Long before there were disk brakes and full suspension bikes, before clipless pedals and carbon fibre tubes, there was the Cheakamus Challenge.
The course has changed a lot in the past two decades, but it remains one of the longest and most physically challenging mountain bike races in the province, weighing in at over 70 km from the start line at Squamish Airport in Brackendale to the finish line in Whistler Creek.
Every year there are small course changes to reflect the addition of new trails and singletrack, and to remove sections of highway as other options become available. This year's race, taking place Saturday, Sept. 19 will be no different, although organizers actually made the decision to remove a section of singletrack in favour of a new section of the Sea to Sky trail.
"For this year, with everything going on at the Olympic athletes' village, we figured it was the right thing to do from a confusion standpoint," said Grant Lamont, who has been organizing the event since the start in 1989.
"There are trucks going back and forth and changes in there every day so we decided to simplify things and come up the Sea to Sky Trail to the road before heading up Ridge Trail. It makes the race a little bit shorter and faster, but the route through the Whistler Interpretive Forest, followed by Tunnel Vision and Big Timber singletrack sections will be the same with long climbs and descents."
Lamont has put out an invitation to all the past winners of the Cheakamus Challenge - including Roland Green, Ryder Hesjedal, Geoff Kabush, Kirk Molday, Andreas Hestler, Bruce Spicer, Max Plaxton and Matt Bodkin on the men's side, and Alison Sydor (six time winner), Leslie Tomlinson, Trish Sinclair, Nikki Kassels and Lesley Clements for the women - as well as invitations to Canada's current World Cup racers. Plaxton, the winner of the 2007 Cheakamus Challenge, has already confirmed for this year.
All past racers are also welcome to sign on, with a total registration of over 13,000 riders in the past 20 years. For a few years the race attracted over 1,000 riders.
This year also marks the fifth anniversary of the Cheakamus Lite race, a 40-km plus "short" course that joins the race in progress in the Calcheak area, and features all of the tough climbs and singletrack sections of the route.
Lamont is expecting up to 800 riders to take part this year in the Cheakamus Lite and the Cheakamus Challenge.
Online registration is available at www.cheakamuschallenge.com for $65, and race day registration is $75. That includes food at the after-party, but if you need a ride from Whistler to Brackendale for the start or a ride home to Squamish after the race it's an extra $10.
The Cheakamus Lite race starts at 1 p.m., three hours after the official start to give most racers time to clear the course. Registration is at the Whistler Bungee Bridge from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
For more information or registration visit www.cheakamuschallenge.ca.