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Merritt Crown adapts for September start date

B.C. marathon mountain bike race adds team-relay to solo race

Merritt Crown 2020 Photo by: Merritt Crown.

As racing slowly returns to Canadian trails, Merritt Crown is looking forward to running its second edition in B.C.’s Nicola Valley this September. This year, there are two new race options: a relay and a shorter 50 km track.

Like many event organizers, Darch Oborne had to postpone his singletrack challenge from its original June 20 start date. The event has adapted its race to the new health guidelines and is confident it can provide a safe race environment. Now, the second Queen and King of the Crown will be coronated on September 26, 2020.

Merritt Crown 2020
Dylan Schuetze, Adrian Bostock and Allan Prazsky, leading the pack up to the first summit at the 2019 Merritt Crown.
Merritt Crown: New distance options open the race to everyone

New improvements were already in the works for the second annual Merritt Crown, even before its postponement. To make the 120 km race more family-friendly, Oborne is adding two new race options to the 2020 event.

A 2-4 person team relay allows friends or families to join together to tackle the regal race, breaking it down into more approachable segments.

Similarly, a 50 km “short track” option will give prospective full-distance racers an opportunity to sample Merritt singletrack, without committing to the full distance.

RELATED: First King and Queen of the Merritt Crown ascent 3,200 m to claim their thrones

The original 120-km Merritt Crown challenge remains. To date, fewer than 25 riders have completed the epic route. With its 3,300m of vertical elevation gain, covering four riding areas, it is a true challenge to finish under the 12-hour cutoff time.

All three events benefit from the organizing team’s experience running the inaugural event. 2020 sees improved course markings at key intersections along the self-guided route. The course ranges across a triple-digit distance, spanning all four of Merritt’s major trail networks. Racers are still required to carry a GPS device loaded with the map to navigate the route. To keep everyone on track with nutrition, there will be three aid stations along the course, each run by volunteers.

If you’re looking for motivation to get back in a riding routine, Merritt Crown could be the carrot you need. You’ll want the time to train. The XC marathon mountain bike race is an epic challenge. To help keep the motivation levels high, there’s now a Merritt Crown Strava club as well as the event’s Facebook page.

Merritt Crown 2020
Amanda Racher on her way to earning her Queen of the Crown title in 2019.
About the Merritt Crown

The Merritt Crown made its debut in 2019, with just the single 120-km race option.

“For Canada’s 150th birthday, I wanted to create something that celebrated our country’s landscape and freedom.” Those are the words of Darch Oborne, creator of The Merritt Crown.

The route connects the town’s four distinct riding areas into one epic route. Coutlee Plateau, Iron Mountain, Lundbom and Swakum are all connected, tracing a shape similar to a crown through the hills surrounding Merritt.

Merritt itself is a small town situated just hours away from the Greater Vancouver area. While it’s just a three-hour drive away, the riding couldn’t be more different from the wet, west coast trails Vancouver is known for. Fast, flowing singletrack is mixed in with the more typical B.C. technical trails, all winding through the rolling mountains that surround Merritt on all sides.

The race itself is a fundraiser, supporting the local trail network. Oborne, the 75-year-old founder of the Merritt Crown, helped build 15 of those trails and helps teach trail building around town. After starting mountain biking in his 50’s, Oborne has become a vocal advocate for cycling in the community and volunteer.

Racers have 12 hours to complete the full 120-km route to be crowned an official Merritt Crown finisher.

2019 Merritt Crown

Last year’s inaugural Merritt Crown saw 40 riders sign up for this epic challenge. Anne St. Clair of North Vancouver and Dave Cleveland of Penticton ascended to their thrones as the first Queen and King of the Crown.

Cleaveland set a high bar for the course record, finishing in 8 hours 50 minutes. The challengers to the throne were not far behind, though. Coldstream, B.C.’s Gret Taylor finished 13 minutes back, with Vernon’s Dylan Schuetze crossing the line another 22 minutes later.

Anne St. Clair’s winning margin was much tighter. After racing through Merritt’s four trail networks for 120 km, the North Van. rider was just three minutes ahead of Amanda Racher of Salmon Arm, B.C. The winning time? 11 hours 39 minutes.

In a testament to the difficulty of Oborne’s challenge, only 21 of the 40 starters finished the inaugural Merritt Crown under the 12-hour time limit. Each of those successful riders earned their own commemorative crown recognizing the achievement.

Additional safety measures

Postponing from June to September 26 gives Oborne and the organizers more time to ensure the safety of racers, volunteers and the community of Merritt. Start times will be staggered for different distances. There will be temperature checks at registration, and volunteers will be provided with PPE. Organizers continue to monitor the health situation and will adjust as necessary.

The long track riders will depart and cycle as a group through town for safety. Each relay rider should be able to complete a 40km-60km mountain bike ride since combined, the team will complete the entire long track. The short track riders will start at 8 AM to avoid interference with the long track riders starting at 7 AM.

The finish line will be at the campsite this year so all riders receive a royal welcome. Sunday will feature group shuttle rides on Merritt’s legendary downhill trails and opportunities to relax at the riverside campsite. After making a donation of $500 to the Merritt Mountain Bike Association with last year’s proceeds, this year’s goal is to raise $1,000 to be put towards the Rails to Trail project.

Registration for the 2020 Merritt Crown is now open.