No matter the deficit, it seems you can never count out Jared Graves if there's still a trip down Top of the World involved.
The Australian rider won the SRAM Canadian Open Enduro for the second year in a row on Sunday, Aug. 10, once again posting the fastest time on the fifth and final stage along the iconic trail that descends from the peak of Whistler Mountain.
Meanwhile, Jesse Melamed gave local fans plenty to cheer about until a flat tire derailed his chances at a podium finish, and France's Cecile Ravanel also used a come-from-behind effort on Stage 5 to claim the open women's title of the Enduro World Series (EWS) race.
Last year, Graves made up a 20-second difference over the last leg to take the win. On Sunday, he sat in ninth place, 37 seconds off the lead.
He responded with a stage-best time of 21 minutes, 33.89 seconds, and his overall time of 51:11.44 was enough to edge France's Nico Lau by just 2 ½ seconds. U.S. rider Curtis Keene (+15.88) captured the last spot on the podium.
Just four other riders broke the 22-minute mark on Stage 5, Lau being one of them.
"That last stage, I think. It's my boy," Graves laughed when asked what his secret to success is in the Crankworx Whistler race. "I was having a rough day all day today with mechanicals and what not, but I was still sitting within reach. It was just the plan to lay it all down on the last stage.
"It's pretty nerve-wracking when you're in the lead going into the last stage, so I was happy to be back a little bit, have the pressure off and ride my own race."
Graves faced some adversity with his bike early on, enough that he nearly pulled out of the race. He sat 17th after the first stage on Micro Climate, where he took on some suspension damage.
"I honestly nearly quit after Stage 1 because my fork was just unrideable for the first two stages and I just lost a ton of time," said the 31-year-old. "Then I had a big crash on (Stage) 4 and just felt like it was all going wrong. But you've got to pull your head together and do the last stage."
Graves was the last rider on course for Stage 5, and Lau gave a little smile when he saw Graves take the lead away.
"I'm really happy," said Lau, who collected his second podium finish of the season. "It was a really tough day... technical and hard. I think I've been on my bike seven hours today."
Belgium's Martin Maes was 13 seconds ahead of the field after four stages, but a mechanical issue torpedoed his bid for the podium and he fell back to 10th.
The only single-day EWS race of the season saw temperatures soar to 33 C, and riders were forced to climb more than 2,400 metres. Some competitors had dubbed the race "Crankzilla" long before it was over, and Graves said it lived up to that name.
"Everyone thought last year was hard. This was way harder," said Graves, who extended his lead atop the EWS standings with just one race remaining. "It's going to take me a week to recover from this."
MELAMED MAKES SOME NOISE
Melamed was in contention nearly all day, winning Stage 2 on Crazy Train — his first-ever EWS stage victory — to briefly move into the lead. He still sat sixth going into the last stage, overcoming a couple of Stage 3 crashes, but punctured a tire early on Top of the World and was out of the race, slipping down to 58th overall.
"That sound, that, 'Psssst,'" Melamed said, mimicking a tire deflating, "it's the worst sound in mountain biking."
Despite the way his race ended, Melamed didn't show any disappointment on his face after crossing the line. He received a roar of appreciation from the crowd when pulling into the finish with his rear tire crumpled up.
"It's frustrating, but it was still a super good day," said Melamed, who finished sixth in 2013. "I got a stage win, which I'm more than happy about, so I got something positive out of the day. After two stages, I was winning; I showed that I can be there.
"The mechanical sucks, but it happens."
Tyler Morland earned top Canadian honours by placing 27th, and many other riders well-known to Whistler posted top-50 finishes — Matt Ryan (30th), Nick Geddes (34th), Dylan Wolsky (38th), Shane Gayton (42nd) and Jordan Hodder (46th) among them.
"I didn't have too many expectations, just because it's so unpredictable here," said Geddes, who notched his best finish through six EWS races in 2014. "I didn't have a great time in Europe (at earlier EWS races); I had some up-and-down results, so I was just looking to have fun here today."
RAVANEL OUTLASTS MOSELEY, CHAUSSON
Defending women's champion Anne Caro Chausson won the second, third and fourth stages on Sunday to lead Ravanel by 14 seconds before they hit Top of the World. However, Chausson had a puncture of her own that set her back on Stage 5, allowing Ravanel to ride away with the victory.
"It's the best race in the world at Crankworx," said a beaming Ravanel. "At the beginning of the season, I said, 'If I can win one race, I want to win in Whistler."
Ravanel, who won the first and last stages of the day, finished with a total time of 58:04.15, more than two minutes ahead of U.K. rider Tracey Moseley, Sunday's runner-up. Chausson fell back to third, five minutes off the winning mark posted by her countrywoman.
Whistler's own Katrina Strand was the top Canadian in the women's race, placing 12th at 1:07:29.59. Former Whistler resident Megan Rose finished 19th, while Fanny Paquette rode into 21st spot.
Sunday's amateur class winners were Leonie Picton (women's 19-plus), Duncan Nason (boys' 13-15), Zach White (men's 40-plus), Craig Wilson (men's 30-39), Roland Jan Spaarwater (men's 19-29) and Sebastien Claquin (men's 16-18). See www.crankworx.com for full results.
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