Words by Brice Minnigh
Photos by Anthony Smith and Dylan H. Brown

If ever there was a day when enduro racing legitimized itself through raw, gritty, bare-bones mountain biking, today was it. The Crankworx Whistler Enduro race--the toughest competition of the Enduro World Series--delivered racers and fans everything we’ve come to expect from the sport itself. There was drama. There were crashes. There were stage-crippling mechanicals. But most important of all, there was insane riding, on one of the world’s burliest racecourses.

Despite battling mechanical problems with his fork and brakes, Yeti Cycles’ standout Jared Graves pulled off an unbelievable finish on the fifth and final stage--a 20-plus-minute plummet from the Top of the World to the base of the Whistler Mountain Bike Park--edging out Nico Lau and Curtis Keene to claim victory for the second year in a row.

The victory was particularly impressive, considering the fact that Graves’ fork blew up during Stage 1 and he somehow managed to replenish some of the air with a Co2 cartridge. It was a testament to the well-rounded Australian racer’s current pre-eminence on the enduro circuit.

“I think this last stage just really played to my strengths,” was the only explanation the modest Graves could muster. “I’m kind of at a loss for words right now.”

Today’s five stages proved to be a true test of overall mountain biking ability, with steep, rooty, rocky trails that demanded consummate bike-handling skills--all punctuated by lengthy climbs to the next stage. Some sections of the course could have been mistaken for a World Cup Downhill track, and the speed and body positioning of the racers suggested as much. The presence of long climbs, six-inch-travel bikes and single-crown forks were pretty much the only things that made today’s enduro visibly distinct from a World Cup DH race.

“Just to finish this race is an achievement in itself,” said Giant Factory Off-Road team rider Josh Carlson while sitting in the hot seat. “This is definitely the hardest enduro race in the world. It’s a legal way to try to kill someone!”

Throughout the stages of the women’s race, the legendary Anne-Caroline Chausson dominated, demonstrating her long-proven mastery of the entire bag of mountain-bike skills. But a flat during the final stage thwarted her trajectory to victory, and a crestfallen Anne-Caro conceded that “this is just a part of the sport.”

With Chausson hindered by the flat, fellow Frenchwoman Cecile Ravanel claimed the overall win.

Here are the top-five finishers in the men’s and women’s race:

1. Jared Graves
2. Nico Lau
3. Curtis Keene
4. Damien Oton
5. Justin Leov

1. Cecile Ravanel
2. Tracy Moseley
3. Anne-Caroline Chausson
4. Anneke Beerten
5. Rosara Joseph