By Brandon Barrett
Dozens of B.C. riders welcomed the resort's first ever cyclo-cross race to Whistler last weekend, but called for course improvements to be made in future years.
The two-day Whistler CycloCross is part mountain bike race, part cross-country grind and part crit, testing riders' all-around skills on a short but challenging course that winds around Creekside Medals Plaza, incorporating the cobblestone pathways of the Franz' Trail shopping area and a climb up the lower hillside base of Whistler Mountain.
In its inaugural year, race producer Darren Kinnaird of Crankworx Events said he's happy with how the event played out, drawing novice, intermediate and elite riders to the spectator-friendly area around Dusty's.
"It was great," he said. "We'd never organized (a cyclo-cross race) before so we were sort of learning as we go, and we learned a lot. We'll continue to work with Cycling BC, the commissaries and some people who are a little more involved with cyclo-cross in the future."
Cyclo-cross is a multi-varied form of bike racing that tests riders all-around skills, and is popular in countries with a long history of cycling, like France and Belgium, but has grown in popularity in North America, with International Cycling Union (UCI) president Brian Cookson recently calling for the sport to be added to the Olympic program.
And as a popular destination for cyclists, Whistler makes perfect sense as a suitable home for the race, explained elite men's racer Kevin Calhoun.
"Whistler being a mecca for all things cycling, it needed to have a cycle-cross race and it's awesome they had it and even cooler they had it here at Creekside," he said.
Calhoun should have every reason to welcome a cyclo-cross race in Whistler as the top finisher on both race days. The North Vancouver racer was rarely out of the top position, crossing the line after 10 laps on Day 1 in 54 minutes and 18 seconds, two minutes ahead of second-place rider Bob Welbourn, also from North Vancouver.
On Day 2, when the course was reversed and minor adjustments made to make it flow more quickly, Calhoun again dominated the proceedings despite a losing his chain near the end of the race, finishing 14 laps in 1:03.20.037.
Nanaimo Steed Cycles team rider Carey Mark swept both days of racing on the women's side as well, finishing seven laps on Day 1 in 43:17.632, and 10 laps on Sunday in 53:39.462. Fellow Nanaimo resident Janna Gillick also enjoyed a solid weekend, finishing behind Mark on both Saturday (45:09.088) and Sunday (54:01.319).
Many racers benefited from a smaller field on Day 2, including Victoria's Parker Bloom, who made up ground on Calhoun near the end of the course, coming over the line in second place at 1:03:56.972.
Bloom, who finished third on Day 1, said the race would benefit from certain improvements to make the course more appropriate for cyclo-cross in future years.
"I'm really enthusiastic that there's racing in Whistler and I think they're doing an amazing job putting on this event, but the course still needs a lot of work to become a true cycle-cross course," he said. "It's so chunder-y, loose and dry, and there are so many instances where you can damage your bike."
Of the 16 elite men's riders who competed on Day 1, seven failed to finish the race, with some experiencing mechanical issues due to challenging, rocky terrain on the lower Whistler Mountain hillside, and others succumbing to the hot, dry temperatures. Nine of 11 elite men finished the race on Sunday.
"Maybe a little less elevation would be a good thing because a lot of people were having a hard time with the temperature and the distance of the climb," said Kim Steed, owner of Steed Cycles, who took top spot in the master men's division Saturday in a time of 38:42.814. He did not compete on Sunday, when race organizers reduced the distance of the climb following racers' feedback, and Richmond's Ray Lachance owned the master's men podium, finishing 10 laps in a time of 50:56.420.
For the full results, visit www.bike.whistlerblackcomb.com.