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New race uses GPS to follow trail riders
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GPS devices supplied by Flaik will track riders' movements throughout the six-hour race and calculate champions based on total distance.

HIGH tech will meet high adrenaline on the slopes of North Vancouver's Mount Fromme Saturday, Aug. 27 for the inaugural running of the North Shore Overlord GPS Mountain Bike Race.

In what event organizers are calling a world first, riders in teams of two or four will tackle Fromme's notoriously arduous yet awesome trails in whatever order they like with GPS tracking devices adding up every kilometre to decide a winner based on total distance travelled in six hours of riding.

"The goal is to keep these guys rolling and to see just how far people can go in six hours on Mount Fromme, and I think people are going to be really, really impressed with the mileage," said Jeff Linton, the Lynn Valley resident who dreamed up the idea for the race. "The athleticism of some of these North Shore athletes is really going to boggle some people's minds."

Linton, a former sales and marketing rep for a coffee company, decided to follow through on his GPS dream after he was laid off last year.

"I basically had this vision for a race that had never been held before," he said. "(It) seemed so elementary that I just imagined that someone else was going to do it first, and so I set out to host the first one."

The basic idea for the race is that teams will be given six hours to ride as many of the event's 32 official trails on Mount Fromme as they can and the team with the most total distance at the end of the day, as determined by GPS tracking devices, will be declared

the winner. Sub-prizes for feats such as highest top speed, fastest Super D descent and fastest Warden Hill Climb will also be awarded.

The catch is that each team must stay together at all times and can only race each trail once except for a few designated climbing trails. It'll be a lot different from a regular Point A to Point B race, said Linton.

"It's going to be a lot longer, for one, and as such you can come in with a plan but unless you've been doing six hour days on Mount Fromme it's kind of hard to figure out what is the best course of action," he said. "You also have to consider that you are part of a team. A lot of racing is just you on your own. I've intended this race to promote teamwork and enjoyment of riding. The few races that I have actually competed in I've felt very alone. . . . (In the Overlord) you have to be sensitive to your partner's needs and also feed off of each other."

Australian-founded company Flaik is supplying the GPS and computer technology to track the athletes and display updated results every 50 seconds. The technology has been used for skiing events and some mountain bike races but never for an event where riders are free to choose their own paths, said Linton. This week he and his team have been up on Fromme getting the kinks out of the tracking and computing technology.

"There's good reason that you test technology, you don't just trust it blindly," he said with a laugh. "We want the data to be accurate, for one, but we also want it to be timely. There are a lot of automatic functions that the computer is taking care of and that in particular is what we're testing."

Linton first looked at Squamish and then Whistler as potential host sites before finding the ideal spot much closer to home.

"Eventually I looked right out my front window and there's Mount Fromme and it has truly some of the most glorious mountain biking anywhere in the whole world and we get to host a race on it," he said. "A race this big needs a lot of space. . . . Basically we're looking for a trail network that looks kind of like a plate of spaghetti, which is what you see on Mount Fromme."

With Fromme as the venue comes the caveat that all riders in the event need to be experts and each team needs to have at least one member with intimate knowledge of the mountain's maze of highly technical trails.

"We're talking definitely a North Shore expert," said Linton. "The level of fitness is one thing. The entire race is self-propelled, it's six hours so you definitely need to have a great level of fitness if you plan to compete for the entire day. The trails are largely black diamond trails which are, by definition, for experts only."

Though speed will be key, the racers will be in control all day, said Linton, adding that all of the trail designations will be obeyed as usual and all trails will remain open to the public throughout the race.

"Nothing out of the ordinary, everything is as safe as usual," he said. "I also believe that due to the concept of the race, because it is for six hours, people are going to be riding very conservatively. There's nothing that will stop you in your tracks faster than riding recklessly on Fromme. . . . They are going to be riding very, very carefully. You've got to last. My vision and my goal is that everyone would finish the day safe and well."

Several local businesses will be on hand with $10,000-worth of donated prizes and pampering for the riders and an after party for participants and volunteers is scheduled for Saturday evening at Lynn Valley recreation centre. Racing will run from approximately 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with a parade down Mountain Highway - escorted by the RCMP - to follow.

Linton said he's still hunting for more expert riders to join the race as well as volunteers to help out on race day. Entry is $250 for a team of two or $500 for a corporate team of four.

For more information on signing up or to track the riders live on race day visit the website www.northshoreoverlord.com.

aprest@nsnews.com