While talent pours into Whistler from the U.S., Europe and as far away as Australia to compete in this weekends Crankworx events, some of the top contenders will travel less than 15 minutes to the mountain this year.
Crankworx is a five-day mountain bike festival, anchored by six high-profile events and numerous other demos, displays, rides and performances appealing to dirt lovers. The events kick off on Thursday with the Jim Beam Air Downhill race, followed by the Nissan Biker X on Friday, the Pro Invitational Slopestyle and Trialworx bike trials contest on Saturday, and the Garbanzo Enduro Downhill and Kona Jump Jam on Sunday.
The Air Downhill, which is in its fourth year, takes place on Whistlers A-Line, which boats 200 features like jumps and berms from top to bottom.
Last year the top three spots went to Whistler riders, with medals going to Claire Whiteman, Brook Baker, and Claire Buchar. Angela Teng finished just off the podium in fifth.
The mens podium went to Nathan Rennie, Cedric Gracia and Jared Rando, an Australian, Frenchman, and another Australian, although Gracia is a part-time Whistler resident. Our top local rider was Adam Cook, who finished fourth with a broken wrist. Tyler Morland was sixth, but is a strong podium contender this year after winning the national downhill championships and the recent Mount 7 Psychosis in Golden.
In the junior race the top local was Alex Prochazka, who was fourth after recovering from a broken collarbone. This season Alex has stepped it up a notch, beating the rest of the field by more than 20 seconds in one B.C. Cup race.
The Nissan Biker Cross was a mostly international affair, with the top World Cup athletes already in Canada for the World Cup event in Calgary. Most of the same athletes should be in the field this year, vying for their share of a $5,600 purse. Eric Carter and Brian Lopes of the U.S. are the top prospects, but you cant count out the Australian riders, Cedric Gracia, Russias Michal Prokop and Greg Minaar, or any of the other top pros.
The womens field should include Jill Kinter of the U.S., Sabrina Jonnier of France, as well as some other top World Cup riders.
Claire Buchar, who was second last year, is recovering from injuries but still hopes to be competitive this year as she prepares for the upcoming World Championships in Livigno, Italy.
Jennifer Ashton has also been strong in biker cross events, and is a contender if she participates.
Saturdays Invitational Slopestyle will include some of the top freeriders from around the world, and its really anyones game. In the first year mountain bike freerider Darren Berrecloth won with a 360 over the dirt jumps, and huge superman seat-grab over the big gap. Last year it went to Paul Basagoitia, who pulled out BMX tricks like a 360 on and a tailwhip off the bottom scaffolding. Whether the judges will give their highest marks for freeride moves or BMX moves this year is anyones guess.
As for local representation, Richie Schley is the sole local on the list after Garth Dyer pulled out with an injury. One of the original freeriders in the province, Schley was second in the first year and easily made the cut into the semi-finals last year before the young BMX stars took over.
Cedric Gracia also has a good chance to come away with a share of the $7,500 in prize money.
Whistlers other best hopes will have to make it through Fridays qualifier. That field includes Alex Prochazka, Kenny Smith and possibly Brandon Semenuk.
The Garbanzo Enduro Downhill is also wide open with just seconds separating the top riders after a 3,400-foot descent. Tyler Morland came a close second to Cedric Gracia, with Australians Nathan Rennie and Jared Rando finishing third and fourth. Other locals to watch for include Rob and Adam Cook, the always speedy Chris Dewar, and Adam Billinghurst, who has emerged as one of the top Canadians in competitions this year with strong results in the nationals and Canada Cup races out east.
Katie Pruitt and Anka Martin of the U.S. took the top two spots last year, and the field should get even stronger with U.S. downhill champion Marla Streb in town.
Last year the top local was Angela Teng in third, followed by Claire Buchar in fifth, Claire Whiteman in seventh, and Katrina Strand in eighth.
The field is so strong this year that the real competition is going to be for the King and Queen of the Mountain titles. Cedric Gracia, who competes in all events, is the runaway favourite to repeat as King this year, but the womens competition will be tougher for defending Queen Claire Buchar with an injury and so many strong riders in the field.
For a detailed schedule of events visit www.crankworx.com.