After pulling off a win on May 16, Jesse Melamed didn't mince words about the importance of the GO Enduro to his career.
"This is huge," he said. "This is the biggest win of my career. I can without a doubt say that.
"You've got the fastest guys in North America and I could still do it."
Melamed noted that while some key competitors were not around, as they have taken off to Europe for events in Ireland and Scotland later this month, it was still a significant challenge. With the race jumping up to the North American Enduro Tour schedule, serving as the series opener this year, the race attracted a greater field than in its inaugural staging in 2014.
"GO Fest last year was a fun little race just to get up to speed," said Melamed by way of explanation.
In the pro men's category, Melamed posted a time of 24 minutes and 50 seconds (24:50) to put a fair bit of distance between himself and second-place finisher Yoann Barelli, also a Whistler resident. Barelli finished in 25:33 while Matthew Beer was third with a 26:19.
On the women's side, Claire Buchar of Kovarik Racing Intense topped the pro category with a time of 30:17 to cruise to victory over runners-up Leonie Picton (31:32) and Emily Slaco (31:53).
In both pro categories, prize money was equally divided with each winner taking $1,000, second place earning $500 and third place taking $250.
Michael Watt of Arbutus Routes won the men's masters division, besting Craig Wilson by 21 seconds. Finn Iles of Lapierre Gravity Republic impressed in the junior men's division, as his time of 26:33 would have placed him fifth in the pro men's category. Conrad Murdoch was second in the race, 2:22 behind Iles. Lastly, Stephanie Denroche of Norco C4 took gold over Julia Long in the junior women's event with just over a six-minute difference.
Melamed admitted feeling some nerves in advance of the race.
Even with a more laid-pack pace and slacker transition times than he's used to, the Rocky Mountain Urge team member felt more butterflies than before even Enduro World Series level races. However, even with the pressure to win on his home turf he overcame any apprehension without much challenge against a stacked field.
"It's just the night before and the morning of, but once you get up to the first stage and are even hanging out, you're into it," he said. "The first stage, you've got to go slow, let yourself settle into a rhythm, and then you just ride your race."
Melamed won all five stages over the course of the race, and noted he was particularly enthused with his Stage 4 performance on the relatively new Micro Climate trail, which he called his favourite. It did cause him some troubles, though.
"On Micro Clime, I overshot this one gap too big and put my palm into the upper part of my brake and it just went down. It was angled down, so it was a little bit stressful," he said. "I didn't know whether to stop and pull it back up or leave it, but I just left it."
Transition times placed less pressure on the riders, and at times, it even led to some lulls in the day.
"In EWS, they're still making us do tight transition times," said Melamed. "These ones are pretty big, almost too big.
"You have more time to hang out and relax with your friends. Not as much rushing between stages was nice. I found it really hard to get back into race mode before Stage 4 after the big break because you're tired, you've had a big day already."
Crash doesn't deter Buchar
Buchar, meanwhile, put up the top time in the first four stages and then was second-best in the final portion. She went down in the fourth and fifth stages, with the latter being more severe, but recovered quickly to avoid her gold-level efforts early on going for naught.
"I held it together to stay consistent throughout the day and keep my wits about me," she said. "I had a big crash on the last stage and went over the bars and had to ride the rest of the stage with bent bars. It was actually kind of fun, an extra challenge there.
"My first few stages were good and consistent and I managed to get a good lead there."
After suffering her share of injuries over the course of her career, Buchar was still feeling the effects of the crash when reached on May 19.
"Even a little crash — I'll feel it for a couple of days," she said. "I'll be fine. It's just something that I'll always have to deal with."
Though Buchar wasn't entirely satisfied with her second half of the race, she acknowledged that the feeling comes with the territory.
"I think that's what enduro is all about. You know it's not going to be perfect," she said. "You've only ridden the track once before. You don't know every rock, stick and root like you do on a downhill. You can't be searching for perfection.
"(Stages 3 through 5) weren't up to my standards, but everybody had their own issues throughout the day."
Buchar is training for the Trans-Provence race in France in June. The race is a six-day event covering 300 kilometres. She decided to take the plunge after seeing fellow Canadian DH Girls rider Katrina Strand compete in the event last year.
Though she's from a downhill riding background, Buchar feels the need to push herself onto a new adventure.
"This is me throwing myself into the deep end after hearing about it," she said. "I want to put myself in a situation where I might actually cry. It might crush my soul a little, but I'm sure, overall, it'll be an amazing experience."
Having not raced many enduros, Buchar entered the GO event looking for how best to prepare for her next big challenge from a practical perspective.
"(I got) just a little bit of experience with what to carry with you, making the transitions, what to do before your next stage when you're at the top, the adjustments to your bike, how you travel around through the day, how I felt after the whole day," she said.
Iles impresses in division
Fifteen year old Finn Iles already has pedigree in the biking community as the World Whip-Off Champion from last year's Crankworx.
At the GO Enduro, Iles placed himself among the top pro men's times.
"I was really excited when I found that out," he said. "Knowing how well I did (compared to) the pro category felt like a good confidence boost. I know that I can do well in both downhill and enduro."
While his focus remains straight ahead toward the downhill season, as he'll next compete in Austria next month, Iles said he'll look to fit more enduro riding into his schedule. Enduro was primarily for training, but holding his own in competition doesn't hurt.
"I felt really good on my bike. I've ridden on my trail bike a lot this spring just to stay in shape and it's good to be on that bike just to switch it up," he said.
Iles identified Stages 1 and 4 as his tops over the course of the day — the former being part of the Whistler Mountain Bike Park and the latter being a longer stage, in which he feels he excels.
"I really like that trail because it's my type of riding. There are some tight corners, there's some fast bits," he said. "I got a flow going and felt really, really good on my bike."