Max Plaxton claimed the victory in his return to the Nimby Fifty on Saturday, May 31, as the Canadian Olympian earned his second triumph at the Pemberton mountain bike race in three years.
Meanwhile, Mical Dyck defended her pro women's title, reaching the North Arm Farm finish line as the fastest female on a blazing hot day in the Spud Valley, and junior Austin Reith led the local contingent with a breakout performance.
Plaxton started to build his lead over the field up the Nimby climb, and clocked a winning time of two hours, eight minutes, 33 seconds. Cory Wallace arrived at the finish in 2:11:12 to take runner-up honours, while Ricky Federau (2:14:14) placed third in the pro men's race.
"I set a pretty good rhythm and felt pretty good," said Plaxton, also a Nimby Fifty winner in 2012. "I'd pre-rode this course a few times, so I kind of knew there was a bit of a rest midway up (the climb) and I kept it just under the limit."
Plaxton, a regular on the World Cup cross-country circuit, didn't end up making a May-June trip to Europe as originally planned, making him available for Saturday's race.
"It was kind of a no-brainer to come here," said the Tofino native. "I don't get to race a whole lot near home, so it was a pretty good opportunity. It's a great course, great training and just such a beautiful area."
National team rider Evan Guthrie rode to fourth place, and past Nimby Fifty winner Colin Kerr placed fifth.
Wallace hung around with Plaxton in the early sections of the 37-kilometre course, but began losing ground as they started to hit the race's 101 switchbacks, beginning on the Happy Trail.
"I fumbled a couple of the switchbacks; he got about a 15-second lead," said Wallace. "Then he just kept stretching it — every switchback was about another second.
"Then I was just trying to hold these guys off," Wallace continued, pointing to Federau and Guthrie in the finish area. "I knew Ricky and Evan were a couple of the best downhillers here, so I was kind of looking over my shoulder."
Reith, 17, was not only the top junior and quickest local rider by finishing seventh overall on Saturday, he was also the only rider not entered in the pro men's class to place among the top 12.
Having run into some bad luck with mechanical issues when competing earlier this season, Reith said he was pleased to have a race go his way this time around.
"I was really stoked," said Reith. "This was my first clean race, so it was great to get my confidence up."
Reith, who was riding the Nimby for the third time, said he received updates along the course letting him know he was up with the leaders, which helped keep the motivation level up as he made the final push to the finish.
"I got a good feeling when I knew I was doing well," he added.
Dyck retained her pro women's crown with a finish time of 2:44:37, which put her a little more than a minute ahead of second-place rider Amanda Sin.
"I wasn't sure how I would feel, and we've got a pretty strong women's field this year, so it's pretty cool," Dyck said of winning for the second year in a row. "It feels really good to defend.
"I didn't see (Sin) at all, so she must have been hammering the last half. I know I was in survival mode after the Red Bull Downtime."
Sin, riding the Nimby Fifty for the first time, stopped the clock at 2:45:42, and said she was thrilled with her day on the trails in Pemberton.
"It was awesome, I'm in love with it," Sin said of the setting for Saturday's race. "It's beautiful."
Sin said she was trying hard to make up as much time as she could on Dyck over the closing stages of the race.
"I didn't know where she was at all, just that she was ahead of me, so any time I had the chance to go for it, I powered ahead and hoped I would make up some ground," she said.
Jean Ann Berkenpas rounded out the pro women's podium in third place.
GUTHRIE GRABS DOWNTIME HONOURS
The Red Bull Downtime, the race within the race that clocked riders as they made the descent along Overnight Sensation, saw Guthrie ride away with the quickest time.
Guthrie completed the section in 5:41, one second faster than Davis English, and 12 seconds ahead of Federau.
On the women's side, Carrie Meltzer did the Downtime in 7:27 to win the event comfortably, 20 seconds clear of Gloria Addario. Sin had the third-quickest descent.
Both Guthrie and Meltzer took home $250 for posting the best times.
In the main race, there were many other local riders who ended up with impressive finishes, including Brandi Heisterman, who finished fifth overall among women's riders at 2:54:49. Pemberton's Leah Trudeau was the seventh female rider to reach the line, and she won the 20 to 29 age group. Meltzer was the top rider in the 30 to 34 division, Robin O'Neill topped the 40 to 44 age group while finishing 10th overall, and Jennifer McTavish was the top junior girl, finishing right behind O'Neill in 11th.
For the men, Squamish's Rhys Verner was the next-best rider from the Sea to Sky after Reith, placing 13th overall while also placing second in the junior class. Whistler's Mahon Lamont, who was the third junior finisher, was 21st among all male racers.
Among other notable men's finishes by Sea to Sky riders, Squamish's Jeff Reimer won the 35 to 39 age group while placing 14th overall, while Davey Mitchell was next across the line to take the 30 to 34 group win. Pemberton's J.F. Robert placed 23rd overall and Team Whistler's Michael Boehm was 25th.
Other locals cracking the men's top 50 included J.D. Disney (26th), Davis English (27th), Joel Harwood (28th), Trevor Hopkins (33rd), Tony Routley (35th), Joshua Stott (46th), Jeff Westlake (47th) and Greg McDonnell (49th).
This year's race also offered a shortened, Lite course for the first time. The overall winner on the Lite route was 12-year-old Kelowna resident Hamish Graham.
This year's Nimby Fifty, the fifth edition of the race since its 2010 debut, featured a change to the finishing section. The re-route, using Ramble On, Smell The Glove and Econodave, earned rave reviews from riders.
"It's great," said Whistler's Boehm, one of a few dozen riders who have raced the Nimby Fifty all five times. "I will never shun more singletrack, so it was awesome. I didn't miss the highway at all. I was able to pre-ride it, so I knew it was coming and that helped a ton. People who hadn't... I think they were in for a nasty surprise, because it's harsh. It's punchy, technical climbing."
Visit www.webscorer.com for full results, including Red Bull Downtime rankings.