June 17, 2011 (Banff, AB) - With the threat of a storm brewing overhead, the fourth annual Banff Bike Festival got underway at 4pm on Thursday with the Cascade Plaza Prologue amidst the majestic Rocky Mountains in Banff National Park in Alberta. If the 1.5km scenic uphill time trial was any indication of things to come, riders and spectators were in for a treat.
The Prologue course hugged a steep cliff with the Bow River Falls tumbling far below and the majestic Fairmont Banff Springs hotel towering high above on the opposite bank. The climb started out fairly friendly, then turned nasty after Surprise Corner for the final kick to the finish.
"You can almost coast the first bit but then have to give it all you've got near the end," commented Dave Vukets from Trek Red Truck pb Mosaic Homes. "Although the race is too short to have much of an affect on the overall, it's a good warm-up for the events to follow."
The start was just a few blocks from downtown Banff and the organizing crew from Banff Lake Louise Tourism was ready and waiting as 280 riders began to file in for the start of the Prologue. A light drizzle fell from the skies as the first of the Category 5 to Cat 3 men began their assault. The race officials were set up with a scale to make sure there were no bikes under the 6.8kg legal weight. This left a few weight weenies scrambling to strap anything they could find to get their bikes legal.
In the end, this eclectic group of hearty veterans, aspiring pros and strong juniors put in some amazing times. The Cat 5 winner was Colin Croston (Rundell Mountain CC) in a time of 2:50. Cat 4 winner was Croston's Rundell teammate Robin Clegg in a time of 3:03.7, and your Cat 3 Prologue champion was Neal Baker (Top Gear ROAD) in a time of 3:00.7.
At 4:40pm it was the Elite Women's turn for some thigh burning pain of joy. With the absence of last year's Prologue and overall winner, Tara Whitten, it was a race for the taking for one of the 50 registered riders. Once the dust had settled, it was Canadian cyclo-cross phenom, Pepper Harlton (Team Alberta) who won in a time of 3:07.9. "I knew the course from last year, it had the right incline and it was a perfect 3-minute burn," commented Harlton. "It's the perfect way to work the bugs out heading into tomorrow's road race." Laura Brown from Local Ride / Dr. Vie Superfoods+ came second with a time of 3:12:6 and Katy Curtis (Team Alberta) rounded out the third spot on the podium with a time of 3:22:60.
The Elite Men came to the start as the final category to test their legs. Also missing from the field was last year's overall men's winner, Ian McKissick, which meant that 2011 would crown a new BikeFest champion for the men. This evening the stage was set for Bailey McKnight (Trek Red Truck p/b Mosaic Homes) as he destroyed the 1.5km Prologue in 2:31:3 setting a new course record by almost five seconds. Reigning Elite Men's National champ, Will Routley (Team SpiderTech p/b C10) came second in with a time of 2:34 while last year's Prologue winner, Justin Kerr (H&R Block), earned the final podium spot with a time of 2:35.
"Now that I have raced the course for the first time, I feel I could have gone harder at the start," said Routley. "This race is a good tune-up for upcoming Road Nationals, and I feel I have a good shot to win the overall here at Banff. But being without teammates, I will need to ride smart."
There will be no rest for the wicked as tomorrow's 81km Lake Louise Road Race starts at 9:30 am about 40 minutes outside of town.
You can find complete information on the Banff National Park Bike Fest at http://www.banfflakelouise.com/events-and-festivals/festivals/bike-fest
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