure from Nash's last BC Bike Race win, in 2015, as her margin of victory was significantly larger — 51:22. Admittedly, she preferred the challenge.
"It's a lot harder (this time). I didn't have the competition. I didn't have anybody that close to push me," Nash said. "You enter races so you get to race people."
On the open men's side, Squamish's Geoff Kabush had a more comfortable advantage coming into the final stage, and though Bellingham's Stephen Ettinger won the Battle of Whistler, Kabush hung onto the overall win by 4:51. Squamish's Quinn Moberg took third, 37:32 back.
"It's been a really fun week. I've been racing internationally for a long time and have been wanting to do the BC Bike Race for years. It's fun to come full circle and be racing in one of these communities," Kabush said. "It was great competition with Stephen battling for the win and it's nice to finally bring it home here. It was a tough seven days — I don't usually ride seven days of singletrack — but it's been beautiful and a great group of people and I'm happy to be finished."
Though the glut of singletrack riding was new to Kabush, he didn't have to adjust his riding to handle it. Some strong riding early helped put him into an enviable situation, he said.
"The first four days, it was kind of a nervous advantage, only 35 seconds over Stephen, but I lived in North Van for three years so I knew the Seymour trails really well. That day I really tried to take advantage of getting into the trails and disappearing," Kabush said. "I got three minutes that day and felt more comfortable after that because 35 seconds is a dropped chain or a wrong turn."
Ettinger, meanwhile, said he knew it would be difficult to catch Kabush as his lead ballooned, but pushed himself especially hard on the Squamish and Whistler trails just in case fate decided it wasn't Kabush's year.
"I would have loved to win, but I got a couple of stages and second overall. I cannot complain," he said. "The strategy was to try to get as much time yesterday (in Squamish) and today (in Whistler) as I could. I threw a long bomb yesterday and it didn't pan out for me and today, making up five minutes on a course like this was pretty tough. My goal was to go for the stage and put some pressure on him. Maybe he cracks and I get away with it."
Moberg, meanwhile, was thrilled with his podium appearance, lauding Kabush and Ettinger as some of the strongest riders he could face.
"I think I was riding really, really well. That was some of the best riding I've done. Of course, there was some room for improvement, but I'm really happy with how the week went," Moberg said.
Whistler's Jesse Melamed was the top local, placing ninth, 1:21:46 back. (See related story on Page 42.)
As for the other divisions, winners included: Seattle's Garett Heitman (solo masters men); Ottawa's Tricia K. Spooner (solo masters women); Port Moody's Ted Russo (solo veterans men); San Francisco's Tracy Palermini (solo veterans women); Switzerland's Ralf Wildhaber and Fridolin Engler (solo men team); Arizona's Christine Jeffrey and Kata Skaggs (solo women's team); Australia's Ben and Eliza Smyth (open mixed team); Alberta's John Clark and Steve Martins (veterans 80-plus team); and Alberta's Gerry Day and Trevor Williams (veterans 100-plus team).
Full results are available online at www.bcbikerace.com.