When you win as much as Whistler's Ross Dunlop does, you have to keep finding new ways to challenge yourself.
The Scotland native posted the top solo time of 13 minutes, three seconds at the annual Crud 2 Mud Downhill on Saturday, May 24, a multi-sport competition that asks riders to ski or snowboard from the top of Whistler Mountain before picking up two wheels and pedaling their way through the bike park into the village.
Dunlop is no stranger to the race, having claimed the best finish among snowboarders the last four years in a row, and he decided to set a personal goal for himself in 2014.
"When you've been successful a few times, you think about what you can do to change it up, and I wanted to do a better overall placing," he said. "I was happy because I did just that."
Dunlop narrowly beat out last year's overall winner and the top skier in the field, James McSkimming (13:06), who's coming off another multi-sport victory after his team, made up of six different members of the McSkimming family, earned the top spot on the podium at last weekend's revived Great Snow-Earth-Water Race.
"I wonder what I'll do next week," McSkimming joked, with mother Marilyn and father Rob nearby.
This year's Crud 2 Mud posed a particular challenge during the mountain bike portion, with three segments of track — one close to 100 metres long — covered in snow.
"It definitely was challenging, and not just the transition," said race organizer Seb Fremont. "After you hopped from the snow and onto your bike this year, Expressway still had snow on it.
"There were quite a few funny moments with the snow, where people lost control, fell down, that kind of stuff."
First-time participant and top female finisher Ceri Williams (16:31) said she even got off her bike and walked for part of the race, although she still posted a time that was 11 seconds faster than second-place female snowboarder Wendy Robinson (16:42).
"There were a few places where I didn't know what was coming up, and especially with it being a whiteout; I could hardly see the gates," said the 32-year-old England native. "When there was snow, I just charged as fast as I could at it and hoped for the best. There were a few times when my bike went sideways on the snow, but I held on to it."
Rose Oakhill (17:46.88) was the fastest female skier, beating out the only other competitor in the category, Siobhan Melican (18:32.04).
As in years past, the transition between snow and dirt proved to be a crucial stage of the race. Competitors typically employ their own strategy to get out of ski or snowboard boots and onto their bike, some more effective than others.
"I just try and take my bib off before I come to the stop, and take my bindings off as I'm coming to the stop, but I fell over as I stepped off my board," Dunlop said.
McSkimming has his own trick for the transition, a strategy he's developed after competing in the last four Crud 2 Mud races.
"I just undo my boots, jump out and leave my ski boots in the mud. I use a shoehorn to get on my bike shoes and I'm good to go," he said.
The only time quicker than 13 minutes this year was posted by Mark Owen and Shaun Fry, at 12:36, who won the Open Male team category.
Repeat winners Jim Montrose and Sarah Hogg earned their third victory in the Open Mixed category with a combined time of 13:03.
Kristy Coghill and (Pique's own) Claire Ryan (18:11) were the only pair who raced in the Open Female team category.
Reid Stanger and Matthew Gould posted a combined time of 15:34 to top the only other Open Junior team.
John Rowan (15:05) earned the top time among male snowboarders over 40, while Robin Courcelles (13.45) was the fastest male skier over 40.
Penny Laine (19:04) beat out the only other female skier over 40 to win her category.
Tyler Gallinger (16:09) earned a win in the Ski Junior division, for teens aged 13 to 18.
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