Strong starts to races have led to a strong start to the season for Leonie Picton.
In the North Vancouver Enduro on May 10, Picton picked up her second victory in as many BC Enduro races this season, building up a 16-second lead in a gruelling opening section and eventually outpacing second-place finisher Amanda Sin by 34 seconds in the open women's division.
"(I was) just keeping it smooth. I really enjoyed the trail," she said. "It suited me a lot, the type of technical riding that it was.
"I didn't have any problems at all through the day, so I was really lucky."
The race provided Picton one of her largest challenges, as the field was 35 riders, just one fewer than the pro/elite men's category. She said having the Cascadia Dirt Series' season-opener in the area the day before allowed some American competitors to double-dip and make the weekend more efficient.
"A lot of people from America came up and there were girls everywhere," she said. "Everyone was cheering each other on and having the best day ever."
Yoann Barelli, who is originally from France but now resides in Whistler, was third in the pro/elite men's division, finishing 29 seconds back of winner John Carlson and Dylan Wolsky, originally from Australia but now living in Whistler, was seventh. Young local rider Spencer Wright just missed the top 10, placing 11th.
Two of the local junior riders brought home gold as Conrad Murdoch won the junior U19 men's race and Ruben Guilbert bested the competition in the junior 15 and under race. Mike Watt, meanwhile, took third in the men's open division for another podium finish.
Picton, also an Australian, said the first stage included a four-minute uphill sprint that allowed the top riders to generate some immediate separation between themselves and the pack.
"It was by far the hardest," she said. "Technicality-wise, it was amazing fun with lots of drops and rocks and roots. It was not flowy, but it was still a lot of fun.
"You're continuously analyzing the trail as you're going."
After three seasons of battling injury, Picton has thus far remained healthy.
"If I don't stretch properly or really take care of my body, I do notice that I'm a bit sore and not quite functioning at 100 per cent," she said. "But as long as I don't get lazy and actually do my physio and stretches, it tends to be OK."
Picton and several other riders will look to defend home turf this weekend at the GO Enduro this Saturday May 16.
Top 10 finishes for men pro
The North Vancouver race proved to be a bit of redemption for Barelli, who was having a strong showing the previous weekend at the Sunshine Coast race before getting lost in the final round and ultimately placing seventh.
"I was first by 30 seconds and after that, I lost two minutes," he said.
Barelli stayed on course this time around, though. He acknowledged this race didn't play to his strengths, but appreciated not being forced to rush to the top of each stage like in Enduro World Series events.
"It's not my type of terrain. I prefer when it's descending and steep with gnarly stuff," he said.
That noted, Barelli is doing the BC Enduro races with the Enduro World Series in mind, warming up for the year ahead. Moving to B.C. late last year, as well, has helped him find his community here.
"I need to do a lot of races before the big events," he said. "I need to find my pace and my momentum. I need to do all these local events. It's also good for me to meet some new people, because I just moved here in November."
As for Wolsky, though he did make the top 10, it wasn't exactly a satisfying accomplishment. Unlike the other divisions, the pro men completed the race with the long climb with which everyone else kicked off the proceedings. Wolsky faded just a touch in the final stage, posting the ninth-best time in the final stage to cost him a couple of spots.
"I was hoping to move into the top five. That would have been nice," he said. "Stage 4 was a classic North Shore trail and I lost a bit of time there. It was a bit unfortunate, it put me back a little bit.
"You spend a bit of time to find the right line down there. It's a bit longer and there are multiple lines. Line choice is critical there, and I must have been off a little bit on some of the lines."
Like Barelli, Wolsky is also racing in the Enduro World Series this season. Both will also race at GO Fest this weekend.
Full results from the North Vancouver Enduro are available at www.bcenduro.com.
-with files from Vince Shuley