Photos by Dave Silver, Margus Riga, Todd Weselake, Lorenz Jimenez, Scott Robarts
The rain is pounding down on my tent and I'm trying to convince myself, yet again, that I don't need to open up the door and venture into the storm to go pee. I finally fall back asleep, only to be woken up what feels like minutes later by the loud squawking of a plastic rubber chicken. It's go-time, Day 5 of the 2019 BC Bike Race.
I mumble good morning to my tentmate before shoving my sleeping bag into its stuff sack and squeezing all my gear into my rider bag. Starting with the Prologue in North Vancouver, I've raced over 150kms in the past six days and today is the longest of them all, a 57.8km journey from Earls Cove to Sechelt. I try not to think about the two 50km days that will follow this one, but also tell myself that once I get through today, the majority of the miles will be behind me and I'll only have 100km of singletrack before Beer O'Clock.
We moved camp most nights, but spent two nights in Cumberland and two nights in Powell River. If you're ever in Powell River, you have to buy ice cream from Wild Scoop. That ice cream, and knowing that Alice and Brohm would be at the finish line in Squamish with their real fruit ice cream, were big motivators.
Honestly, I'm surprised by how well my body is holding up so far. Never having raced more than two days in a row, I thought that by the fifth day of racing in a row my legs would barely bend and I'd be hobbling around like someone three times my age. The only sign of wear is the palms of my hands, which blistered on Day 3 in Cumberland.
Before we start pedaling, however, we depart our oceanside camp and head to the dining hall to gorge ourselves on fluffy eggs, fresh fruit and piping hot oatmeal. Then we hop on busses that take us to Saltery Bay. From there, I am one of the lucky riders who got to travel in a Harbour Air seaplane from Saltery Bay to Earls Cove. There are also water taxis and a massive ferry to help transport the 600 riders and support crew.
The start for Day 5 is right at the ferry terminal so there's no warming up allowed among the cars that line the hill down to the ferry. As we arrive, I quickly find my bike, get my shoes, helmet and chamois butter on, find someone from the medical team to cover my blisters so that I don't wince with every bump in the trail, and then line up with the other 100 riders in wave 2.
The longest and least technical stage of the event, after four days of intense racing and painful hand blisters, Day 5 was the day I approached with the most trepidation since I knew it would be one where fitness would trump technical skills in the results list.
While Day 5 might not have been my best day results-wise, it's a day I'm very proud of. Despite inclement weather conditions and a long time in the saddle, I was able to stay positive and make it to the finish without losing too much time in the overall. Although I think a big part of "staying positive" was actually eating an insane number of Clif Bloks and Clif Shots. Every half hour without fail I had either three gummy blocks or a gel for the entire 4-hour ride.
It made me realize that the previous day's doldrum in the final kilometers were actually me bonking. At the moment, you're going as hard as you can and you can't think properly, but it's interesting observing yourself afterward and reflecting on your emotions. I'm normally a pretty level-headed person so I find it fascinating how high and low racing can bring one's emotions.
Here are some of the highs from a week in the saddle:
So You Want to Do BC Bike Race Next Year?
I thought you might - exploring sweet singletrack, pushing yourself physically, gorging yourself on donuts and meeting wonderful like-minded people from around the world. What more could you want? As I assemble the above photos, I'm chomping at the bit to do BC Bike Race again.
There's something about the event that is hard to put into words, videos, or Instagram captions. Something you need to feel to understand. That being said, here are some things I learned in my first BC Bike Race that you might find useful if you do the event yourself. Really, they are lessons that could serve you for any stage race, and even life in general. 1. The tool you choose will make a difference in the long run.
The 120mm Ibis Ripley
was the perfect bike for the job. There's a lot of gravel road climbing, but a lot of tricky technical climbs and descents as well. The first day in the Cowichan Valley was an eye-opener. I knew we were going to be riding singletrack, but I didn't realize how technical it would be. I was very pleasantly surprised. That being said, you want to make sure your set-up is capable enough for the steep descents as well as a lot of climbing.
The couple from Spain that I met in the bike wash line who had never ridden singletrack before BC Bike Race? They bought dropper posts and had Obsession Bikes install them after Day 1.2. Find your weakness and work on it.
