More than 250 riders sweated, struggled and in some cases swore their way up and down rural parts of Saanich and the Saanich Peninsula during the fifth annual Tripleshot CrossFondo.
Held under grey skies, the off-road race drew 37 riders for the short course of 25 kilometres and 220 competing in the long course across 45 kilometres, with the actual course – save the starting and finish line –unknown to the riders. But these basic coordinates do not capture the complexitites that unfolded behind the scenes that allowed the race to happen in the first place.
“It was challenging, but rewarding,” said organizer Lister Farrar, when asked about holding an event during a pandemic. “I know it sounds a bit trite, but when we put the word out to the landowners to say, ‘would you be interested if we could figure a way to get Vancouver Island Health Authority approve it,’ they all said yes. It told us that there was some sort of need out there.”
While planning for the race had started before the start of the pandemic, the pandemic itself forced organizers to change the format toward a time-trial race, with riders leaving the starting gate at Vancouver Island Technology Park individually 30 seconds apart.
Unable to knock on the doors of land owners to seek their permission to their land, organizers also resorted to re-tracing last year’s mystery course for the most part, albeit in reverse. The event’s social highlight — a posh lunch — also fell victim to the pandemic. But the pandemic also sparked innovation and ingenuity in the form of lunch served in a Tour-de-France musette bag and a self-made, powerful, no-touch, bike-cleaning station that reduced congestion.
Farrar said this year’s event was a touch-and-go affair.
“We were very close to cancelling, like everybody,” he said. But his experience as a cycling coach also led him to the conclusion that a time-trial format would fit the spirit of the times. The question about the right format, however, was only of many.
“I was quite intense, with lots of discussion in the committee,” he said. “Are we being responsible? Should we even want to be doing this?”
In the end, all involved parties signalled their go-head for the race, which also serves as a fundraiser for the Tripleshot Youth cycling program, the South Island Mountain Bike Society, the Nature Trail Society and other causes.
In the end, the format did not significantly change the riding experience on the course, a mix of off-road trails and technical single-track, a balance between cyclocross and mountain biking. “People are riding essentially alone most of the time,” said Farrar. And while theoretically a race, the competitive element is secondary, he said.
For first-time observers, the event had all the hallmarks of a gruelling test of endurance, but even that might not be an accurate description. “I would say that there are a lot of people who don’t even treat it that way,” said Farar. “They treat it as an adventure. They are treating it as somewhere exotic to ride, to see what they can’t see the rest of the time.”
In fact, Sunday’s event had the feel of an outing with friends and family, said Farrar, with some family members riding together, others sticking with and waiting patiently for their respective riding partners.
True, observers could hear a handful of salty words under the breath of riders, as their wheels wobbled through a muddy, uphill section just off West Saanich Road. But organizers received far more thumbs up and smiles of approval.
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