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On the fourth Stage of Vancouver Island tech, this year’s BC Bike Race competitors are finding out mountain bike stage racing isn’t just about speed. It is about endurance. At BC Bike Race, endurance applies equally to rider and equipment. As riders rode through the half-way point of the race, and crossed over the mid-island on the way north to Cumberland, legs, lungs, and gear were all being put to the test.

Riders are feeling the fatigue throughout the field but, in the hotly contested pro fields, Nanaimo turned into a pressure cooker. A mix of cross country tech and some faster descents caused stresses, if not breaks, in both fields.

Evelyn Dong yet again led with Maghalie Rochette

Rochette manages mechanical disaster

In the women’s race, the front six were fighting for position all day. Evelyn Dong and Maghalie Rochette again found themselves together on the front.

“These starts are so hectic. We were just trying to stay on the gas and not let too many guys by us before the singletrack started,” Evelyn Dong said after the race. “Then we had our own battle pretty much the rest of the day.”

Pretty much, but not the entire day. In this case, equipment gave out before the rider.  With just a few kilometres left, Rochette was stuck trailside fixing a stubborn flat front tire.

“We were riding together and it was actually a super fun stage. Evelyn was strong but we rode together well. But with four or five km to go, my front wheel went completely flat. I ran, I rode, I ran, I rode, then my husband caught up to me and gave me his wheel so I could finish.”

After two days pushing together on the front, Rochette and Dong are very obviously racing to win. But racing also develops connections as much as it does competition.

“It’s unfortunate,” Dong said of seeing Rochette’s flat tire. “I had a camelback incident and lost all my water and she was giving me a few sips of water. So I obviously didn’t want to attack when she flatted. But she told me ‘don’t wait for me’ so I kept it steady and tried not to dig in too much there. She’ll have to do a little work, but I didn’t want to take advantage. I just wanted to keep what we had over the rest of the field.”

Evelyn Dong retakes the leader’s jersey from Rochette. It’s the fourth lead change in four days of racing for the women. Still, there are three days of racing left. Rochette knows that, while she may be down now, she’s not out of the race just yet.

“I don’t know how much time I lost. I’m bummed. It’s not like I took a risk, it was just on a fire road,” Rochette said at the lakeside after the finish line. “But there’s three more days and anything can happen. I’ll try hard.”

Has the hours spent riding with her closest competitor taught Rochette anything she can use to claw back time?

Rochette pondered for a second before quipping, with a laugh, “If so, I can’t tell you!”

Katerina Nash, Catharine Pendrel and Yamauchi chased Haley Smith all day.

Anna Yamauchi sends it on upper Pink Unicorn

Kaysee Armstrong is fighting hard after a crash on Maple Mountain

A fierce fight for a surprise silver 

Behind, there was a fierce, four-way  battle for position. Haley Smith clung to a small gap, often within sight of Katerina Nash, Catharine Pendrel and Anna Yamauchi. While the fractured quartet thought they were fighting for third, a cat-and-mice battle kept the quartet close to the leaders. They would roll past Rochette standing course side just kilometres from the finish attending to her flat.

“I was being chased by Catharine, Katka and Anna Yamauchi, all of whom are extremely strong descenders. Once they were close I also knew that most of what was left was descending. So I was just trying to hang on. I think I had maybe 20 seconds at the top of the last climb and it came down to the wire.”

With so long spent fending of a chase, you might think that easing off the gas to join the group might have made for an easier day. But Smith is very familiar with her competition, and their strengths.

“I knew if I did wait for them, they would drop me. I don’t have the skill sharpness that they’re riding with right now. So the only strategy is go as hard as you possibly can everywhere you can pedal, and then pray!”

Haley Smith dances down Pink Unicorn slabs on the Supercaliber

The Trek Driftless racer is taking on BCBR’s notoriously technical week of racing aboard her team’s 80mm travel Supercaliber world cup racing machine. It’s a gamble between playing to your strengths and compensating for weaknesses that every rider at BCBR has to work out for themselves. So far, Smith (who has a past podium to her name already), is confident in her choice to ride the smaller bike.

