Singletracks: Piston Run Race Report
Welcome to another edition of Singletracks, brought to you by GasGas Pacific and A&E Racing. With names like Victoria Hett and Chris Van Hove riding for them in 2011, both GasGas Pacific and A&E Racing have become a force in the off-road race scene. To learn more about these two great companies check out www.gasgaspacific.com and www.aeracing.com.
The PNWMA series resumed with the Piston Run outside Chilliwack, BC.
After nearly a month off, the PNWMA Off-road series resumed last weekend with the 61st annual Piston Run. Yes, that’s right, 61 years and still going strong. As the oldest stop on the PNWMA circuit, the Piston Run is a legendary race held up in the mountainous and rugged terrain of the Chilliwack river valley. Known as Chipmunk Creek, the riding area is host to some of the most difficult and impressive trails in Canada. The GVMC and BCORMA have worked very hard to maintain the trails, especially this year after extensive clear cutting destroyed many of the trails. Despite the clear cuts and snow at higher elevations, Chris Carey and Wally Klammer, plus the rest of the GVMC put together a fantastic course that could only be described as brutal.
The bridges at Chipmunk Creek are nothing short of spectacular!
At 27 kilometers, the Piston Run course wasn’t exceptionally long but it made up for it with slippery, slimy rocks and roots, narrow trails perched precariously on the sides of mountains and of course, the bridges. The bridges and ramps of Chipmunk Creek really set this riding area apart from others. Some of the smaller ones are made from logs, but what is truly impressive is the aluminum structure bolted to a rock face in clear view of the pits. Combine that with an over/under bridge hidden out in the woods and a few others scattered all over the mountainside, it’s very evident how hard these guys work to make a world class trail system.
This bridge is called the 'Iron Workers Memorial' after its slightly larger cousin making up part of the lower mainland's highway system. I think this one is way cooler though.
After a thorough drenching of rain all week, this year’s Piston Run was definitely going to live up to its gnarly reputation. Sunday dawned cool and cloudy with the high mountains shrouded in mist as rain fell intermittently. Turnout was good with ninety-six racers entered in a variety of classes from Women’s and Junior Under all the way up to Expert and Masters (Pro). The Masters class saw nine racers entered including Bobby Prochnau, Geoff Nelson, Jarrett May, Malcolm Hett, Koa Estrella, Tim Dyck, Ryan Dey, Tyler Murray and Eric Demoulin. With Geoff Nelson residing on the coast, would he stand a chance at ending Prochnau’s win streak in the treacherous conditions?
It was a slick day of racing at the Piston Run.
After an always entertaining riders’ meeting by Chris Carey (we didn’t mark the hazards because the whole course is dangerous!), it was time for the start. The traditional start area has always been problematic at the Piston Run and 2011 had a new twist with a deep drainage ditch right in the middle of the start straight. The pros lined up in the ditch with the subsequent classes lined up in rows (some classes two deep) behind. Off the start Geoff Nelson grabbed the holeshot ahead of Prochnau and Hett with the rest of the class in tow. Tim Dyck crashed early on dropping back to nearly last place while Prochnau quickly passed Nelson and moved into the lead.
Offroad race starts are always entertaining. The Piston Run didn't disappoint.
Dominant doesn't even begin to describe Bobby Prochnau's 2011 season. He hasn't just won almost every race, he's done it by absolutely crushing the competition. Prochnau again built up an almost ten minute lead by race end.
As the racers moved through the technical course, up slippery root and rock infested trails, through and over streams via the numerous bridges and down the infamous shale slopes of ‘Keller’s Downhill,’ Bobby Prochnau started stretching his lead and by the end of the first lap was already a minute ahead of second place Nelson. Malcolm Hett held third place for most of the first lap but lost his rear brakes, allowing Jarrett May to move into the final podium position. Hett continued to battle but could only do so much without his rear brakes, especially on the downhills. Eventually Ryan Dey moved into fourth and Hett dropped to fifth which he held to the end. Out front Prochnau stretched his lead out to almost ten minutes by race end! Prochnau’s fastest lap was over three minutes faster than any of his competitors’. If he was looking to make a statement, it looks like he made it at the Piston Run. Bobby has shown he’s equally adept at high speed terrain with his win at the Desert 100 earlier this season and is clearly at the top of Canadian off-road. With no close competition in Canada, it would be interesting to see how Prochnau stacks up to racers south of the border.
Gnarly Parts' Ryan Dey took fourth at the Piston Run.
With eighty-seven non-pro racers out on the course, there was plenty of battles and stories to be told. The gnarly course claimed its fair share of casualties with over 20% of the competitors scored as DNFs. The expert class was a perfect example with close battles for the lead and half the class not finishing. After a horrible start, Bernie Bykerk worked hard to take another win ahead of Al Wilson and Mike Laycraft. The win didn’t come easy with Wilson, Matt Mctavish, Laycraft and Patrick Rouillard all in the mix for much of the race. Attrition worn on though, with Mctavish falling off the trail and off a small cliff (!!) and Rouillard also dropping out. Wilson rode well on his new GasGas EC250 but didn’t quite have enough to beat Bykerk who won by just under a minute. Laycraft held on for third ahead of Steve Geary. Rounding out the top five and showing perseverance pays off was Colton Hall, who despite numerous crashes including a trip down the bank off Keller’s Downhill, completed just one lap to take home fifth. The Vet Expert class saw some close racing with numerous lead changes and battles. Squamish’s Wayne Hodder won out taking the win 24 seconds ahead of Sig Demoulin while Aaron Richardson finished a distant third.
Al Wilson took his new GasGas EC250 to second place in the expert class.
The Intermediate class saw another epic battle. With fifteen racers in the class, racers were forced into two rows at the start. Chantelle Bykerk took the holeshot while Victoria Hett was fourth starting from the second row! Hett quickly moved into second, making it two women leading the intermediate class. How’s that for squashing all of the guys’ egos? Trials tire equipped Hett soon moved past Bykerk, who is still nursing a thumb injury suffered back in May. With her GasGas setup dialed for the slippery course, Hett quickly distanced the rest of the class and had a commanding lead through most of the first lap. Glen Labby stayed calm and slowly picked away at Hett’s lead. Labby caught Hett on the second lap and the two battled hard for the remainder of the race. While in the lead on the final lap, Labby made a mistake on one of the narrow trails carved into the mountainside and lost his front end down the slope. Hanging precariously off the trail, it looked like his day was done. Showing true class and sportsmanship, Hett stopped and helped her competitor get back on the trail before they continued battling. With her sights set on Labby, it looked like Hett was going to make the pass and take the win, but a spectacular crash on one of the steep downhills gave Labby just the gap he needed to take the win while Hett picked up the pieces and came in just 49 seconds later. Chris Sorokovsky rounded out the intermediate podium despite a few crashes and nearly running out of gas after his gas cap loosened and spilt most of his fuel on his crotch (ouch!). Nevertheless, Chris toughed it out and man handled his CR500 through the tight trails to a well deserved third place.
GasGas Pacific's Victoria Hett is hauling this year! After a slow start to the season, Hett has found her rhythm and is battling (and winning) against the guys.
With the rain falling and race course thoroughly hacked out, it was a cold and wet end to a great day of racing in the rugged coastal mountains. Everyone who finished should be very proud just for finishing a very tough edition of the Piston Run. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for many more stories from the wild woods of the west for the rest of the summer!