Singletracks: CEC Blairmore Race Report
Welcome to this week’s Singletracks, brought to you by GasGas Pacific and A&E Racing. The western rounds of the Canadian Enduro Championships are in the books and what can I say? It was a great couple weekends of racing. Check out this link for the scoop on the Sun Peaks round, and continue reading for a full report on Blairmore.
A&E Racing had a huge pit presence in Blairmore and for good reason. Dave French cut a lot of the trail in the area 20+ years ago and continues to support the sport like no other.
After more than a few hiccups at Sun Peaks, everyone had high hopes for the Crowsnest National Enduro. Clint Riviere and Bob Reed didn’t have the help of a club to put on the event, but as they said at the awards, why do they need a club when they have so many friends? Riviere, Reed and a whole crew of volunteers from the surrounding communities set out to put together a national calibre event, and that’s exactly what they did.
Here are the true heroes of our sport. Without the hard work of the volunteers, there wouldn't be any races for guys like Bobby Prochnau and Jason Schrage to prove their speed and talent on a motorcycle.
Staged from the hockey arena in Coleman, the course climbed high into the rocky mountains, offering participants spectacular views of nearby Crowsnest mountain and the rest of the Rockies. The 50 kilometer course featured three very distinct special tests: a motocross test on a grassy mountainside; an enduro test that started in a valley with a creek crossing and climbed up a mountain to the finish; and an extreme test situated at an abandoned coal mine that featured a creek crossing, hills and a pro only section dubbed ‘Riviere’s Diner’ after its similarity to the famous section at Erzberg. The course was exactly what a national enduro should be, with the only problem being the remoteness of the special tests which limited spectator access.
How's that for scenery? Crowsnest Pass is quite possibly enduro heaven.
As is tradition at enduros, the first racers were out on the course at 9:01am Saturday morning for a full day of racing. A short transfer section warmed up bikes and bodies, and then it was right into the motocross test. The mountain top meadow made a fantastic venue for the old school grass track, but the morning sun wreaked havoc as it shined right into the riders’ eyes. More than a few racers blew through the ribbons and miss sections of the test. The special test was later thrown out due to the conditions and racers were warned that any course cutting in the future would be met with a ten minute time penalty or disqualification. The rest of the day went smoothly. It was a long, tough day with the Pros and ‘A’ class completing three laps; ‘B’s, vets and super vets doing two and the ‘C’ class and women just one lap. Considering the difficulty of the course, just making it through the day was an accomplishment in itself!
Bobby Prochnau didn't just win in Blairmore, he absolutely dominated. Prochnau won 15/16 special tests on his way to the overall victory both days.
After spending more time dialing in his bike setup, Bobby Prochnau removed the doubts of round 2 (which he won by just four seconds ahead of Schrage) and charged to an astounding 79 second margin of victory over second place Jason Schrage. Prochnau was an animal on his KTM450SXF, winning all seven timed special tests on his way to the E2 class and overall win. Schrage held his own in second place and though he couldn’t match Prochnau’s pace, he was nearly two minutes ahead of third overall Geoff Nelson and almost three minutes ahead of Ben Rego, who was third in E2.
Geoff Nelson is well on his way to defending his E3 class championship.
Nelson proved again in Blairmore that he’s the man to beat on open class machinery. Try as he might, Ryan Graffunder couldn’t match Nelson’s pace, but landed second in E2 and seventh overall as he looks for a third pro junior championship. Rounding out the E3 podium was GasGas Pacific/A&E Racing’s Chris Van Hove. The Ontario transplant has definitely upped his game since moving to Alberta and looks a lot more comfortable in the rocks and hills of western Canada.
Tyler Murray won the E1 class. Though his small size makes things like 'Riviere's Diner' difficult, Murray still hauls on his 250F.
The E1 class saw some shake-ups, with Tyler Murray grabbing his first win ahead of Dillon Bucknell and Phillipe Chaine. Murray brought a new strategy to Blairmore, toning down his wild style to keep his CRF250R rubber side down and it paid off with the win. Bucknell also made some changes, switching from a Kawasaki back to his KTM which worked much better in the rugged conditions. Despite finishing third in E1, Chaine was still the top Eastern rider and continues to lead the E1 point standings.
Dan Watt won the Vet Pro class both days in Alberta. Watt is at home when the going gets tough, so the Crowsnest Enduro was just another day on the bike.
The Vet Pro class was just as competitive as the others with Dan Watt winning by just 15 seconds over Scott Kinakin. Mark Cahill rounded out the podium, failing to find his speed from the previous two years.
Racers were treated to a spectacular thunder storm, followed by the Thunder in the Valley fireworks display on Saturday night.
As the clouds rolled in, racers prepared for another day of racing. Late in the evening a huge thunderstorm rolled in, thoroughly soaking the race course before Sunday’s Round 4. Luckily, the skies cleared later that evening and Sunday dawned with beautiful blue skies and a little less dust than Saturday. Once again, the early morning light caused vision troubles through the first motocross test but there were very few blown corners this time around. All of the tests were timed each and every lap, making for a very long and physically demanding day of racing. If the long day wasn’t enough, the already difficult pro line in the extreme test was extremely wet and slippery on the opening lap. ‘Riviere’s Diner,’ as it was known, was a rocky sidehill that was difficult when dry, and near impossible when wet. When Prochnau came through on the opening lap, he was forced off his bike, pushing his way up the nasty slope. From there, it just went downhill (sometimes literally) for the racers as they struggled to make it through the section that wouldn’t look out of place in an extreme enduro.
