The Enduro World Series kicked off the events at Crankworx, but with a weekend free between EWS Rotorua, and the next EWS taking place in Tasmania, the guys stuck around to watch and compete in several events at the opener of the 2017 Crankworx World Tour. We got this play-by-play dispatch from Allan Cooke, doer of things, sports marketing manager, and ultra-casual fast guy.
The first event to take place after the EWS was the Crankworx Pumptrack Challenge, and we had a couple riders competing in the event. Iago Garay, a member of the Santa Cruz x SRAM Team, is far from a one-trick pony, and has made the night show at Crankworx Whistler the past two years. Craig Evans has the skills to pay the bills. And our ace in the hole was none other than defending Crankworx Whistler Pumptrack Champ Mitch Ropelato.
Weather played a part in nearly all events over the week, with heavy rains off and on, and the Crankworx crew worked their asses off to get the Pumptrack ready for the race. All three Santa Cruz riders qualified for the night show aboard Jackals, which was itself a tough task with a ton of local Rotorua talent showing up to compete in their home town. Craig and Iago had close races but were eliminated in the first round, not bad for being on borrowed bikes they had never ridden before! Mitch had a good night, just getting eliminated in the Bronze Medal round by less than a second. Not where Mitch wanted to end up with his main focus for 2017 on the overall King of Crankworx, but a solid start to a long season with the addition of a fourth Crankworx event this year.
Next up was the Whip Off, and because of the rain they had to reschedule the event to take place under the lights. It was a blessing in disguise as the crowd and atmosphere was as electric as the riding. The contest was held on a new jump build right in the middle of the festival village—it's hard to explain the feeling of dropping in for a run with two thousand people cheering. It definitely made all the riders go just a little bit harder. Josh Bryceland, Iago Garay and Craig Evans were all riding their Hightowers, and people were so surprised to see the the boys laying it down on 29ers. I had a blast on a fresh V10, the jump was nearly perfect for whips and after only 2 runs everyone was laying it down. I ended up in third place—not the reason why anyone does a whip off event but it does feel pretty good to be on the podium and to get compliments from all my MTB heroes!
Speed and Style is an interesting event, like a Slalom race but with really big jumps, and the riders can earn time credits for getting a better trick score than their competitors. Basically, if you cross the line first it doesn't mean you won—our boy Mitch Ropelato proved just that. Mitch was riding a custom painted 5010 like it was a slopestyle bike doing some of the best dipped 360s I’ve ever seen, and in one heat, Mitch found himself behind Tomas Slavik, and leaned forward, front flipping the huge final showtime booter on the track. This gave Mitch an advantage for the style score and that was good enough for a Bronze Medal. “I saw Tomas was in front and I knew what I had to do, its been 9 years since I front flipped a bike, this was the first on a MTB and clipped in, haha.”
The DH race was held on a track called “The Fuzz” originally built for the 2006 UCI World Champs DH race. It’s one of the best DH tracks ever and most famous for its pond gap up in the raw grassy top section. With the heavy rains early in the week, the first day of practice had all the riders scratching their heads a bit—it was like riding on a polished concrete floor with two inches of grease on top. After a couple rain-free days of practice the track was in amazing shape for race day. Mitch Ropelato, Santa Cruz R&D employee Kiran Mackinnon, Junior Development rider Sean Bell, Santa Cruz-backed New Zealand DH legend Kieran Bennett, and myself were all stoked to lay down a full race run on Saturday morning. The track conditions would prove to be the toughest part of the race—many of the top UCI-ranked riders would have crashes in the tricky and still slick sections on and just below a section called “The Larches.” Whether it was the slick track or the pressure of the hecklers, every one of our riders would have a crash except me! Since dinner wouldn’t cook itself, along with my other full-time Sports Marketing duties, I rode a mellow lap with no goal but a clean run. That turned out to be a pretty good call and put me top-40 overall in the Elite division.
Slopestyle is by far the highest-rated and most anticipated event at any Crankworx—the sheer size of the jumps, roll-ins, and drops make the danger apparent even to a spectator who’s never ridden a bike. Our rider, Logan Peat, walked away with 9th place after completing 2 solid runs, it was a positive start to the season and Logan is looking forward to stepping up that position aboard his custom hand made in Santa Cruz slopestyle frame throughout the remainder of the season. “It was a big winter up in Canada, so much snow. I wasn't able to progress as much as I wanted to during the off season, stoked on the solid top 10 finish here in NZ and can't I wait to get home for some film projects and learn some new stuff to bring out in Les Gets at the next stop.”
The last event of the week was the Air DH, a one-run race against the clock on a typical bike park track. There are lots of jumps, huge berms and it’s very smooth, almost like a long BMX track. I really like this event because it has the best DH, Enduro, 4X, and Freeride riders battling it out. Santa Cruz had 3 riders in the top 10 with Kiran Mackinnon in tenth, Mark Scott in eighth, and the legend himself Cedric Gracia in seventh, only 3.3 seconds off the winning time. It was a great race to say the least, and rad to see all the boys killing it on the live feed. We had four other riders in the race, as well—Iago Garay finished a respectable 32nd, Josh Bryceland 25th, Craig Evans 22nd, and Mitch Ropelato 16th. The times were very tight outside the top ten, so it was awesome to see so many of our guys on pace.
If the Crankworx week wasn't busy enough with all the events, the riders were doing group rideouts almost every day with local shops and Hyperformance our NZ distributor, signing autographs, filming in the woods for an edit, premiering the “Ride Your F#%king Bike” video presented by Fox, as well as maintaining a training schedule.
We all can't wait for the next adventure together, until next time...