Sore bodies and spent bikes enjoyed the fifth and final stage of the Gravel Explorer XLT, starting and finishing near the historic Kettle Valley Steam Train in Summerland.
A classic day to finish a classic race
3T Stage 5 saw riders tackle a local favourite gravel loop in the hills above Summerland’s wine country. After 4 days of exploring the best diverse gravel the South Okanagan has to offer, intrepid racers were treated with some fast, fun and classic gravel terrain.
The route started with a mellow roll out on the KVR, but it wasn’t long before those mellow grades were replaced with steeper segments of pavement, followed by a quick transition to gravel on the old Prinecton Summerland Highway.
This classic gravel road showcased some stunning views down the valley, lit up with golden and yellow leaves. The gravel rolled, dipped, and dived along, eliciting smiles galore on the rollercoaster terrain.
After climbing to the highpoint of the day, a blazing fast 42 kilometres to the finish awaited, first with a steep descent down to the KVR, then with minor downhill grades winding along Trout Creek.
At the finish line of the Gravel Explorer XLT it was all big smiles after big days experiencing big gravel. Gravel Explorers unite!
Cynthia Frazier completes the sweep
It was clear that Cynthia Frazier came to race, as she capped off her Gravel Explorer XLT with another victory, making it a clean sweep for stage wins.
Amity Rockwell wasn’t far behind, and remained in high spirits, rolling across the line in second place to cheers from the crowd.
Rachel Wills finished what she called “the best 5 days of gravel ever” for third place, mirroring the final overall GC standings of Frazier in first, Rockwell in second, and Wills in third.
After 5 days of racing across an epic South Okanagan route, the entire Open Women’s field is ready for a well-deserved rest, but none more ready than Amity Rockwell. She was one of the few brave souls to tackle the BCBR MTB Race and Gravel Explorer XLT back-to-back, completing 12 stages of racing in just 14 days.
Britton nabs stage victory, L’Esperance takes the overall
The duo of Andrew L’Esperance and Rob Britton spent much of the day on the front of the race again, with Cory Wallace not far behind.
“Once those guys start working together, it’s game over for me,” Wallace said about the day.
Britton’s road experience played in his favour to take a sprint finish victory over L’Esperance, but it wasn’t enough to unseat the overall standings.
“Rob just has too much experience on the road for me to get him in a sprint like that,” L’Esperance said.
The overall GC in the Men’s race ended with L’Esperance on the top step, Britton in second, and Wallace in third.
The spirit of gravel starts with this community
Although the racing at the front was fast and furious, the best experiences at the Gravel Explorer XLT happened regardless of speed. From first to last, and every rider in between, the spirit of adventuring on gravel – riding anywhere a gravel bike can go in the South Okanagan – was alive and well.
After 5 days of the Gravel Explorer XLT, racers covered 368 kilometres of some of the most diverse, epic, adventurous gravel the South Okanagan has on tap. Across those 368 kilometres, racers climbed their bikes 7,378 metres up, nearing the equivalent of Mount Everest!
During racing kilometres, riders climbed mountainous gravel roads, hike-a-biked through rugged connectors, railed some of the fastest gravel descents around, had near-misses with livestock, and made some new friendships, all while experiencing the spirit of gravel at the Gravel Explorer XLT.
“Racing here is so fun… the community around this event is unmatched!” Corey Wallis, not to be confused with the other Cory Wallace, said.
Carolyn Russel, winner of the 40+ Women’s category, agreed. “The comraderie is definitely the best part. Everybody here is just so nice and you end up making new friends along the way.”
Even the pros enjoy the atmosphere of an event like this. “The Gravel Explorer is a great way to cap off a long season. It’s a laid back atmosphere – everybody is here just to have a good time,” Cory Wallace said shortly after crossing the finish line.
Exploratory Gravel Explorer route gets rave reviews
The Gravel Explorer was designed to showcase a sampling of everything the Okanagan has to offer, and after a challenging, rough-and-tumble Stage 1 and 2, racers were treated to some smooth gravel classics in Stages 3, 4 and 5.
“There were a couple days that suited the mountain bikers, and a couple days that suited the roadies… Something for everyone out there!” Cory Wallace said when asked about the diversity of the route.
Peter Loewen, lover of the technical terrain, couldn’t stop raving about all the riding, technical or not. “I like the technical stuff, so the first two days were favourites… but the last day was so fast and fun, it might be the highlight. It was all so good!”
The route even included some hidden gems that were new to even some of the most experienced locals.
“I’m originally from Enderby, so I know the area quite well, or at least I thought I did!” Corey Wallis told us. “I couldn’t believe the routes we rode over the past five days. I didn’t know there was so many different amazing gravel routes here!”
The gravel vibe
“I couldn’t do the BCBR Mountain Bike Race this year, but I really wanted to be a part of the BCBR vibe, so that’s how I found myself here.” Andrew L’Esperance said of why he decided to tackle 5 days of epic gravel exploring.
It’s true: there is a certain vibe around an event like this. Whether it’s the experience of exploring new routes never before touched by more than a few gravel racers, the experience of ripping an amazing Okanagan gravel descent, or even just the experience of cracking a beer around your fellow gravel compatriots at the finish line, regailing the day that was, one thing is certain: the Gravel Explorer XLT isn’t a secret anymore.
The word is out: epic gravel racing in the South Okanagan awaits anyone bold enough to enter!
Missed out on 2022? Stay tuned for details on the 2023 Gravel Explorer, coming soon…