Think you've seen this Crankworx before? Think again.
Although the competition schedule for Crankworx Whistler — which runs Aug. 8 to 17, and is entering its 11th year — doesn't look too much different from last year's lineup of events, organizers keep looking for ways to make the annual celebration of all things mountain biking a little bit more impressive.
And after a decade of pushing the limits of the sport — helping to drive the progression of downhill racing, freestyle riding, and even event presentation — Darren Kinnaird likes the balance that Crankworx Whistler has been able to achieve.
"I think we've hit a pretty good mix," said Kinnaird, Crankworx's general manager, in an interview with Pique this week. "It's a similar mix as in the past, but we're trying to put more polish on everything and make it more accessible for more people to come out and enjoy it.
"The mix is similar, but you could say that the quality of the ingredients is better."
With that in mind, expect a healthy helping of the Crankworx you've come to know and love, but with some tweaks here and there aimed at pushing the event to new heights.
Take, for example, this year's Red Bull Joyride slopestyle course, which gets updated every year, but appears to have taken things up another notch for 2014.
"I think this is the all-time best course we've ever had," said Kinnaird. "In the test runs we did a couple weeks ago with Brandon Semenuk and Darren Berrecloth, they agreed that it's super fun and very minimal changes were needed, which is pretty incredible."
Joyride is once again one of the showcase events on the Freeride Mountain Bike (FMB) World Tour, and other cycling bodies are beginning to embrace the idea of bringing signature competitions to Crankworx Whistler. The Enduro World Series (EWS) is back for another five-stage, single-day race — the results of which will set the table for the circuit's finale in Italy in October. For the second year in a row, Cycling Canada is hosting Canada Cup series finals as part of Crankworx, too.
Having various sanctioning bodies lining up to squeeze their events into Crankworx's 10-day schedule is a testament to the quality of the biking scene that's been developed here in town over the years, said Kinnaird.
"I think it really says that the riding in Whistler is awesome," he said. "We have the No. 1 bike park in the world; we have some of the best trails outside of the bike park in the world. The fact that they all want to be here is incredible."
And the competitors themselves seem eager to make a return trip to the resort every August as well. In Pinkbike's 2013 MTB Awards, athletes were polled for their favourite events of the year, and Crankworx showed up twice: Red Bull Joyride was selected as the Slopestyle/Freeride Event of the Year, while Whistler's EWS stop earned the same number of votes as Italy's Finale Ligure when deciding the Enduro Race of the Year.
"I think they all want to be here, and we're more than happy to have them here and do our best to put on a great event for them," said Kinnaird.
Crankworx has also expanded some of its programming this year to capture more youth and family participation through its Kidsworx and new Familyworx events.
Familyworx will be made up of a number of free, hands-on events during the festival, including Run Bike Fun Races (Aug. 9 and 17), pump track sessions (Aug. 9 to 12, Aug. 14 to 17), photo scavenger hunts (Aug. 9 and 14) and run-bike demos.
Kidsworx has a bigger lineup of events for youth racers to compete in than ever, with little rippers as young as seven able to participate in many of the same events their favourite pros do. On top of the kids-only B-Line race on Aug. 11, several of this year's races will have a children's component as well.
"They all know who the big-name riders are, and they're all their heroes," Kinnaired said of Kidsworx competitors. "Now they get to participate in the same festival with them."
There's a lot to take in over the 10 days, so read on for Pique's guide to all of Crankworx Whistler's competitive events, and get primed and ready for the summer's biggest party.
Friday, Aug. 8 — Fat Tire Crit
This race serves as the festival-opening event once again this year, putting mountain bikers into a race format traditionally reserved for roadies, and on a course set in the heart of Whistler Village. Racers will loop the 800-metre route around Olympic Plaza, looking to stay on the lead lap to be part of the sprint finish. Youth racers will be on course between 4:30 and 5:30 p.m., followed by the open women's race at 6:30 and the men at 7.
