The Sea to Sky came through on the world stage in the final Enduro World Series event of 2019 at Finale Ligure, Italy on Sept. 29.
In the brand-new Trophy of Nations event, where three riders from the same country drop together as part of a team event, Canada consistently swept up the bronze.
In the men’s contest, Whistler’s Jesse Melamed and Rhys Verner and Remi Gauvin, both of Squamish, took third. The trio was a minute and 15.88 seconds (1:15.88) back of the winners from the U.S., and just 8.84 seconds back of the runners-up from Sweden.
Verner, 22, was the youngest rider on the team and appreciated the opportunity to learn from a pair of veterans. Gauvin and Melamed each found stages that they favoured and opted to take the lead, while Verner dropped third to bring everything home.
“It really helped to be able to follow them, for sure,” he said. “They’re phenomenal bike riders, so I picked up on a few lines. I’ve ridden with them before, so it was pretty easy to trust them and just to commit to what they were doing. It worked out really well for us.”
After the overall season trophies had already been handed out in Zermatt, Switzerland the week prior, Verner appreciated the chance to finish the season with a race that broke from the mould of a traditional enduro race.
“It was a totally different format. Once we got here and started looking into it a bit more, we started to get some strategies. We were riding other trails in the days leading up and I was practicing following those guys. I felt like it was a bit easier to go really fast, having someone to chase,” he said. “I said from the start, ‘I think I should follow you guys every stage, so it’ll get me up to speed.’”
The squad enjoyed riding together, Verner said, as the first stage was a double-digit monster in which they took third. They later combined to post the top time in Stage 4.
“One of the stages was 12-minutes long and we were just hooting and hollering the whole way down, encouraging each other,” he said. “It’s not just for you, it’s for your whole team, and for your country. It was really motivating.”
On a personal level, it was Verner’s fourth time coming to Finale, so he was already familiar with four of the five stages. Even so, with a different approach required because of the team event, it was a new take on familiar terrain.
“It was a harder day than I thought, but it was super pedally,” he said. “I really hit the pedals hard because if I let a little gap open up in the technical [sections], I made myself close it on the climb. It was a super physical day, but a super physical course.”
The race capped a positive season for Verner, who had a season-high finish of 17th at the CamelBak Canadian Open Enduro race here in Whistler in August. It was a marked improvement on 2018, a campaign in which he broke his scaphoid twice.
Verner underwent surgery after the second break, so his scaphoid is stronger now. He wore a brace for much of the 2019 season, but has since moved away from it to increase his strength.
“It was a [tough] season last year, so it was nice this year just to get some consistency. I still feel like I definitely have some stuff to work on, and some things to improve, but it was nice just to race a full season and have some really good moments,” he said. “Last year, I felt I just made some small mistakes. They weren’t big falls, they were awkward and I landed in the wrong way. I got unlucky.”
Verner also acknowledged that he had some hesitation to start 2019, but once he regained his comfort on his bike, managed to find more speed.
“Towards the end of the season, I started to be able to push myself a bit more and be more confident that I can get through something even if it’s maybe a little bit more sketchy,” he said.
In the other divisions, Squamish’s Kasper Woolley teamed with Evan Wall and Jacob Tooke to help Canada to third in the men’s U21 event behind New Zealand and Italy, while Squamish’s Andreane Lanthier Nadeau and Miranda Miller combined with Jennifer McHugh to finish third behind France and Great Britain.