Martin Maes has had an amazingly consistent 2018 on the Enduro World Series tour, hitting the podium in all five races he entered.
However, it took until the Whistler stop for him to earn his first win of the season. The Belgian, who has eight career second-place finishes and hadn't won since the final race of 2016, put together an incredibly sturdy day at the CamelBak Canadian Open Enduro at Crankworx Whistler on Sunday, Aug. 12. Maes took second in the first three stages before winning Stages 4 and 5—the latter by nearly 20 seconds over the field—to put an exclamation point on the pro men's victory.
"I was super motivated. I wanted to get that win, and I was very excited," he said in the finish corral shortly after completing the monster Stage 5 from Top of the World in 20 minutes, 58.58 seconds (20:58.58). "It's obviously a special event, because it's Crankworx and it's Whistler. It's almost like the World Champs."
Maes credited Stage 4, where he eked out a win, as being his favourite. However, earning the win on the Stage 5 behemoth is a feather in his cap.
"The challenge of Stage 5 is something else. I was looking forward to trying my best and getting to the bottom of a big, long stage," he said. "The main thing is to stay focused all the way down. You have some moments where you might think about something else, but you need to get locked in."
The win allowed Maes, who has hit the podium in all five races he's entered this year, to close the gap in the overall title chase on Australia's Sam Hill, Sunday's runner-up. Hill leads the second-place Maes by 560 points with two races remaining.
"I'll just try hard and keep racing. I'm not thinking too much about the overall," he said.
That said, Hill's lead is a healthy one and it would take a fairly major collapse to cough up the championship.
"The points are looking pretty good at the moment, but we'll focus on the last two races and not lose sight of our goal," Hill said.
Hill, meanwhile, found himself in the second-place spot in Whistler for the second consecutive year. Though the long Stage 5 wasn't exactly up his alley, he still managed to put up the fourth-fastest time and hold off third-place finisher Eddie Masters of New Zealand.
"I'm really satisfied. It was a tough day," Hill said. "I knew going into that last stage that it suited some of the other dudes better than me. I'm pretty happy to come down in second overall."
American Richie Rude, the 2015 and 2016 champion, sat in second going into the final stage, but a flat knocked him from medal contention to a 10th-place finish.
Whistler resident Yoann Barelli, representing France, overcame some difficulties early in the day to finish in a season-best fifth overall for the top local result.
"I'm super happy about the race but I'm not too happy about the result," he said. "I had a meeting with a tree on Stage 1 and then I exploded my wheel on Stage 2.
"At the start of Stage 3, I really wanted to do a comeback, because I was good. I was sixth overall, but after four corners, I went down and had a crash. After Stage 3, I was like, 'OK, Yoann, you have the pace, you're riding well. Just keep it together and stay on your bike.' Then the last stage was perfect."
Barelli received encouragement from the gathered masses, especially in the later stages, as louder hoots and hollers were audible from each section of the course he passed.
"The crowd was amazing. It's so good. You go through the forest and you can hear everybody. It's the best feeling ever," he said.
Defending champion and Whistlerite Jesse Melamed suffered a broken right hand in training that he said will sideline him for about a month, leaving the door open to racing in the season's final two events in Spain and Italy at the end of September.
"My hand is fine, it's my heart that hurts," Melamed said about missing his hometown race.
On the women's side, France's Cecile Ravanel won her 12th race in a row dating back to the second event of 2017, where she took second. Since the start of 2016, Ravanel has won 20 of 22 races, with a pair of runner-up finishes thrown in.
Even with her dominance, Ravanel said it's always a thrill to win in Whistler, which she's now done three years in a row, especially in the greater context of Crankworx.
"It's always special because it's a huge event with a lot of other races," she said.
Ravanel won all five stages to knock off fellow French rider Isabeau Coudurier, who has taken second in each race this season. The champion enjoyed every challenge she was presented.
"Every stage is all good," Ravanel said with a chuckle.
In third was Israel's Noga Korem, who took her second-ever Enduro World Series podium.
"I'm overwhelmed and super excited," Korem said. "Podiuming in Whistler is a dream come true. I couldn't even dream about it. I'm super stoked. I really enjoyed everything. Every stage was really fun."
Korem added it was one of the first races she's enjoyed this season because she loved the trails here.
Korem knocked off Whistler's Andréane Lanthier Nadeau by just seven seconds for a spot on the podium.
In other events, France's Theotim Trabac knocked off Canadian Max McCulloch and New Zealand's Cole Lucas in the U21 men's event, while in the U21 women's event, Great Britain's Ella Conolly bested a pair of Canadians in Lucy Schick and Whistler's Julia Long. In the masters divisions, Spain's Tomi Misser got past France's Karim Amour and American Mike West in the 40-plus men's event while in the 35-plus women's race, Canadian Megan Rose scored the win over fellow Canuck Julie Marshall and New Zealand's Melissa Newell.
In terms of Sunday's conditions, riders said the smoke that blew in from wildfires burning across the province did not have an effect on their riding. Hill even suggested it was beneficial.
"It's good for a long day with a full-sized helmet on riding around. It cooled it down a little bit and kept the sun off us," he said.
In the previous day's Bell Helmets Canadian Open Challenger Enduro, winners included: Canadian Scott Millington (master's men 40-plus); Trevor Burke of Australia (senior men 21 to 39); Whistler's Wei Tien Ho (youth men 13 to 14); Canada's Milton McConville (youth men 15 to 16); American Amber Tinstman (master's women 35-plus); Canadian Noelle Floyd (senior women 21 to 34); American Isabella Naughton (U21 women 17 to 20); and Whistler's Kaila Lafreniere (youth women 13 to 16).
Full results are online at www.enduroworldseries.com.