Kieran Lumb perhaps didn't feel quite as primed to emerge victorious at the Red Bull 400 on July 14 as he did when he won two years ago.
But the 19-year-old still managed to pull off the win, dashing up the Whistler Olympic Park ski jump in three minutes and 54 seconds (3:54) in the men's final, six seconds behind his course-record pace set the last time the event was held in 2016.
"Last time, I felt like I was physically stronger but over the past few years, I felt that I developed my aerobic strength. My actual muscular strength is not quite as strong doing hills because I've been focused more on track," he said. "It was kind of a different race for me this year."
Lumb was pushed in the final by Jordan Guenette, who finished just a second back. Whistler's Marian Trager was 10 seconds off the pace in third.
"It was pretty close. It was cool that it was such a close race and it's fun when it's that close and competitive and everyone's really racing each other," Lumb said. "Racing is all about excitement and it's great for people watching this to have a tight finish."
Lumb credited his strategy for his success, as it ensured he qualified for the final but didn't burn himself out in the process. He was especially glad it worked when Guenette tried to hunt him down in the final section of the course.
"I tried to be a bit conservative in the heat knowing that there was a good chance I would make it to the final," he said. "I saved a little bit more energy and then between the heats and the final, I just tried to relax, stay out of the sun. I think that really helped me.
"I felt like going into this race, I was going to make sure I had enough in the tank for that last 100 metres or so because I felt like that's where the race would be won or lost."
With the win, Lumb advances to the Red Bull 400 World Championship in Austria on Aug. 25. This is the first time the local race has qualified a winner, as last year's event was cancelled because of poor air quality due to nearby forest fires.
"I'm really grateful for opportunities like this," Lumb said. "(Training will include) probably more hills, with a few more key specific workouts on hills and maybe some stuff on the road bike as well, that will help my prep."
While Lumb came in as one of the favourites to win on the men's side, the same was unlikely to be said of women's winner Robyn Mildren, his teammate with the Vancouver Thunderbirds Track and Field Club.
Mildren admittedly flew under the radar, finishing behind some of the bigger names as the sixth-fastest woman in qualifying. She put on the afterburners in the final, though, besting runner-up Brooke Spence by seven seconds and defending champion Rachel McBride by 16 seconds.
"I think it's hard to be the defending champion. You kind of have a target on your back," Mildren said. "It was easier for me coming in and nobody really knowing who I was."
While others may not have been keeping an eye on her, Mildren said she came to Whistler expecting to leave with hardware.
"I actually wanted to win, and I expected to win, and I visualized winning," she said. "I don't think anybody knew me going in, so I saw that as an advantage. I thought I had a good chance at it."
While the women's final wasn't quite as neck-and-neck at the end, Mildren credited her fellow finalists with pushing her.
"I was really happy with the competition. I felt like Brooke Spence gave it everything and she's a really good hill climber, a real mountain goat. Rachel McBride also gave it everything and ran a really good race, so I'm just happy that we all put it out there," she said.
The win capped a busy week for Mildren, who had two prior events in Ontario before dashing home to B.C. for the Red Bull 400.
"I basically didn't really prepare for this event at all because track nationals was a week ago and I actually ran a (five-kilometre) road race two days ago," she said. "I basically got in one hill session to prepare for this, so I think I was just relying on grit."
By winning her category in the road race, Mildren had earned her weight in beer, but since she had to catch a flight the next day to race here in Whistler, unfortunately collected on very little of her prize.
Still, she earned the all-expenses-paid trip to Austria, and Mildren will go in looking for a win.
"I'm just really excited about the trip. I'm going to do some Grouse Grinds to prepare, and maybe a bit of biking as well, maybe take a bit of time off my normal track training," she said.
All in all, the event saw 435 individual racers and 20 four-person relay teams climb up the slopes.
In the relay category, 93-year-old Owen Owens—a Peak to Valley Race veteran—teamed up with 2010 Olympic ski-cross champion Ashleigh McIvor-DeMerit, her husband, former Vancouver Whitecaps captain Jay DeMerit, and Vancouver Running Company owner Rob Smith. The team finished seventh overall.
Owens completed the first leg, a flatter portion of the course, before handing off to McIvor-DeMerit.
"It's the first time I've run in years and years," Owens said. "Unfortunately, I was kind of slow for my partners who were picking up the baton, but I enjoyed it."
Owens acknowledged it was a little different from his usual race of choice, but still enjoyed himself.
"I can enjoy the Peak to Valley because gravity does all the work. Unfortunately, here, you've got to resist gravity," he said.
Full results are available online at racedaytiming.ca.