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Crankworx kicks off with a bang

Lopes takes crit, Ropelato dual slalom, Smith the downhill

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While it's impossible to talk about the opening of Crankworx without talking about the weather, it really wasn't that big a deal. While the sun wasn't shining, the rain more or less held off for the events themselves and wasn't much of a factor for athletes.

 

The Fat Tire Criterium

The opening event, the return of the Fat Tire Criterium, got off to a humble start at Whistler Olympic Plaza on Friday with only a few thousand fans lining the course to cheer on the few brave riders that assembled at the start line. There was even a beer garden for spectators.

The format changed slightly with a lower turnout than expected (just six women and 22 men) resulting in shorter races - 15 minutes plus five laps of the 800-metre course for the women, 20 minutes plus five laps for the men. Although shorter in length it wasn't an easy ride with participants sprinting for most of the course and then navigating a few tricky sections - a chicane section on concrete and a gravel corner being the worst - that took out a few riders during training and competition.

It was a tough week to run a criterium, with all of the road and cyclocross racers in the region in the Lower Mainland for Superweek and the Tour de White Rock - a conflict that won't exist next year as Crankworx gets pushed back to August. It was also the cross-country nationals in Canmore, which didn't help.

In the women's race, the Sunshine Coast's Katherine Short - her knee bleeding from a crash in training - put her road skills to the test and worked the lead group like a pro to win two of four $50 primes plus the overall.

"I just tried not to be at the front," said Short. "I've raced a lot of road in the past, which is all about tactics. I didn't want to lead everyone out and then finish last."

Her strategy was to ride second or third then turn on the speed after the last corner to sprint to the finish line, which worked pretty well.

While the pace was tough - riders dropped off in the very first lap - Short said the riders were racing to the length.

"You always try to ride to the length of the race, so if it's a 15 minute race you're riding 95 to 100 per cent the whole time," she said.

As for the format, Short said she would definitely return to ride next year.

"It was so much fun, a super good race, the crowds were great - I loved it, and I would definitely love to do it again."

She was joined on the podium by Ann New of North Vancouver, Squamish's Megan Rose, Whistler's Fanny Paquette and Linda Robichaud.

The men's race started fast, but settled in once the field broke up into packs. The lead pack - Brian Lopes, Kevin Calhoun, Matt Ryan and Charlton Durie was established early, and the group stayed together more or less for the next 20 minutes.

Lopes, best known for his skills on a downhill bike, was a threat from the start, and ended his day with three of six primes (Calhoun got the other three) and the overall win.

"I intended to do this race the minute I saw it on the schedule," he said. "Especially in the last year I've been riding a lot more than I normally do. I've lost weight and endurance-wise I feel stronger than I ever have because I've been focusing more on that aspect of my game."

The California rider got into cyclocross racing recently and a week before Crankworx he took part in the BC Bike Race where he placed a solid 11th against a field of experienced cross-country racers.

His strategy for the Fat Tire Criterium was to stay with the lead group and then sprint when it mattered.

"That's my specialty, and if I have gas left in the tank I'm always good to go," he said.

Calhoun placed second, while Whistler's Matt Ryan took third. Ryan was biding his time to attack with his new hardtail 29er, but said he didn't really know it was the last lap until it was too late to attack.

"Honestly, the crowd was so loud I didn't know what was going on," he said. "I'd hear a bell and wonder 'is this a prime lap?'"

Ryan also didn't believe that the final laps were counting down because the pace didn't pick up that much. "I figured after 20 minutes everyone would start attacking each other and that never really happened so I started to question myself," he said. "I was saving my energy for what would turn out to be a huge sprint finish, then I blew the one corner over in the gravel - I didn't do it the whole race, but on the last lap. And then we finished up and I sat up and said 'are we done?' It caught me by surprise a little.

"I'm a little disappointed because I didn't leave it all out there, but next year I'll know better."

Charlton Durie was with the leaders for most of the race but dropped off towards the end, while Wolsky - who placed fifth - rode on his own and even put on a bit of a show by jumping over the wooden ramp that was built over a feature of the Olympic Plaza.

