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Whistler Crankworx: Chainsaws & Tailwhips

Surfing has Pipeline. Snowboarding has Alaska, but for mountain biking of all disciplines gravity related we have Whistler. Words & photos by Sven Martin.

Surfing has Pipeline. Snowboarding has Alaska, but for mountain biking of all disciplines gravity related we have Whistler.

Taken from Dirt issue 140, February 2014

Whether you are a huge star flip–whipping your way through the Boneyard or breaking timing beams in one of the famed races, while living it up in all expenses paid VIP suites, or simply a foreign seasonaire living the dream bussing tables eking a meagre living to keep your vertical lap count in the bike park ticking, Whistler Canada is mountain biking’s Mecca. Which makes Crankworx the flickering flame that lures the riders and revellers from afar. A right of passage, if you will, for any aspiring freerider or racer looking to make his or her mark on the sport in front of the world’s MTB media.

The beauty of Crankworx is the mixing of styles and cultures; it’s an all–inclusive party where amateurs can race and compete alongside the sport’s biggest names. The events also allow for a healthy cross–over mix of competitors with events like Slalom, Speed and Style, Pumptrack, Whip off Worlds and A–Line’s Air DH you will find both the freeriders and racers rubbing shoulders, battling for pride and healthy winnings that get consumed in the bars that same night before 3am shutdown and poutine (chips, gravy and cheese!) queues form.

Sadly the opening weekend which comprised of the Canadian Open Enduro and Speed and Style also clashed with the UCI Mt St Anne World Cup on the other side of Canada, that together with World Champs being held in South Africa two weeks later on a extremely physical track kept a few of the sports top racers and regular Crankworx attendees away, choosing to stay at home and knuckle down on some serious interval training without the many temptations and constant parties Whistler and the festival is known for. This did little to put a dent into the festivities though and the level of competition and bar tabs reached new all–time highs. Rev up your chainsaws and get sideways.

AIR DH AND DH

These two events have a lot in common, yet conversely couldn’t be more different. Both had massive crowds lining hot spots on the courses. Both had full nudity (male) and partial nudity (female) from both spectators and competitors and while some took things less seriously in outfits or with mid run ‘re–hydration’ stops the racing at the sharp end of the stick was fast and ultra competitive. While Stevie Smith did win both events they were two very different races.

Click through to view the full Whilster Crankworx gallery before reading on…

Air DH is held on A–Line, Whistler’s signature trail. It is the trail probably most ridden by travelling pro freeriders and racers alike. Whilst Whistler has many awesome ‘natural DH’ trails, between World Cups most racers prefer to just lap A–Line, Dirt Merchant and Crabapple Hits. Winning here on A–Line is more a matter of bragging rights and pride. Stevie took the win on a short travel Devinci ‘Troy’ while Jill Kintner took the win in the ladies on her long travel Norco DH. Mick Hannah was second while Mitch Ropelato and Nick Beer were in third and fifth.

Canadian Open DH is a pretty intense trail for its length. Add a sprinkle of rain and slipperiness from the day before and you have a pretty intimidating racetrack. Rock slabs, rowdy crowds, big jumps and steep rooty sections. If it’s hard to beat Stevie in Canada then it’s next to impossible to beat him here at this race. With Mick a close second and Sam Blenkinsop third their World Champs intentions were clear. Emmeline Ragot stormed the women’s by almost nine seconds.

GARBANZO AND PUMP

The Garbanzo is the longest single DH run event of the festival and takes the winner about 12 and a half minutes. Twelve and half minutes of everything that Whistler can throw at you. Some call it pain, some call it masochism, either way Marecelo Gutierrez welcomes it and smashed everyone by seven and a half seconds with Blenkinsop bringing in second and Remi Gauvin a respectable third. Not bad for the World Cup riders who only had time for one or two practice runs after flying in from Mt St Anne the day before. Worth noting was Justin Leov in fifth on his 29” Enduro bike. The lines are a blurring. Who would of thought five years ago that Garbanzo could be competitively raced on a 29”? Testament to both rider’s skill and improvements in Enduro bike designs of all wheel sizes.

The flip side of this is the shortest ‘race’ of the festival. At less than 9 seconds long the RockShox pumptrack challengers raced each other head to head with laser timing deciding who would advance after completing both sides, much like slalom. Not the idealist’s version of pumptrack lap racing, but it makes for a great crowd spectacle under lights in the Olympic Plaza. Interestingly it also claimed more injuries than the Garbanzo with favourite mini–bike wizard Mitch Ropelato popping his shoulder and Wyn Masters knocking himself clean out. Lanky Martin Soderstrom carried on where Mitch left off but couldn’t best silent French pumptrack master Adrien Loron for the win. The women’s final was inevitable with Jill Kintner taking down fellow BMX World Champ Caroline Buchanan in the final.

WHIP AND JOYRIDE

Joyride featured a very different style of course to what we have become accustomed to. This year it snaked its way back and forth across the slope, allowing for many more hits than in years past. The controlled speed allowed for a bigger variety of technical tricks. ‘No front brake’ hardtailers mixed up with the big mountain slopestylers, but in the end it came down to just two. After landing a perfect second run of combo tricks Brandon Semenuk was the man to beat. Martin Soderstrom rose to the occasion only to go down hard on the final feature breaking his tib/fib. Would it have been enough to take down Semenuk, we will never know. The level of competition was at a new all–time high.

I started the Whip Off Worlds as an underground celebration a few years ago. It still has that same ‘for the riders by the riders feel to it’. All the spectators need a bike to get to the jumps, so it has a real good vibe. After an hour jam session riders are rapidly narrowed down. The crowd help decide the finalists by their jeers and cheers fuelled by beers. Whips are very much about style, technique and execution. Tricky to judge. We had to pick a winner and we gave Bernado Cruz the nod for getting his whip so much more backwards than anyone else, but those who had the pleasure to witness Thomas Vanderham, Graham Agassiz and Kurt Sorge all killing it can agree that everyone was a winner. Then there is Casey Brown, she got legitimately more sideways than half the guys. Then the Kiwis, they always put on a good show. Bring on 2014 already.

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