After days spent watching Europeans, Americans and riders from down under win Crankworx hardware in the Boneyard, area mountain bike fans got to wrap up the festival with a bang as locals swept both the men’s and women’s elite podiums at this year’s Canadian Open Enduro.
Jesse Melamed. Rhys Verner. Remi Gauvin. Brittany Phelan. Miranda Miller. Florencia Espiñeira Herreros. Six up, six down for the Sea to Sky.
Go outside the elite divisions and you’ll find even more regional success. Wei Tien Ho claimed victory in the men’s U21 race with a time that would have been competitive among pros. Elly Hoskin finished as runner-up in the women’s U21. Mateo Quist, Mason Cruickshanks and Jack Hague powered to a podium sweep of their own among U17 males. An honourable mention goes out to Marcus Goguen, who was less than six seconds away from U21 bronze.
When Canyon CLLCTV signed Melamed earlier this winter, it was because they intended to add a high-calibre enduro threat who would take them to new heights in the sport. It is safe to say that the Whistlerite has delivered.
In a mirror image of early June’s UCI World Cup stop in Pietra Ligure, Italy, Melamed and Verner combined for a splendid one-two finish in the men’s elite division of the Canadian Open Enduro. Melamed was the only rider to break the 38-minute barrier, crushing five hefty stages in a total time of 37 minutes, 50.40 seconds, while Squamish’s Verner nipped at his heels all day long (38:11.60).
“I think we both knew we were the top contenders for the [Canadian national title] sleeve,” Melamed said after the race. “It was fun, because it was a really good battle between the two of us. We both battled some adversity, and I think I just have a little bit more of a hometown advantage but Rhys is riding really fast.”
Gauvin went away with a bronze medal to show for his labour (38:41.50). In doing so, he continues to carry the torch for Rocky Mountain Race Face (RMRF): the team he and Melamed elevated to second overall in 2022’s Enduro World Series (EWS) rankings along with Andréane Lanthier Nadeau.
The ladies likewise showed out to defend home turf. Phelan struck gold with an excellent performance of her own (45:54.60), narrowly outpacing Miller who added silver to her bronze from last Sunday’s Canadian Open Downhill (46:31.40). Espiñeira Herreros, the Chilean expatriate who now calls Whistler home, rounded out the top three (48:32.40).
“It was definitely a pretty full-on day,” said Phelan, the 2018 Olympic ski cross silver medallist. “It was a really cool format: not as much climbing as in the past we've had, but the stages are super physical and you had to stay engaged the whole time top to bottom because it was pretty technical the whole way.”
“I mean, that was an incredible podium,” remarked Miller, who distinguished herself after making a short-notice decision to compete. “My boyfriend [Gauvin] was in third, and all our good friends: Rhys, Jesse, Flo, Britt. It was really fun.”
Ho, meanwhile, was one of only two U21 athletes to break the 40-minute mark (39:27.20). Runner-up Lief Rodgers was the other (39:57.00), and Nicolas Brochet completed the top three (40:47.40). That left Goguen on the outside looking in (40:53.00).
“Pretty happy to finish the day strong like that,” said Ho. “It was a clean day for me, so I’m always happy with that, and the dirt was absolutely mint today. We had a bit of rain earlier in the week, so it made the tracks perfect.”
“It was a super fun day of riding with the boys,” Goguen added. “I had a bit of a crash on Stage 4, but I'm all good, so I'm happy with that and I started to make a bit of time up on Stage 5.”
Emmy Lan is becoming a familiar sight on women’s U21 enduro podiums and she came out on top again this time (46:30.50), but Hoskin put up a good fight en route to silver (46:38.50). Geza Rodgers checked in for bronze (49:16.10).
“Every time I go to Whistler and finish a race like this, it's just instant tears,” Hoskin said. “It’s such an iconic venue, and crossing the Crankworx finish line is amazing.”
In the men’s U17 category, Quist (41:24.60) opened up a two-minute lead on Cruickshanks (43:43.90) for the win. Cruickshanks, though, earned a second medal this week to accompany his air DH victory. Third place went to Hague (44:02.30).
Top of the World
When asked which parts of Sunday’s big race posed a noteworthy challenge to them, most riders had the same answer on their lips: Stage 3. Composed of the trails “Top of the World”, “Miss Fire” and “Delayed Fuse”, this particular gauntlet was one of the most grueling stages to be found this year—not only in Whistler, but on the entire enduro scene.
“It’s painful for everyone,” Miller admitted. “It doesn't matter who you are—it’s going to be really hard. I handled it better than I thought I would. There were definitely moments of weakness, for sure, but yeah, it's a doozy.”
Ho concurs. Despite his success, the young Whistlerite had some trouble pacing himself through the middle of the race and had to dig deep to maintain his lead.
Melamed and Verner agree that Stage 3 of the Canadian Open Enduro was arguably more punishing than anything they’ve faced in the Enduro World Cup (EDR) so far. The two friends have pushed each other hard all year, and this week was no exception. Knowing that Verner is, in his words, “a savage on long stages”, Melamed drew upon a wealth of championship experience to execute the right tactics on course.
Indeed, Verner has put himself on the map this season with an inaugural World Cup breakthrough in Leogang, Austria. He’s second overall in EDR rankings and actually holds a 79-point advantage on Melamed, the man he grew up watching.
Fittingly, the Squamolian came home to unprecedented hype from local fans and lived up to those expectations. He gave Melamed a run for his money in the contest’s first two stages before grabbing a win on Stage 4 through Creekside.
“Pressure is a good thing and it’s a privilege to have, but it's still there,” Verner said. “This was like the first time I haven't been an underdog, and people were really building me up to do all this stuff. It's like: this is new to me, I just tried my best. I had a lot of self-pressure too, from having a good stint in Europe and coming back and basically being a different person in people's minds than before.”
As for Melamed, it’s yet another highlight-reel moment in a career full of them. To lock down a third straight Crankworx gold medal in his first year with a new team is an eye-popping feat. To douse five of his close friends with champagne afterwards is no doubt a very large cherry atop the cake.
Fear not, Sea to Sky. Your enduro future is in good hands.
Complete results are available online.