Saturday, Aug. 9 — CLIF Bar Dual Speed & Style
A hybrid slalom-freestyle race, the Dual Speed & Style has quickly become a Crankworx favourite, providing an arena for riders of all backgrounds to battle it out for the top prize. Competitors race head-to-head while completing tricks to earn time bonuses along the way. Qualifiers start at noon, while finals get underway at 5 p.m. at the base of Whistler.
Sunday, Aug. 10 — SRAM Canadian Open Enduro presented by Specialized
The second-last race on the Enduro World Series calendar for 2014. The world's best will all be here for Sunday's race, but there will be a strong local contingent as well — Whistler-based riders Jesse Melamed, Nick Geddes, Dylan Wolsky and others will among the pro men's field.
There will be plenty of places around town to take in the race — Stage 1 takes place on Micro Climate, Stage 2 uses Crazy Train, the third leg follows Upper Billy's Epic to 27 Switchbacks and Binty's, while Stage 4 features Lower Ride Don't Slide and Boyd's Trail. The fifth and final stage ends at the base of the bike park after starting out on Top of the World.
Tuesday, Aug. 12 — Garbanzo DH
The infamously long course is the first opportunity for downhill fans to get their fix during Crankworx. The race snakes through seven kilometres of the bike park's toughest terrain, as competitors endure a 3,400-foot (1,000-metre) descent to the village base finish line. Age group races start at 12:30 p.m.; the pros hit the course around 5 p.m.
Wednesday, Aug. 13 — Fox Air DH
They call it the "Air DH" for a reason. This Crankworx classic follows the entire length of the acclaimed A-Line trail, so there's no shortage of jumps for racers to navigate on their way to the bottom. The first starters go at 11:30 a.m.; the pros follow shortly after 3:30 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 14 — Official Whip-Off World Championships, Ultimate Pump Track Challenge presented by RockShox
Crabapple Hits is the place to be starting at 11:30 a.m. Thursday, when racers and freeriders alike will bust out their best whips and put on a display of skill and style. This year's event has a new invitational format, and five riders will get a spot in the event through a qualifier taking place Aug. 11.
The action moves to Whistler Olympic Plaza in the evening for pump-track racing, with lots of notable riders going head-to-head to determine this year's champs. The pedal-free races get going at 8 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 15 — GIANT Dual Slalom, Canadian Open XC
Side-by-side racing continues back in the bike park on the second Friday of Crankworx with the ever-popular dual slalom. The tricky course filled with jumps and berms will pit racers against each other as they look to avoid elimination each round. The amateur races begin at 3:30 p.m., while the pros go at it starting at 6 p.m.
Many of the country's top cross-country talents will also be on hand for the Canadian Open XC, which doubles as the final race on the Canada Cup series this season. The course will start and end at Spruce Grove Park, following a selection of Lost Lake-area trails. Youth and amateur races are ongoing from 10 a.m., while the elite and junior competitors take to the trails at 1:15 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 16 — Red Bull Joyride
Whistler's biggest spectator event of the year, and for good reason. Joyride will once again bring together the best slopestyle riders around, and the course will be bigger and badder than ever. Whistler's own Brandon Semenuk comes in as the defending champion, and will try for his third Joyride win in four years. The second FMB World Tour Diamond Series event of the season will have a $50,000 prize purse up for grabs. Make sure you're at the base of the bike park before 5 p.m. to catch all of the action from a good spot.
Sunday, Aug. 17 — Canadian Open DH
Crankworx closes with another race that will also serve as the Canada Cup series finale, this time in downhill. The Canadian Open track is no picnic, but Steve Smith has made it look that way the past three years, claiming the pro men's title each time. It's a true test of downhill prowess for the competitors, who will see a good sampling of everything the bike park has to offer — and probably a few hecklers along the way, too. The amateur category races start at 11:30 a.m., the pros go at 3 p.m.
Need more info? Head over to www.crankworx.com for full event details, or to find webcast links and times if you're not in Whistler or unable to take it all in first hand.