Sandra Walter and Geoff Kabush don't get many chances to race on the national level close to home, so both took full advantage during cross-country racing's day in the sun at Crankworx Whistler.
Walter won the elite women's title and Kabush claimed the men's victory in the Canadian Open XC held Friday, Aug. 15, which also doubled as the last Canada Cup race of the season.
"It's always fun to race kind of locally — I'm from Coquitlam, so racing in B.C., especially on the national stage, is always exciting," said Walter, whose victory also cemented her Canada Cup series title for 2014. "It's good to have events out here to showcase the sport."
Walter finished four laps of the 5.5-kilometre loop course along the Lost Lake trails in a time of one hour, 31 minutes, 32 seconds to take the win, holding off Cindy Montambault (1:33:24) by nearly two minutes. Jean Ann Berkenpas (1:33:32) placed third.
Walter and Kabush amazingly reached the Spruce Grove Park finish line at the exact same time, raising their arms in triumph together despite having different start times and the elite men racing an extra lap.
"That wasn't planned, but that was kind of fun," laughed Walter.
Kabush sat on Evan Guthrie's wheel for most of the race's first half, but the Comox native made a move on Lap 4 and couldn't be caught.
"I followed Evan for the first three laps and on the fourth climb decided to make a little bit of an effort and see if he had any response," said Kabush, who finished in 1:37:32. "I got a bit of a gap, which was nice, a bit of a buffer and rode it in; just tried to be smooth.
"I was on the full-suspension Spark 29 today and he was on the hard tail, so I think fatigue started to add up (for Guthrie) and I was able to open it up a little more there at the end."
Guthrie grabbed the silver-medal spot, 26 seconds back, which was enough for him to secure the elite men's series crown. American rider Spencer Paxson was third at 1:38:56.
Sea to Sky riders Brandi Heisterman (sixth) and Chloe Cross (10th) each earned top-10 finishes in the women's race, while Squamish's Quinn Moberg was 10th in the men's event.
"It's been really exciting to line up against all these girls, and to do it on my home trails is super awesome," Team Whistler's Cross said of the chance to race against some of the country's best in the resort.
Squamish's Rhys Verner won the junior expert men's race, topping the field after finishing four laps in 1:23:11. Landen Beckner and Nolan Brady rounded out the podium, while Whistler's Austin Reith finished fourth.
"I'm happy, it was a good race, hard fought, and a lot of fun," said Verner, whose win also secured a Canada Cup title for him. "Third lap, I kind of built up my lead after (Beckner) had a crash and I kind of capitalized on that."
Emeliah Harvie won the junior expert women's race, edging Amilie Simard at the end of three laps, while Whistler's Jenn McTavish managed a third-place result.
Walter said it's "awesome" to see Crankworx Whistler continuing to bring some cross-country flavour to the festival's schedule of races and competitions.
"People don't really think of Crankworx as XC and spandex and all that, but our sport has really evolved since the old days, and I think people would be pretty impressed by what we're riding, especially on hard-tail bikes with our seats jacked up," she said. "The courses are getting more and more spectacular, and there is so much talent in Canada that there is some exciting racing going on."
Most of the elite riders from Friday's race then headed down to Squamish the following day, where the Canadian Mountain Bike Marathon Championships were held in conjunction with Just Another Bike Race (JABR), the last event of the Test of Metal series.
Walter won the women's title there as well, finishing in 4:20:26 to beat the field by nearly 14 minutes. Ontario's Amanda Sin finished second and Berkenpas placed third.
In the men's race, Cory Wallace of Jasper, Alta., claimed the victory in a time of 3:39:55. Sechelt's Kris Sneddon took runner-up honours and Kabush placed third.
See Sports Briefs on Page 51 for a recap of other JABR results from Saturday.
Amateur class winners on Friday included Trevor Hopkins (men's 40-plus), Peter Santini (men's 19-39), Sean Fincham (men's 13-18), Emily Handford (women's 13-18) and Leah Trudeau (women's 19-39).
Whistler's Cathy Zeglinski, racing for the first time since winning her UCI Masters World Championship gold in 2013, won the women's 40-plus race, and is now preparing to defend her world title in Norway on Sunday, Aug. 24.
Visit www.crankworx.com for all results from Friday's race.