Evan Mant's first year as an enduro rider, by all metrics, went better than he could have expected.
When you're a national champion, that's what happens.
The North Vancouver product, who has lived and worked in Whistler the past two summers, claimed the under-21 title in the first-ever Canadian National Enduro Championships series. The series was made up of races in Rossland, Mont-Ste. Anne, Revelstoke and Sun Peaks, often doubling with B.C. Enduro Series competition.
"It means a lot. I came into the season hoping I might end up top-three in B.C. and taking the overall for the Canadian series was pretty crazy. It was my first season racing and it was totally unreal," he said.
Mant started the B.C. Enduro season strong with a win on familiar terrain in North Vancouver, but was truly challenged as the season went on when he was forced to tackle some new ground. After being forced to learn how best to ride, he finished the season strong with wins at the final two races to cement the title.
"I had a lot of confidence going into the next few races. I didn't do quite as well as that in the middle of the season," he said. "I was learning how to pre-ride stages, a bunch of the aspects of racing you've got to learn and then I put it all together for the last couple."
Mant has a cross-country background, and though he certainly enjoys it, was glad he made the decision to try out enduro this year and enjoy a little more success than he had previously.
"It's not like I've been really competitive in XC and I've never raced downhill, so it was just kind of natural. I just wanted to try it out, see how I did," Mant said. "I'll definitely race enduro next year and I'll again probably focus on it, but I'll do some more XC races, probably.
"I like XC. It's more intense than enduro. Enduro is pretty relaxed."
Mant enjoyed the Fraser Valley race at Vedder Mountain and the Revelstoke races in particular, but appreciated the opportunity to travel and shred at some places new to him.
"I'm always super excited to ride in new places, coming from North Van... the riding throughout B.C. is incredible," he said. "(At Vedder and in Revelstoke), the terrain is so fast and steep, it's awesome."
Whistler resident Cesar Gairin also enjoyed a strong year, winning the 30-to-39 division after taking three victories. The Spaniard said it's extra special to claim the crown in arguably the best spot on the globe for mountain biking.
"For me, I'm very happy for the title... I'm originally from Spain and from many years ago, I have it in my mind that the trails in Canada are the greatest in the world for riding bikes," he said. "Living in British Columbia, there are many good riders... To get the title, it's living the dream."
Like Mant, Gairin particularly enjoyed the chance to try out some new places, especially those in the eastern part of the province. He would always go at least a day in advance to prepare and make his best challenge for the title.
"The first thing for me is travelling around B.C. to try different trails," he said. "The best was Revelstoke, and Rossland had very nice trails over there, nice communities.
"They were very nice trails in good condition."
Gairin added while he's overjoyed to capture the championship, the camaraderie he gained being on the tour is its own reward.
"It's not all about the title," he said. "It's meeting new people because here, the races are all riding with friends. It's a competition but the ambiance is very social."
Gairin made his decision to come to Whistler just over four years ago after living in the north of Spain near the Pyrenees. He feels his riding has improved dramatically with many more challenges in the resort and nearby.
"I love riding in Whistler, mainly because the trails are very technical trails. I like to ride fast and like to push my limits, and I improved my skills a lot in the past four years," he said. "You can find different terrain with roots and rocks and rockfaces.
"In Spain, you can find some, but not like this... We have nice alpine trails, but the bike community is very small."
Other Whistler residents also performed well on the CNEC stage, with Kate Whitley winning the open women's division and Jennifer McTavish capturing the under-21 title, Shane Gayton taking second in the pro men's overall, Neve Abraham finishing third in the men's 13-to-15 division and Leonie Picton nabbing third in the pro women's event.
As for the B.C. Enduro Series West championship, Mant won the U21 division followed by Felix Abraham, while Neve Abraham was third in the 13-to-15 division. Gairin captured the men's 30-to-39 gauntlet as did Picton in the open women's division, while McTavish and Keeley Wentzel placed first and second in the women's U21 challenge. McTavish also captured the East championship with a pair of wins.