Jesse Melamed may not have quite reached the heights he attained at the Irish stop on the Enduro World Series (EWS) tour in 2015, but without much racing in his legs in 2016, he'll take the near miss.
Melamed placed 16th at the County Wicklow race on May 15, completing the seven-stage event in 26 minutes, 30.68 seconds (26:30.68). With a finishing time clustered among other competitors, Melamed was less than six seconds away from rising four spots and just over 16 seconds off of repeating his ninth-place showing last year.
Early on, it's already been an abbreviated season for the 24-year-old local, as he was injured in the first EWS event of the year and missed the second before returning this weekend.
"I injured my shoulder at the first race in Chile and then after that I had to go back to school to finish exams and I couldn't really ride a bike. I only had about a week on the bike before Ireland, which isn't as much as I would have wanted but I gave myself that week, went really hard, rode a bunch, tried to get up to speed," he said. "Considering that, I'm really happy with how my race went. I feel like I rode really well. I had no crashes. I didn't push it too hard. I didn't go too slow and I feel like I nailed everything.
"Speaking about my race and how I felt, I'm really happy with my riding. (As for) the results, 16th is good but I know from last year I can do better and it's waiting for the speed to build."
Melamed said he rode fairly consistently over the course of the day, and though he worried about his fitness being down after recovering from his injury, placed better in the latter half of the race, finishing with two 12th-place and a 13th-place showing in stages five through seven. With a field of nearly 200 riders, as well, he'll take the strong result.
"Just to go to a World Series race and finish top 20 is pretty impressive, so I'm happy with it," he said.
One thing working in Melamed's favour was that the setup was almost a carbon copy of 2015's offering, so he could easily get a feel for the course.
"Wicklow Mountain is pretty small," he said. "Here in Whistler, we can put on a different race for five, six years probably but there, they only have so many trails, so (it was) pretty much the same seven stages, all of them roughly the same. There was maybe two or three sections that were different. I think it was 95 per cent the same as last year."
Up next for Melamed is the North American Enduro Tour opener right here in Whistler on May 29. As the pro men's champion in 2015 when the race was part of GO Fest, Melamed has a little extra incentive to go win.
"I've got something to prove, I guess, there," he said. "This weekend was a big confidence boost and I know I can ride at the top level. I've got another week on the bike before that race and I feel I can get a bunch (of riding) in before then.
"I love travelling and I love that aspect of racing but I also love being at home in our beautiful place. I'm happy to be here and race locally."
The race will be especially enjoyable for Melamed as he was forced out of last year's local Enduro World Series stop during Crankworx because of a broken ankle he sustained while filming his Dirt Diaries entry. While he still plans to do some filming, he said he'll do more to ensure he stays healthy to compete at the top level on his home turf.
The injury compelled Melamed to get a jump start on the offseason once he recovered, going directly into the gym in an attempt to fortify himself for 2016.
"I went straight into training, didn't take too much of a break. I just wanted to get back the fitness that I lost," he said. "I definitely did more strength work in the gym... I wanted to give myself more protection because crashes happen and I wanted to be able to crash and walk away from them.
"I tried to get more time on the bike because last year I felt like I came into the first race a bit undergunned. I saw how fast the other guys were riding and I was just not at that speed so this year, I made an effort to get on the mountain bike a little bit more. I feel like it definitely helped."
Other local residents raced in Ireland, with French representative Yoann Barelli finishing seventh and Australia's Josh Carlson at the other end of the spectrum, struggling to a 183rd. In the pro women's event, Sarah Leishman placed 23rd.
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