Even with the former champion in attendance, Craig Richey wasn't going to let anyone get in his way.
In the second running of CycloCross Whistler in Creekside Village on Sept. 25 through 27, Richey captured both elite men's races, lapping the field in the first while holding a healthy lead in the second.
"With the nature of the course being fairly hilly with a lot of pavement, I had a strategy of really essentially attacking the climbs as hard as I could and then resting on the pavement or anywhere pedalling didn't really make that much of a difference," he said. "With all the corners, whether you're going 25 km/h or whether you're going 22 km/h, it's a lot of energy difference but you only save two seconds whereas if you rest, then you can really hit it on the climbs and make up 10 to 15 seconds."
Bob Welbourn took the runner-up position both days, while Connor Martin was the third-place finisher on Saturday. Martin was usurped by last year's champion, Kevin Calhoun, on Sunday.
As for the women, Sandra Walter took the win on the first day before Jean-Ann Berkenpas powered through to take the second challenge. Berkenpas was the runner-up to Walter in the first race before switching positions the next day. Morgan Cabot, meanwhile, secured a pair of bronze medals.
Richey explained that even with the blowout performance on Day 1, he worked to tighten up on Day 2, especially with the field growing.
"(When we're) descending on fairly rocky terrain, making sure you don't have a flat or something like that was a major concern," he said. "(In the first race), I hit (my) rim a lot of times and was worried about breaking a wheel or getting a flat, so (in the second race) I rode at really high pressure. You give up a little bit of traction, but it's the insurance that you're not going to have a problem. Risk mitigation was the major."
Richey explained another change in his on-course approach was to hop the barriers in less-muddy conditions that the second race presented.
"I was fairly conservative, but the barriers are fairly low and I don't hop them that often, it's not something I do all the time, so it was good practice," he said. "I think it was faster."
Richey also changed some of his lines to avoid hitting rocks on the course that he nicked in his first race.
Though the races marked the Cycling BC Premier Series opener, Richey has been out and about at competitions in the discipline already this season in China and Las Vegas and had his cyclocross legs back already.
While he enjoyed his first cyclocross race in Whistler, Richey acknowledged there were some changes he'd make.
"It would be great if the course was a bit longer. We did a lot of laps," he said. "Whistler's always good at putting on a good event."
Meanwhile, Walter, a Coquitlam resident, came into the race feeling well prepared for what she ultimately faced but for slightly different reasons. After a third in the national cross-country championships and a 27th-place representing Canada at worlds, there wasn't a lot standing in her way in the first race in particular.
"I felt really strong," Walter said. "The course played to my strengths — I have a mountain bike background — so I enjoyed the technical stuff and the mud and bunny-hopping the barriers."
In slipping to second on Sunday, Walter gave props to Berkenpas while acknowledging her bike was giving her all sorts of problems.
"Jean-Ann was riding really strong and that was really awesome for her. I did have a mechanical so I pitted several times trying to fix it and I never quite figured it out," she said. "I was pushing a pretty hard gear and my derailleur was stuck in that. I wasn't able to ride all the steep climbs that I was riding (in the first race) but I made the best of it.
"Pitting is something I've never practiced before, so it's good training for the rest of the season."
Walter will continue with the BC Series and is also slated to attend the national championships in Winnipeg on Oct. 24. She won a bronze at nationals in 2014.
Berkenpas, meanwhile, had altered her brand-new bike after getting a read for both it and the course in the first race, and was pleased with how it paid off.
"I changed my gearing a little bit so I was able to ride a bit more of the course today," she said. "Just having raced it yesterday helped a lot. I was able to hop all the barriers this time, which was pretty fun. Things were just a little more tuned today."
In the initial race, Berkenpas explained her bike wasn't allowing her to get up one particularly challenging section, and that made a major difference in helping her to the win.
"On the ski hill, there's one really steep pitch and I was having to run it (in the first race)," she said. "It was really taxing."
Being her first race of the season, Berkenpas said it was tough in the early-going to get her legs back, but, as the old adage states, it was just like riding a bike.
"I was trying to remind myself what the skills were, but it came back pretty quickly," she said. "I was starting to just feel a bit smoother."
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