The Nicola Valley was the right venue for Michael Robinson to prove his merit.
The local rider won the Cow Trail Classic 39-kilometre race in Merritt by besting Peter Watson by 50 seconds and was just one second short of beating third-place finisher Alex Schmidt by an even five minutes.
However, Robinson didn't even know he was in the lead until crossing the finish line because of a wrong turn on the part of a couple of other riders.
"There were two riders and then me, and we kind of got a bit of a gap. Those two guys broke away from me and just disappeared. I figured they'd ridden away," Robinson said.
As it turns out, the two were riding a shorter distance and had gotten onto the 39-kilometre course. Robinson said upon realizing their mistake, the two got back on the right track, but subsequently suffered mechanicals.
"I didn't know I was in the lead until I pretty much was literally across the finish line," he said. "I thought they were mistaken because there were these two guys in front and I hadn't seen them. I was chasing ghosts and just trying to stay ahead of the two guys who were hot on my heels."
In terms of actual long-distance competitors, Robinson recalled having good battles with Schmidt and Watson on the first lap, with the former holding a lead after the first loop, though he later faded.
"Peter's very fast downhill, so I needed to make sure I had a good gap. I threw it all out there on Lap 2 and got a nice, solid gap and got out ahead of it from then," he said.
The race was Robinson's first at the site, though he had ridden in the area for his own enjoyment.
"It was fun, they were good trails," he said. "They had a bunch of punchy climbs and three loops. You came back to the start three times.
"It was a good crew out there and good people racing."
Fellow Whistlerite Darcy Trevelyan also performed well, placing 10th.
Next up, Robinson will hope to lock down the provincial premier cross-country marathon masters 40 to 44 title as the fourth and final race, the Sp'ak'wus 50, runs in Squamish this weekend. He holds a 60-point lead over Nanaimo's Justin Mark, but with 200 points available to the winner, knows he'll have to perform well on familiar trails.
"I've pre-ridden that course twice already," he said. "I have to make it happen this weekend.