Chris Johnston is back on the scene.
After losing much of the past two summers to injury, the Whistler-based enduro rider took a confidence-building, early-season win at the Osprey B.C. Enduro Series opener in North Vancouver on May 8.
Johnston, who is originally from New Zealand, won three of five stages to edge out Californian McKay Vezina and fellow Whistler resident Yoann Barelli for the win by four and seven seconds, respectively.
"There was some really tough competition. Those guys on the podium with me were super close behind me, so I'm really happy to be in front of them," The Nomads rider said. "I rode really consistent and was super stoked with the consistency I had over the day of racing."
The highlight of Johnston's day came at the end of the day on the Dreamweaver trail. He described it as one of the course's tougher offerings that squeezed the last little bit from each competitor, so to have eked out a stage win is a positive sign going forward in the season.
"It's super technical, really tough, very physical, so I was most excited for that one, but it's at the end of the day so it was definitely hard. You're a little bit more fatigued than you want to be," he said. "But I think overall, they had a really good selection of stages and just a good spread of flowy trails to technical."
Johnston broke his elbow in 2014 and his collarbone last year, so with less recent riding under his belt than he'd like, he's thrilled to have bounced back so encouragingly to kick off 2016.
"Over the last couple years, I've had a couple of bad injuries so that definitely set me back," he said. "Taking the win this weekend is definitely a good boost of confidence heading into the season and I'm looking forward to getting out to more races and doing fun things more often."
Beyond the physical side of recovery, Johnston noted getting back on the bike and back up to speed was another layer of achieving his previous peaks.
"The mental side of it, too, was a lot to shake off after a big injury like that," he said. "I know I can ride as fast as guys like Yo and Josh (Carlson) that I normally ride with, but after those injuries, it was hard to lay the brakes off and go that same speed again. It's a mental barrier that's hard to get through, for sure.
"This weekend, I proved to myself that I've still got it."
Johnston didn't compete in the first two Enduro World Series stops of the season, and is skipping this weekend's Irish event, but for a much happier reason as he is a new father to a baby boy. He is set to make his return for the fourth leg of the tour in Italy in July.
"This year's goal is just to get a good overall (finish) and get back up into the mix with the top riders in the world," he said.
Johnston's teammate on The Nomads, Dylan Wolsky, placed 11th and Whistler resident Shane Gayton was 14th.
In the open women's category, Leonie Picton scored the win over Megan Rose and Christina Chappetta, while Whistler's Katrina Strand also hit the top 10 in eighth. (For a related story on Strand, please see page 45.)
In the U21 women's category, Jennifer McTavish and Stephanie Denroche placed first and second, respectively, while Felix Abraham hit the U21 men's podium in third. Joining Abraham in the top 10 were Ruben Guibert and Conrad Murdoch in sixth and seventh, respectively.
In the 30 to 39 men's division, Cesar Gairin notched the victory while Ethan Shandro and Ian Milley took the top two spots in the 15 and under men's division.
As for the short course athletes, Wei Tien Ho and Eric Milley were the top two finishers in the U21 men's division, while Nina Arnold captured the women's 21+ event, as did Jaya Guibert in the U21 women's event.
In related news, Denroche, Jaya Guibert, Julia Long and Mila Wittenberg were all named to the Ride Like A Girl program, where all riders named to the team are matched with a rider from their discipline.
Denroche is linked with former Canadian downhill champion Miranda Miller after being paired with Jaime Hill last year. Guibert, meanwhile, will be mentored by Vancouver downhiller Micayla Gatto.
Long will be matched with longtime cross-country rider Sandra Walter, while Wittenberg will team with Mical Dyck.
Long also received one of two $500 bursaries available to team members. Port Moody's Gabby Keen was awarded the other.
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