In the finish corral in Skier's Plaza on Sunday, Aug. 13, Jesse Melamed celebrated arguably Whistler's greatest sporting moment since Rob Boyd won the FIS World Cup downhill here in 1989.
The 25-year-old just put the finishing touches on a victory in the Canadian Open Enduro, the Enduro World Series' seventh of eight stops on the year, and received congratulations from friends and family members who lined the corral's edges. Many hugged him while others showed off handles from pot lids that became detached from being banged too hard.
"I like to think of this as the world championships. There's the overall (championship), sure, but this race means more to me than any other race," Melamed said.
But it wouldn't be an Enduro World Series stop without a little bit of hurt for Melamed, who was in contention in sixth in 2014 before flatting in the final stage, missed 2015 because of injury, and last year, sat in the hot seat until the day's final rider, Richie Rude, knocked him to second.
For a moment, it looked like that script was going to play out again in 2017, but even after crashing, Melamed gutted out a sufficient time in the fifth and final stage to hold off Australian Sam Hill and secure his first-ever EWS victory.
"The pain is setting in," Melamed said after a handful of other media interviews and some time holding court in the corral. "(The crash) was massive. It was super high speed, I just lost the front and drove the shoulder going down.
"I had my lines but the bike park is so loose. In the blink of an eye, my front tire was gone and unfortunately, it was a high-speed section."
The day, admittedly, didn't start out promising as Hill built up an 18-second advantage on the field right out of the gate on Top of the World into Ride Don't Slide. But Melamed won Stage 2 (on A Rockwork Orange, Korova Milk Bar and Wizard Burial Ground) and got much of that time back, pulling to within half-a-second with another victory in Stage 3 (on Billy's Epic and Bob's Rebob) before building up a 13-second cushion after winning Stage 4 (on Howler and No View). Even with the wipeout, he edged Hill's time in the final stanza (on a 4.4-kilometre mishmash of nine Whistler Mountain Bike Park stages) to win the race by 14.85 seconds.
"It was hard to keep focused all day, I was so nervous. I knew what I had to do, but it was hard to put it together," Melamed said. "I'm happy, and relieved."
Hill was Melamed's only real challenger the whole day as third-place finisher Mark Scott of the United Kingdom was over a minute off the pace. Melamed had plenty of praise for the rider who pushed him hard.
"Sam is an animal. Stage 3 is probably what I've ridden the most and yeah, it was blown out, but I charged that and he was only two seconds behind me. That guy's sick," he said. "(Stage 4) is my style and I knew how to push it.
"There's an element of luck on there, sure. I was getting loose but keeping it together, but it went well."
Hill, the overall series leader, extended his lead on Adrien Dailly to 110 points with the runner-up finish, while Irish rider Greg Callaghan sits third and is the only other competitor with an outside shot at the overall. Melamed's win, meanwhile, catapulted him to fifth overall with a chance of finishing as high as third when the season wraps.
Going into the final race in Finale Ligure, Italy, on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, Hill was glad to have put a bit of separation between himself and Dailly, who finished sixth in Whistler, as he'll have some knowledge of those courses.
"I was trying to get as many points in front as I could before we get there," he said. "I'm definitely confident for it and looking forward to it."
For his part, despite coming off the win at Aspen Snowmass, Colo. and having finished no lower than sixth in any race this season, Hill admitted feeling some uneasiness before starting the race.
"I had a weird feeling this morning. I wasn't sure how things were going to go," Hill said. "It's always hard to beat a fast guy with a bit of local knowledge.
"It's a big gap back to third place, so we were both charging and pushing on. Jesse's an awesome rider and he's had a win coming for a long time. He's had a bit of bad luck, so it's no surprise he got the win here."
Whistler resident Yoann Barelli placed seventh.
On the women's side, Cecile Ravanel captured the women's win for the second year in a row, winning all five stages to beat fellow French rider Isabeau Coudurier by 65 seconds.
"It's special to win here because it's the best event of the year for us, for enduro riders, and I enjoy that, for sure," said Ravanel, who also won here in 2014. "It's maybe not the best victory because last year I had some trouble at the beginning of the race and I won just at the end.
"I got the advantage on the first stage and after, I rode without pressure. It's better to ride like that, just for fun."
Ravanel had already secured the overall title before the race, but extended her advantage further with the win. Coudurier caught up with third-place finisher Katy Winton with the second-place run, while sixth-place finisher Ines Thoma is also in the running for the runner-up slot.
"It feels pretty awesome, especially to do it here in Whistler, which is one of the hardest races of the season, so I'm stoked," Coudurier said. "Cecile is doing awesome. She's really strong physically and technically, so it's really hard just to try to catch her.
"But I'm still only 23 years old, so I still have plenty of time, plenty of work to catch her."
Whistler's Andreane Lanther-Nadeau took fifth while local residents Christina Chappetta and Leonie Picton hit the top 20 in 14th and 16th, respectively.
Winners in other divisions included Max Leyen (men's under 21), Martha Gill (women's under 21), Matt Ryan (men's master 40-plus), Chrissy Devall (women's masters 40-plus), Dylan Layzell (men's amateur) and Genevieve Baril (women's amateur).
Full results are available online at www.enduroworldseries.com.