After missing the last two Westside Wheel Ups, Matt Ryan picked up right where he left off in 2011, winning his sixth consecutive start on Saturday, Sept. 13, at Whistler's longest-running mountain bike race.
The 37-year-old Ryan has dominated the late-season race since taking his first trophy in 2004, which he followed up with five wins in a row between 2007 and 2011. Unable to attend the last two years, Ryan had his work cut out for him on Saturday, battling with Whistler rider Mahon Lamont throughout the short but challenging course, and finished with a time of one hour, 11 minutes and 24 seconds — only three ticks ahead of the 18-year-old.
Last year's top finisher, 39-year-old Dave Burch, nabbed the third overall spot with a time of 1:15:04.
"It was a battle royale out there today between the oldster and the youngster," Ryan said. "I thought to myself a couple times that I just wanted to give up, but I realized I couldn't just give it to him, (Lamont) would be choked if I did that."
This year marked another solid finish for Lamont, who was the top junior male racer for the second year in a row with a time of 1:11:27. Austin Reith was the second-fastest male junior rider, coming in at 1:29:10.
Lamont finished third overall in 2013, and thought he might finally have the victory that has so far eluded him in the Wheel Up on Saturday.
"(Ryan) had the lead through the last section and I was on his wheel but just couldn't make a move to pass him," he said, adding that he enjoyed the course more than in recent years with an easier climb on the Middle Danimal trail.
The teenager has taken part in the Wheel Up every year since the age of 12, and knows he has a bright future in the race.
"I'm still young so I know I'll have plenty more chances to win it," he said.
The field of 111 battled dry, dusty conditions throughout the race, which sets off from Function Junction and follows a number of Westside trails before finishing off on A River Runs Through It. But the tough conditions were no problem for Swiss native Alessandra Keller, who posted the top overall women's time of 1:34:15.
Keller, an 18-year-old exchange student attending Howe Sound Secondary in Squamish, was the only junior female competing Saturday.
She's also the 2013 UCI Women's Junior XCO World Champion and a fourth-place finisher at the world championships this year. Having only arrived in Canada four days before the race, Keller had never been on a Whistler trail until the Wheel Up.
Her unfamiliarity with the course posed a particular challenge for the teen, who still managed to finish six minutes ahead of the next fastest female, 33-year-old Sarah Olner, who came in at 1:40:54. Lesley Clements placed third overall in the women's field, finishing at 1:47:58.
"I think I got lost for about five or 10 minutes," Keller said, who added that she enjoys the flowy trails of B.C. compared to the more technical terrain in her native Switzerland.
"(Keller) was just flying," Olner said, who called the Wheel Up her favourite race of the summer.
"Everyone from the Loonie races each week is here and it's just a quality event, pretty relaxed, pretty fun and a great après," she added.
Further results are posted over at www.webscorer.com.
The grassroots event has been running for 21 years, and is a favourite for many Sea-to-Sky riders who appreciate the laid-back atmosphere and slew of prizes given away each September. While the top riders will take home $100, thousands of dollars in prizes are raffled off following the race, including a Whistler Blackcomb season pass, a road bike and spa pass.
"What makes the Wheel Up so special is that every year the locals come out and just have a great time," said race director Phil Chew, who took over for Wheel Up founder Les Clare six years ago after he broke his back in a fall. "When you see us doing the prizes and everything, we're all humming here ... It's a great way to end the summer."
Proceeds from the 21st annual Westside Wheel Up will be split between the B.C. Para-Alpine Ski team, the Whistler Cycling Club and WORCA. Last year's event raised approximately $4,000.