Sarah Leishman had been running second in Penticton all day on June 7.
She was poised to strike whenever an opportunity came up, and she did just that, riding to a win at the Penticton Enduro as she continues to make progress on the comeback trail. Leishman, a Juliana-SRAM Pro Team member, posted a time of 28 minutes and 37 seconds (28:37) to hold off Amy Pryse-Phillips by 48 seconds.
Leishman's win came at the expense of another Whistlerite, as Leonie Picton had won four of the first five stages and was strong heading into the last one before suffering a flat tire and dropping all the way down to eighth.
Leishman missed the bulk of the 2014 campaign with injuries and is still trying to build herself up into the rider she'd like to be — and though she got the gold, she wasn't entirely pleased with her performance.
"I just tried to have a clean day. I don't know if my runs were perfect. There's still a lot of room for improvement," she said.
It was a late decision for Leishman to go out and enter the race, but she felt the Penticton offerings would be a worthy litmus test to measure where she is in her recovery.
"It wasn't really about each stage for me out there," she said. "It was (about) training those intervals and riding consistently without having any incidents. I had planned to be really conservative all day as an experiment for training. (I wanted) to see how my body would do in that kind of heat and see how my injuries would fare on that kind of a course.
"Overall, it was totally fine. Nothing was all that stellar, but everything was pretty OK. It's another good point to keep building from."
On a day when temperatures climbed into the mid-30s, Leishman explained she felt it valuable to progress from one stage to the next in order to minimize her intervals and wrap up the race before the most intense heat of the day.
"It took me just under three and a half hours, but it took the rest of the field a little bit longer," she said. "I was really focused on putting in that kind of intensity that we experience at the Enduro World Series level, so I actually didn't hang out with many people because as soon as I finished a stage, I would move on."
Leishman treated the Penticton race as a "three-day training camp" as she has her plate full with filming for Crankworx's Dirt Diaries and a race she's had circled almost immediately after the dates were set — the Hood River Enduro as part of the Oregon Enduro Series on June 20 and 21. She raced last year when she was relatively new to enduro, finishing just off the podium in a challenging race, and wanted to test herself again this time around.
"That was one of the big events on my calendar when we planned for the season," she said. "I thought 'Next year, I want to come back fitter and stronger and having learned from this experience.'"
While there have been delays and setbacks in the recovery process, Leishman said she has gained a new gratitude for the sport and those who support her within it.
"I'm getting stronger every day. It's a lot of work. It's been slower than I had expected," she said. "It's given me an appreciation for riding my bike and it's made racing way more fun because I feel lucky to be racing.
"It's a drag on one hand because I'm not riding as well as I'd like to be. It's also awesome because it's just a different perspective."