The top Enduro World Series (EWS) riders have rounded the bend and are heading for home.
As the sixth of eight races approaches, American Richie Rude and France's Cecile Ravanel sit atop the overall standings heading into action this Sunday (Aug. 14), here in Whistler.
Both come in with slightly different mindsets. Rude is looking to defend his titles — the overall and SRAM Canadian Open Enduro crowns. Ravanel, meanwhile, was the runner-up at the race last year and though she's always finished the year in the top three overall, British rider Tracy Moseley has won all three series championships in the EWS' short history.
However, Moseley has been sidelined for much of the season with a broken sternum, leaving the door open for Ravanel. The French rider holds a 320-point lead on Isabeau Courdurier and, with wins worth 400 points apiece, holds a distinct advantage heading into the stretch run.
"I don't worry a lot about the overall. I want to just win. If I can win all of the races, I'm so happy," she said. "I'll look at the overall after the last race at Finale Ligure (in Italy)."
Each course can provide its own unique set of obstacles and challenges, and Ravanel tackles them head on, starting as early as possible. She arrived in Whistler roughly a week and a half before race day after a road trip to Moab, Utah and to the Grand Canyon after the previous event at Aspen Snowmass, Colo., where she earned her fourth win of the year.
"It's mental. When you want to win, you do everything good to win, from food to training to (making sure) your bike works perfectly," she said.
Coming into the race this Sunday, Ravanel feels confident she can pull off a victory. She took second to a dominant Moseley here in 2015 and noted there's plenty of variety in the types of riding here that can make or break a contender.
"I like it because it's a really technical race with many steep parts from the roots to many different kinds of ground," she said. "You can have smooth terrain on Blackcomb and dry and very loose (terrain) near the lake with roots and rocky parts for the last stage. It's a long stage."
As the EWS continues to gain momentum with each race, the 35-year-old Ravanel sees stiffer competition emerging from the woodwork all the time. Even as riders get younger and younger, she feels strong and ready to take on all comers.
"Every year and every race, the organizers want to have a more difficult race and it's very challenging each race," she said. "I can progress and continue. If I feel tired after maybe one, two, or three races, I would say 'Stop,' but for the moment, I'm growing up and enjoying it."
Rude, meanwhile, also arrived in Whistler well in advance of the contest. He'll be looking to bounce back after missing the podium for the first time this season, taking a 25th-place finish in Colorado after scoring three wins and a third before that. Wins are worth more — 500 points — in the men's division and Rude holds a 210-point advantage on Damien Oton, himself just 20 points up on Jerome Clementz.
Even with three races to go and less room for error than his counterpart on the women's side, Rude isn't downplaying the chance to take a second consecutive title.
"It's definitely on my mind," he said.
As the defending champion, the Connecticut product feels as though he's taken the next step in his riding and has returned stronger this year.
"I, overall, just went up (in ability)," he said.
In advance of races, Rude prepares himself intensely for the twists and turns at the respective sites.
"I go in with an open mind and get used to the trails and how they're built. You read the trails, in a way," he said. "Every trail is a little bit different and you can't ride everything the same."
He got off to a great start making adjustments, as the EWS made its first foray into South America with races in Chile and Argentina. Rude said the riders had to get into a bit of a new headspace because of the new trails to ride.
"Definitely, Argentina was the most different out of everything," he said. "You have to get used to the trails that are dusty and all blown out.
"You had to try to have a good, clean run. You would almost crash or mess up in every other corner."
The SRAM Canadian Open Enduro kicks off at 7:30 a.m. this Sunday, Aug. 14 and is slated to wrap around 7:30 p.m.
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