It's called the eliminator, but Julia Long was the second-last rider standing.
Competing in Baie St. Paul, Que., at the 2016 Canadian Championships, Long was a bit of a dark horse coming into the July 14 finals as she qualified fifth out of eight riders in the time trials.
But in head-to-head action in her first-ever eliminator challenge, Long thrived, both because of skill and a couple of strokes of luck.
"There were four people in each heat and the Top 2 move on," she said. "For the first heat, I was actually kind of lucky because I had a good start, so I was in the second-place position. Then two girls behind me actually crashed because they were both trying to bridge a gap, so I was able to qualify for the next round."
With the knowledge that she'd moved up at least one spot from qualifying, Long left it all out on the course, surprising even herself with her performance.
"Then for the final, I was somehow able to pass someone on the climbing (section), which is unusual because my strong suit is technical descending. I was very happy with that," she said. "It's having a good start and being focused and trying not to crash."
Long acknowledged that many competitors in attendance at nationals opted to skip the eliminator race to look ahead to the Olympic-distance race. However, she still tempered her expectations going in given her unfamiliarity with the format.
"(They were) not really that high because it was my first time doing it," she said. "It was more just for the experience and trying to have fun with it. I had no idea how I was going to do."
The eliminator helped Long familiarize herself with a section of the full-distance course, though her strategy was fairly divergent from her normal approach.
"(The eliminator course) was a part of the longer course we were doing a few days after, but it was quite different because it's a lot faster and you have to be really sharp, not making any mistakes or anything like that," she said. "It is quite different, but you're still on the same bikes on the same course."
With a sixth-place finish in the junior expert category in the full-distance race, Long continued her ascension after a beginning to the season that wasn't as hot as she'd hoped.
"(The season) started earlier this year because it's an Olympic year," she said. "I didn't have a very good start but recently I've been training quite a lot so I've been improving my fitness and technical things. This weekend, I had two of my best races I've ever had, so I was really happy with that."
Long will remain in Quebec for a Canada Cup race this weekend and will have another race on the same circuit here in Whistler during next month's Crankworx festival.
In the full cross-country race, Whistler's Chloe Cross finished 12th among elite women.
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