“It is harsh, for sure, there are lots of places where it’s be nice to have a little bit more suspension. But we’re climbing so much that it is a bit of a balance. I’m taking a bit of a beating, I needed to do more pushups and tricep dips before I came here. But I’m actually pretty impressed with how it’s riding. I don’t think I would go with a bigger bike.“

Maxxis Factory Racing sets the stage for a race within a race 

On the men’s side, Wednesday set the stage for a tactically interesting battle for the lead. The Maxxis Factory Racing duo of Andrew L’Esperance and Sean Fincham padded their lead over a crowded chasing pack.

“L’Espy pushed the pace from the start. It was pretty hard through some technical uphill trail. We managed to get away from everyone else but he was just hurting me for the first half of the day. I tried to push a little in the second half, but we just stayed tighter the whole day. We’ve got three more days to figure it out.”

With the duo now solidly ahead of third, that figuring out is looking like it will be a matter between teammates. Which leads to a question: when does team work give way to the desire to win?

“That’s a great question, I don’t know. Maybe with a couple days l don’t know. I think it’s whoever cracks first. Maybe not so many explosive attacks,” says Fincham.

“Winning BC Bike Race is definitely an accolade. I don’t think either of us is going to give it up too easily,” L’Esperance adds. “I think we’ll probably start testing each other a little more. We’re super happy with how we’re performing as a team.”.

Thomas Lapeyrie finds some air in with the XC

Still, as the women’s race showed today, anything can happen over seven days of racing on B.C. singletrack.

“That is one reason why we’re trying to work together to edge out the lead. Mechanicals can happen. But riding mountain bikes in stage race mode is different than XCO mode. We’re doing a good job of racing safely, but fast. Taking care of equipment is a big factor in stage racing.”

That leaves the leading duo to continue playing with the balance of testing each other and helping each other build a buffer against potential trouble. One choice they are both confident in is their team’s Rocky Mountain Element race bikes.

“It’s unreal,” Fincham says of bringing the Element to BC Bike Race.  “This is what this bike is made to do. It’s 120 travel, it’s slacker but it’s fast on the uphill. But I think it’s just overall a really good bike to ride.”

After a day in transfer, and getting over the hump, racers are starting to get a whiff of the finish line. BC Bike Race returns to Cumberland, B.C. for the weeks’ third basecamp. Friday will bring the first of two stages in Dodge City’s expansive trail network. The race then heads north to Campbell River before returning for a Grand Finale on Sunday. That leaves a hefty chunk of racing left to go.

Day 4 Results

Open Women
1st. Evelyn Dong  1:51:18
2nd. Haley Smith 1:53:55
3rd.  Anna Yamauchi 1:53:57
4th. Katerina Nash 1:54:15
5th. Catharine Pendrel 1:54:18

Open Men

1st.  Andrew L’Esperance 1:32:27
2nd. Sean Fincham 1:32:28
3rd. Quinton Disera 1:34:55
4th. Peter Disera 1:35:04
5th. Tyler Clark 1:35:51

Race debrief at the lake-front finish line

Day 4: Overall Standings

Open Women
1st. Evelyn Dong 6:14:20
2nd. Maghalie Rochette 6:20:11
3rd.  Haley Smith 6:24:36
4th. Catharine Pendrel 6:29:44
5th. Katerina Nash 6:31:11

Open Men
1st. Sean Fincham 5:10:36
2nd. Andrew L’Esperance 5:11:05
3rd. Quinton Disera 5:16:08
4th. Tyler Clark 5:17:05
5th. Peter Disera 5:19:43

Full Results

Nanaimo flow book ended some deep dust

Fox Timed Downhill Nanaimo: Blitzkreek

1st. Catharine Pendrel 4:15.2
2nd. Katerina Nash 4:25.6
3rd. Anna Yamauchi 4:30.4

1st. Peter Disera 3:40.3
2nd. Max McCulloch 3:40.6
3rd. Tyler Clark 3:48.2

Fox Timed Downhill: Overall

1st. Max McCulloch: 11:55.1
2nd. Peter Disera: 12:02.2
3rd. Tyler Clark 12:23.7

1st. Catharine Pendrel 13:58.2
2nd. Tracey Moseley 14:10.6
3rd. Maghalie Rochette 14:13.4

Brett Tippie going deep to get the inside line on what happened out there in Nanaimo