Bringing both dread and delight to mountain biking enthusiasts, the sixth annual Merritt Crown endurance race took place on Saturday (June 17), with over 150 racers taking part.

The Merritt Crown began in 2017 as a celebration of Canada’s sesquicentennial anniversary and a venue to promote tourism in the area, and was organized until this year by father and son duo Darch and James Oborne. This year, the two local co-founders handed over the reigns to a new organizer, enjoying the iconic Merritt race they built.

The race’s new organizer, an event management company specializing in mountain biking races, told the Herald the transition has been collaborative. 

“They helped keep me updated and keep all the basics of the race, so that the integrity would be consistent with past events, and then from there I pretty much did the planning and the organizing, and it went awesome,” said Kara Delwo, owner of Heads or Trails.

The Merritt Crown consists of three options for races, including the Full Crown, a 120 kilometre endurance trail race with three kilometres of elevation change and a 12 hour time limit. Accompanying the Full Crown is the Tiara, with half the distance to go. Participants can also partner up with one or three riders to take on either race option as a relay style race. The race is often described as a brutal but rewarding mix of endurance and navigation, testing even the most experience mountain bikers. This year, 150 racers took part, with 75 taking part in the full race, 55 in the half, and 20 for the relay. 

“I would love to keep the integrity of the race the way that they built it, but one of the things that I focus on with Heads or Trails is creating the event side of things, pre-race and post-race, creating a bit of an event village vibe. I would love to encourage that and grow that, and encourage people to stay for a couple of days and camp,” added Delwo.

A number of sponsors, including local and international businesses such as Breathebikes and RACE FACE, donated prizes and funds to make the popular event come to fruition. In the past, all the proceeds from the race have gone to non-profit organizations and causes in the Nicola Valley, and while that remains the case, organizers said part of the proceeds now must go towards management costs to ensure the race remains sustainable and welcomes racers for years to come. This year, the Merritt Crown will donate thousands to the Merritt Mountain Bike Association and Nicola Valley Search and Rescue, how volunteered to provide fist aid at the event.

Multiple local racers took part in this year’s Merritt Crown, including Andrew Nielsen, who has now been involved with the event in some capacity for five years. While balancing a young family and busy career with racing keeps Nielsen away from the trails at times, he was able to take on the Full Crown this year. He trained for months leading up to the race, often with his young son, Walter, in a shotgun seat on his bike. 

“You have to pay attention to your nutrition, fitness, and your bike, what tires you’re gonna run, what pressure you’re going to put the suspension at and the tires at, all of that stuff,” Nielsen told the Herald.

“It’s more than just kind of going out for a bike ride, there’s a lot of planning, even down to how much water you’re going to carry. That adds weight to your bike, too, and ultimately makes it harder, but you definitely don’t want to run short.” 

Nielsen’s meticulous training and planning led him to a strong 8:54:19 finish time, more than three hours under the time limit, landing him at 20th place of 51 race finishers. Greg Taylor of Coldstream took home the Full Crown for the men’s category with a 6:36:07 finish time, while Sonya Looney of Squamish was Full Crown ‘Queen’ with her 8:01:36 time. 

Describing the event as an adventure rather than a race, Nielsen said the experience taught him plenty of lessons. From brutal crashes and bent rims, to a bear cutting across the trail just metres in front of him, the excitement made each of the 120 kilometres more interesting than the last. 

At the finish line, Nielsen and other racers are welcome by a meal, drink, and a social gathering to celebrate their accomplishments. The ‘race village’ includes event tens, a podium where awards and prizes are presented, and a nearby area for camping. Nielsen noted the Nicola Valley is home to a supportive mountain biking community, and the Merritt Crown event supports the community by drawing people in to ride, meaning trails are always improving. 

For more information on the Merritt Crown, including full results, visit www.headsortrails.ca.

To learn more about the Merritt Mountain Bike Association and its work to promote mountain biking in the Nicola Valley, visit www.facebook.com/bikemerritt.