 

Dual slalom goes big

The course for the annual Crankworx Dual Slalom was a little different this year, with a wedge jump at the top, a few challenging gaps through the middle and some bigger airs near the end. It wasn't as busy with berms and gates, and riders had more room to pedal.

While there was some heavy rain earlier in the day the course set up well and most pro riders said that their grip improved as the event wore on.

At the end there were just two men and two women remaining to challenge for the title. For Mitch Ropelato of the U.S., who fell in the finals last year, it was a chance at redemption and he didn't disappoint. He bested Australian Mick Hannah in two straight heats to take the title.

"You just had to keep it smooth, stay on the cranks and go fast," said Ropelato. "I think there was a lot more pedalling this year, you were pedalling anywhere you could fit a crank in. I didn't qualify that good, but I got better as the day went on with my friend Cody coaching me through it.

"We were all worried about the rain, but it wasn't that big a deal. The course got a lot tackier, then it would rain again, then it would get tacky. You couldn't think about it, just go out there and have fun and ride your bike."

In the small final, Michal Mororsi crashed in a berm, leaving Kyle Strait to take third place.

There were only four women racing in the women's dual. Jill Kintner of the U.S. beat reigning champion Micayla Gatto of North Vancouver in two runs to take the title. Kintner seemed the most comfortable on the course, getting up and over the first feature quickly and building on her lead as the race went on.

"I really like slalom and this little dual suspension bike felt awesome on this course, so it was a win-win for me," she said of the course. "I was just riding and enjoying it, and the whole atmosphere. I've been riding downhill so much that I never get to ride these little bikes, but I didn't lose it I guess.

"For whatever reasons the other girls seemed to struggle on the jumps, and Gatto was saying that (the last run in the finals) was her first clean run. I didn't have any problems, it was just business as usual."

Manon Carpenter beat Melissa Buhl in the consolation final to take third.

In the 13 to 15 age category, Tom Van Steenbergen of Kelowna placed first over Whistler's Jack Iles in the finals, with Liam Wallace finishing third over Galen Carter.

In Junior Men 16 to 18, older brother Bas Van Steenbergen was the top racer, beating Whistler's Zander Geddes in two runs. Dixon Black edged Cole Swanson for third.

In Senior Amateur Men 19 to 29, Kyle Quesnel of Squamish took the win over Shane Gayton, with Guy Gibbs taking third over Brad Mills.

In Master Men 30-plus it was Jason Carpenter over John Oakes for the win and Allen Levine over Claus Schroeder for third place.

 

Steve Smith rules Canadian Open DH

The Canadian Open DH also avoided the rain, but there were some slippery sections from top to bottom that riders had to contend with. Gee Atherton, one of the top riders in the world before he broke his neck last year, was a favourite going in, but crashed during a training run just after the infamous Heckler's Rock section.

Nanaimo's Steve Smith - currently ranked fourth on the World Cup circuit - managed to avoid any mishaps and push a fast pace from top to bottom to take the win in 3:00.01, a second-and-a-half faster than South African racer Andrew Neethling. Third place in 3:02.68 went to Australia's Troy Brosnan, who already has a World Cup win to his credit though he's only 17 years old.

On the pro women's side, Rachel Atherton set a pace that nobody could match to finish in 3:34.45. Whistler's Claire Buchar, on hiatus from World Cup racing, picked up second place with a time of 3:38.75. Miranda Miller of Squamish was third in 3:50.75.

Tom Van Steenbergen was first once again in Boy 13 to 15 with a time of 3:34.26, followed by Whistler's Jack Iles in 3:36.05 and Carter Faulkner in 3:44.08.

David Mcmillan of Australia was first in Junior Men 16 to 18 in 3:16.59, followed by Canada's Mark Wallace in 3:18.76. Austin Warren of the U.S. was third in 3:19.38.

In Senior Amateur Men 19 to 29, Guy Gibbs was first again with his time of 3:17.19, followed by Kirk Leighton in 3:24.01 and Lewis Winton in 3:24.77.

In Master Amateur 30-plus it was Kris Atkinson in 3:21.74, followed by Ryan Newton in 3:33.20 and Steve Storey in 3:36.22.