My weakness was the gravel climbs and it often felt like I was going backward on them since I got passed by so many people as soon as we hit the ascents. I could hold onto other racers' wheels on the flats, zip past them on the downhills, and power past on the technical climbs, but if I do BC Bike Race again, I'll spend some more time at race pace on long, gradual climbs before the race.
That being said, from what I saw, most people struggled on the technical climbs, even if they were good technical descenders. If you want to improve one skill ahead of BC Bike Race, I would suggest technical climbing since that seemed to be the area where the most time could be made up. Find some punchy climbs with roots and rocks to session at the end of your ride.
Side note: I recommend bringing a hydration system like Camelbak's Chase Vest so that you can sip hydration mix through it all with your hands on the handlebars. 3. The singletrack descents are worth the climbs.
The BC Bike Race team had a great video that they showed at the Rider Meeting at the start of the event that taught everyone about rider etiquette. I've done marathon XC race where the traffic on the descents makes them boring at best, and dangerous at worst. During BC Bike Race, however, I found people were super happy to let me pass them on the descents and courteous if they wanted me to move over and the courses were well designed to make sure that the pack was spread out by the time it reached the more technical downhills. On the most technical day, instead of waves of 100 racers at the start, there were waves of 25.
If you still get stuck behind someone on a descent, take a moment to appreciate where you are and what your body can do, catch your breath, and by that time the person ahead of you will have found a good spot to move over. 4. Everyone wants you to get to the finish line.
The Medical team is at the start every day to fix your blisters or help your aches and pains before the race starts. In retrospect, I should have visited them a couple days earlier, before the blisters on my hands popped, but hindsight is 20/20 and they patched up my hands four mornings in a row without one complaint or lecture.
Bike Patrol and the Medical team are on course every day to help you with injuries, flats tires, and a positive word or two. Even your fellow racers want to see you succeed and almost everyone had a word of encouragement when they passed me on the gravel climbs.
No less important to helping everyone get through the week healthy, there's no grabbing your own snacks off the table. Volunteers pass you the chips, candies, donuts, peanut butter sandwiches and watermelon with rubber gloves on. 5. Surround yourself with the best kind of people, their energy is contagious.
The people that do BC Bike Race and the crew that supports it are incredible. The event logistics are very complicated but somehow you, your bike and your luggage make it from one location to the next seamlessly. Before you arrive, your tent is even set up for you. All you have to do is find your luggage, pick a tent and walk to the dining hall.
It was a pretty neat experience to sit down next to overall winner Felix Burke at dinner
one evening and chat about his experiences at the front of the race. At the same time, it was fun to chat with my tent mate who took 22 hours longer than Felix to finish the race and see how her day played out. Everyone is happy to chat about their day and, regardless of speed, have had similar experiences.
You really get to know the people who ride with you every day and develop a bond with them. I think half the fun of the day was talking to the people at the finish line or over dinner and seeing how their days went. There's always a story to tell. 6. Simplicity is key.
You have to pack everything into these big red bags and they're smaller than they look so choose wisely and keep it simple and organized. The big red bag goes straight to camp each day, but you have a small black rider backpack that goes to the finish line each day. Keep a change of clothes, soap, a towel and anything you may want at the end of the race in that one.
The one thing I was really happy to have was a rechargeable battery. There's a tent where you can leave your phone and other electronics to charge, but it's nice to be able to charge them overnight in your own tent after leaving the charging station.
I was really happy I had eight kits to wear during BC Bike Race (stay tuned for my review of them!) since there was likely a rain shower moments after the photo on the right was taken. I put the shorts, jersey, socks, sports bra and jersey that I planned to wear for each day in a Ziploc bag at home so I didn't have to worry about trying to sort through all my apparel first thing in the morning. You want to make things as easy as possible for yourself when you're unpacking and packing almost every day. 7. Practice yoga daily.
Lululemon is a sponsor of the BC Bike Race and was on-site every day with yoga mats, foam rollers, massage "guns", NormaTec pants, and even an ice bath. This was the best part of the day. After a hard ride, easy yoga with 100+ other riders is the best way to speed up recovery and wind down before heading to bed. 8. Get as much sleep as possible.
The mornings are early and the days are long so put your earplugs in and get into your tent early. If you can, take every bus and ferry ride as an opportunity to nap.
Learn more about BC Bike Race and register for 2020 here