Whistler Secondarys four-person B.C. High School Mountain Bike Championship Team got off to a rough start last weekend.
Half the team didnt even make the trip someone stole James Crowes wheels, while his younger sister Nadine came down with an illness. That left a team of two: Brandon Semenuk, a cross-country racer who spent the last few months focusing on his dirt jumping and street style moves, and Alex Prochazka, a downhiller and freerider who has only been in one cross-country race in his life, and four years ago at that.
They had their work cut out for them in Sechelt. Some 32 schools from around the province took part, with between 50 and 80 racers in most competitive categories. This was also Whistlers first year sending athletes to the championships, despite the fact that several local teens have topped the B.C. Cup and Canada Cup series over the years.
Adding to the pile, the Whistler riders couldnt leave the day before like other teams, but made the trip at 5 a.m. on Saturday so Semenuk could attend the Friday night premiere of Unknown Soldiers, a freeride bike movie in which he was featured.
Despite a tough beginning to the day the team made it to the start line at Chatelech Secondary in time for the start of the race.
According to Alex, thats when all hell broke loose.
"There was a big pile up crash right out of the start and my shoe fell off," he said. "I wanted to get out of there so I picked it up and hung it on my handlebars and sprinted ahead of everyone."
Brandon, who was leading the pack out of the start line, saw Alex without his shoe and started laughing. Thats when he ran into a tree heading into the singletrack.
"Alex pulled up to me and I saw the shoe. It made me laugh and the next thing my shoulder hit a tree and I went down," said Brandon.
Semenuk pulled it together, and over one and a half laps of the six kilometre course, he blew past everyone who had raced ahead of him on the singletrack to finish first out of a field of 49 bantam racers.
He recognized some of the racers from B.C. Cup and Island Cup events, and knew from the start that it would be a serious race for first.
"It wasnt too bad, it was hard but not too hard. It was a lot flatter than what we ride out here and not very technical, so it was a sprint the whole way and I just passed who I had to pass in the singletrack," Brandon said.
"(Winning the championship) was kind of cool."
Of the 49 riders in the bantam category, 31 were cross-country racers. The other 18 were in the heavy bike category where Alex competed.
Alex finished 13 th overall out of 49 riders, and third in the heavy bike category.
Once he had his shoe back on, Alex tried to move his way up the pack. Partway through the race he bashed his cranks off a rock, bending them slightly. "That was a big downside for my pedaling efficiency," he said.
But while cross-country riders passed him on the uphill, he says he caught at least one rider on every downhill section.
"I am a little surprised, actually," said Alex of his third place finish. "Everything that could go wrong went wrong, but it still worked out."
If he wasnt in the crash at the start, didnt lose a shoe and didnt bend his crank arms, Alex thinks he might have finished in the top-10, or even first in the heavy bike category. First and second place in the heavy bike category went to the eighth and ninth place finishers overall.
Brandons next race is the B.C. Cup event at Hemlock this weekend.
Alex will be heading to Europe this weekend with his sponsors at Rocky Mountain to do a photo shoot and some filming with other local riders like Richie Schley and Thomas Vanderham.
The top school at the championships was Don Ross Secondary in Squamish for the third straight year, followed by the hosts at Chatelech Secondary. Third went to Elphinstone Secondary, and fourth to Howe Sound Secondary, also in Squamish.
Whistler, with just two athletes, was 19 th out of 32 schools, and fifth in the bantam standings.