Jesse Melamed had a chance to return to his cross-country roots last week, challenging the seven-day BC Bike Race for the first time from July 7 to 13.
The Whistler Enduro World Series (EWS) star jumped at the opportunity to race as his schedule finally allowed for it, but didn't harbour any thoughts of making a run for the overall title. Still, he exceeded his own expectations, placing ninth and making the Top 10 in four of seven stages. All told, he placed about 81 minutes back of winner Geoff Kabush.
"It feels amazing, to be honest. I went into it with a (bit of a) stretch goal of (making) the Top 10, but realistically, I was thinking if I was in the Top 15 or Top 20 every day, I'd be happy."
Melamed explained he particularly enjoyed the middle of the race, as he was starting to get over some illness and jetlag from being in Europe while also finding trails that truly clicked with how he rides.
"The first few days were fun but they were really challenging. Day 1 (in Cumberland) was hard because it was just a shock and Day 2 (in Powell River) was never-ending pedalling and Day 3 (from Earls Cove to Sechelt) was the longest one. Day 4 (from Sechelt to Langdale) was the turning point for me," he said. "It was a good course layout with some nice climbs, not too long and some descending broken up by some flat sections.
"That was my first top-10 finish and I liked it because I had never ridden those trails."
Though Melamed wasn't familiar with many of the trails in the first six days, he was in his wheelhouse in the final stage in his hometown.
"The Whistler (stage), I knew exactly where I was going and that was definitely an advantage and kind of fun," he said. "I knew how much I could push on the climbs. I knew all the turns. There were a lot of fans out there, which was fun, and I attacked off the beginning and got the lead for a bit.
"It was a great day and a really cool course."
Though enduro races are only one or two days, Melamed noted with a couple days of hard practice as well, the BC Bike Race didn't prove to be too much longer than an Enduro World Series trip and he didn't have to make many adjustments to do well.
"I knew how to recover. I know how I'm going to feel in the morning. I'm going to feel terrible but once I get on that bike and start pedalling, it's going to be good," he said.
In the end, what Melamed was most proud of was proving enduro riders can transfer well to these types of events while also reinforcing his belief in himself as the EWS kicks into the stretch drive.
"We all train super hard for enduro and spend the winter training. You don't always get to see that fitness. Sometimes, you're pedalling and you're sprinting, but you don't feel it because it happens so quick," he said. "This was really a good way to feel my fitness, that I put in some hard work and I'm fit.
"I showed a lot of people that enduro guys are not slow. Everyone knows we train and everyone knows we're fit, but a lot of people were still pretty impressed because this is a different level."
After the race, Melamed made a beeline for the Vancouver Folk Festival with his family as part of their tradition. He was hopping on the bike for the first time since the race on July 18 to resume training for the next Enduro World Series contest in Colorado at month's end with hopes he wouldn't feel too many adverse effects.
"I've heard from many people that it's a silent killer where you think you're OK and as soon as you start to put effort in, you've got nothing there," he said.