Riviere's Diner claimed a few victims, including Geoff Nelson. Nelson would recover from his mistakes in the first extreme test to finish 1st in E3 and 3rd overall.
Geoff Nelson had a difficult time, crashing on the first section of Riviere’s Diner three times before finally making it up the hill. Despite the difficult conditions though, some riders shone through. CGRT’s Ben Rego and Shane Cuthbertson made short work of the section, letting their Husaberg’s find traction and claw their way through the rocks. Trials ace Thomas Cordner also easily cleared the section on his GasGas EC300. The most impressive ride though was Jack Sawatzky. Riding a mostly stock KTM350SXF, Sawatzky put on a clinic, maintaining momentum and finessing his way up and on his way without so much as a bobble. Sawatzky’s ride was so smooth and flawless that he posted the fastest time in the extreme test all morning, beating Prochnau by nine seconds!
CGRT's Ben Rego had a great weekend, earning third in E2 and fourth overall.
Even though Prochnau was beat in the first extreme test, he flat dominated the rest of the tests on his way to a three minute margin of victory! Prochnau is definitely the man to beat for the remainder of the 2011 Canadian Enduro Championships and it will be interesting to see if anyone can match his pace back east. The podiums looked very similar to Round 3, with Schrage and Rego rounding out the E2 class podium. Geoff Nelson once again took first in E3 and third overall, while Chris Van Hove took his GasGas up to second in E3 ahead of Ryan Graffunder. The E1 class saw Chaine take the win, while Murray took second after crashing numerous times in the extreme test. Local racer Mark Schell rounded out the E1 after a spirited ride cheered on by friends and family. Vet Pro saw Dan Watt on the top step of the podium, but Mark Cahill and Scott Kinakin swapped positions with Cahill taking second on Sunday.
CVH is enjoying his GasGas EC300. Van Hove finished on the E3 podium both days.
There was much more than just the pros racing at the Crowsnest Enduro. Six amateur classes saw many close battles as racers looked to take home a western championship in their respective classes. The ‘A’ class racers all stayed on the same time schedule as the pros, completing three full laps. Though they didn’t do the pro only section of the extreme test, it was still a grueling two days of racing in Alberta. Mike Opper won both days in Blairmore, but it wasn’t enough to take home the championship. Mike Laycraft went 4-2 over the weekend after going 1-1 in BC which together gave him enough points to take the Western ‘A’ Class Championship. Also of note in the A class was Victoria Hett, who finished just outside the top 10 going 11-13 in Alberta. Hett continues to tough it out in the ‘A’ class and posted times competitive with the guys and well ahead of the rest of the women competing in the women’s class.
Mike Laycraft won the A class western championship on his Husaberg disguised KTM200XC.
Victoria Hett continues to mix it up with the guys. Hett went 11-13 in the A class.
The ‘B’ class saw Ben Riviere, Matt Coonfer and Jonathan Arduedas all swapping positions on the podium. Rivere went 1-3, Arduedas, who came all the way from Costa Rica went 3-1 and Coonfer was steady with a 2-2. Coonfer’s 2-2 was enough to give him the western ‘B’ class championship and now he’s hoping to go back east to add a national championship to his trophy collection.
Matt Coonfer piloted his GasGas EC250 to a 'B' class championship.
Jonathan Arduedas came all the way from Costa Rica to contest the Canadian Enduro Championships. He struggled with consistency, but managed to nail down a win in the B class at Round 4.
In the vet class Howard Lawrence took the championship thanks to 1-2 finishes over the weekend. In super vet, Andrew Christiansen won both days on his GasGas EC300 to take home the championship. Christiansen was actually tied with Craig Murray on points, but had a faster overall time to take the championship.
Chantelle Bykerk won the Womens' class western championship.
The women’s class saw Chantelle Bykerk finally take the top step of the podium not once, but twice. It’s taken Bykerk three years to finally get a win, but now that she has, it looks like she’ll be a regular contender for the top step of the podium back east too. Bykerk’s wins gave her enough points to take the western class championship ahead of Lexi Pechout and Heather Wall.
Jason Schrage was not happy playing second fiddle to Prochnau out west and will be working hard to find some extra speed before mid-September.
With the trophies, prize money and western championships handed out, there was nothing left to do but celebrate and look forward to the eastern rounds in September. The entire crew of volunteers at the Crowsnest enduro should all be very proud of the event they put together. If ever there was an event that truly showcased Canadian terrain and riding talent, this is it. The course, venue, and everything else was fantastic and I know I’m already itching to get back there! Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more race reports from the FVDRA 24 hour marathon, Xtinction and AMA Endurocross series!
Geoff Nelson, Bobby Prochnau and Jason Schrage. The three fastest enduro racers in Canada.