Six-year-old Justin Jack-Thomas of Halalt gives a high five to American rider Scott Chimento as he begins the Maple Mountain portion of the Cowichan Valley stage that opened the BC Bike Race on July 7. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

Six-year-old Justin Jack-Thomas of Halalt gives a high five to American rider Scott Chimento as he begins the Maple Mountain portion of the Cowichan Valley stage that opened the BC Bike Race on July 7. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

BC Bike Race’s Cowichan stage well-received

Cowichan planners expect event to return to Valley

The response was gratifying for the Cowichan Trail Stewardship Society after hundreds of cyclists from around the world took to local trails on July 7 as part of the BC Bike Race.

This was the first time the BC Bike Race has held a stage in the Cowichan Valley since 2008, but local race planners are confident the event will be back sooner than that next time.

Riders and organizers were pleased with the state of the trails on Mount Tzouhalem and Maple Mountain, and the CTSS is getting accolades for their efforts.

“They’re ecstatic,” said Matt Grossnickle, a member of the CTSS board of directors. “It was one of their favourite stages. They will be back.”

It took a lot of planning to pull off the Cowichan Valley stage, Grossnickle said. The race started at Maple Bay Elementary School, took riders over Mount Tzouhalem and Maple Mountain, and ended in Crofton. The Cowichan stage was just the first of seven that took riders throughout southwestern B.C., ending in Squamish this past Friday.

A follow-up meeting with land managers for the areas used also went well, Grossnickle added.

“Everyone is just stoked,” he said.

Besides the trails, the race organizers were pleased with the enthusiasm of the local people who came out to watch and cheer on the competitors — nearly 600 riders representing almost 40 countries.

“A lot of people came out to watch it,” Grossnickle said.

The CTSS is hoping to win an award for their stage, based on rider feedback. Squamish tends to win the award, but early responses have the Cowichan race planners optimistic that they can pull off an upset.

“Everyone loved the new stage,” Grossnickle said. “It’s a testament to the trail-builders who built our trails for years and years, and generations and generations. We’re grateful for the trails here. We don’t build them, but we spruce them up. The trails spoke for themselves and won us the race.”

Grossnickle has been involved in the BC Bike Race for many years, competing in 2016. He was a bike mechanic for the race in 2008, the last time the race was held in the Valley, and noted how far it has come in the last decade.

“It’s a different race now,” he said. “It’s one of the best races and stage races in the world.”

Duncan rider David Huntley, who is sponsored by Cycle Therapy and was the only Cowichan Valley competitor that Grossnickle was aware of, finished 60th overall, and 34th on the Cowichan Valley stage. The Cowichan stage was won by Geoff Kabush, a three-time former Olympian from Courtenay who won five of the seven stages on his way to the overall title. The women’s division was won by Katerina Nash of the Czech Republic, an Olympian in both mountain biking and cross-country skiing who also won the women’s overall title.