Rugged gravel keeps Explorer XLT racers on their toes

By 26 September 20222022 Race Reports

The Gravel Explorer LT racers departed after the first stage, but Gravel Explorer XLT still had 4 days of epic adventurous routes waiting. 

Both the Open Men and Open Women’s fields started to see separations in the overall GC over 79 km of Summerland’s most adventurous gravel.

L’Esperance takes time on podium favorites

With a nail-biting sprint finish fresh in the minds of Rob Britton and Andrew L’Esperance, the open men started Maxxis Stage 2 raring to go. It was all uphill until kilometre 24, so fireworks were expected. Would Rob Britton have his revenge? Would Cory Wallace claw back some time from his 3rd place result on Stage 1? 

The race started not far from the historic Kettle Valley Steam Railway Station, one of the few remaining active steam trains in the world.

Not long from the gun, a train of a different kind launched from the front of the pack in the Open Men’s category as L’Esperance, Britton, and Wallace powered themselves down the smooth gravel of Summerland’s scenic KVR trail. 

The first 24 kilometres of the stage were entirely uphill, but it wasn’t until kilometre 12 that the parcours really turned skywards. The rough, rocky Crump Climb awaited as the trio veered off the smooth gravel of the KVR.

The climbing continued without respite for another 12 kilometres before a short-lived descent. It was right back to classic rough-and-tumble gravel climbing towards the high point of the day. 

L’Esperance began to turn the screws, and by the time the race reached the main body of the final climb past Munro Lake, a gap of roughly 5 minutes separated leading L’Esperance from Britton, who was another 5 minutes ahead of last year’s XLT winner, Cory Wallace. 

Those gaps would remain for the rest of the stage, as L’Esperance, Britton, and Wallace rolled across the line 1st, 2nd, and 3rd with 5 minutes separating each position. 

Is Britton feeling the effects of the BC Bike Race the week prior? Will Wallace find his form and challenge for a stage win? Only time will tell as the Gravel Explorer XLT continues. 

Frazier takes firm hold of first in the women’s race

Over on the Open Women’s side of the Gravel Explorer XLT, solo attacks were the name of the game. Cynthia Frazier put her stamp on the race, tallying up a significant time gap over the 1,400 metres of climbing. 

Frazier’s endurance prowess shone through in some of the South Okanagan’s finest gravel. Big climbs meant big gains for her as she finished what she calls just another “small loop” of 78 kilometres during Maxxis Stage 2.

Last year’s champion, Amity Rockwell may have been feeling the fatigue of the BC Bike Race in her legs, as she rolled across the line a little over an hour behind Frazier. 

Rachel Wills of Velocio//Exploro rounded out the podium in 3rd during a picturesque Okanagan autumn day. 

The spirit of gravel adventure is alive and well

Tackling five days of epic gravel routes in the South Okanagan is not something the average person chooses to tackle, but Gravel Explorer participants are not your average people. These people are the kind that relish the challenge of riding a gravel bike across hundreds of kilometres of Okanagan’s finest gravel. 

The adventure through the first two stages hasn’t been easy, but it was designed that way. Gravel Course Director, Jessy Hoffman, bucked the trend of a Queen’s stage – instead the Gravel Explorer XLT started off with a bang, featuring two long days right out of the gate. 

Riders are getting a big taste of everything the South Okanagan has to offer, not only with the routes, but the weather as well. The start of autumn has seen daytime highs in the low 20s through the first two stages, but Stage 3 will see the mercury rise. 

The forecasted high for tomorrow’s Rapha Stage 3 tops 28 degrees celsius at the start/finish in Okanagan Falls. A shorter day is on tap, with a distance of 69 kilometres awaiting. There aren’t many flat gravel routes in the Okanagan, and Stage 3 is no exception as racers will clock over 1,440 metres of ascent almost entirely in the first half. 

Riders best rest and prepare – there are still three days of Okanagan’s best gravel left to experience during the Gravel Explorer XLT.