Bike racing fans got to see some fast action Friday night in the area around Whistler Olympic Plaza at the opening Crankworx event. The Fat Tire Criterium kicked off the tenth edition of the mountain bike festival with two races featuring mountain bikes on slick tires racing an 800-metre course around the plaza.
Defending champion Carl Decker was the fastest male competitor while Jean Ann Berkenpas pulled out a sprint finish win in the women’s event.
The races were short at just 20 minutes in length featuring a pack of riders that was reduced over the course of the event by a motorbike riding sweep who randomly pulled competitors off the back of the pack. Competitors were required to ride mountain bikes with 26, 27.5 or 29-inch wheels. Each lap took between 45 and 50 seconds to ride. The loop consisted mostly of hard surface. There was a short crushed gravel section to justify the mountain bike requirement.
Leah Guloien of Port Moody stayed well ahead of the sweep through the women’s race and it looked like she would win but Jean Ann Berkenpas of Maple Ridge found extra fuel in the final seconds of the race and mounted a successful sprint to the line.
“I tried to get away early on but there were enough strong girls to chase me,” Berkenpas said after the race. “When Leah made a breakaway I worked to stay with her and managed to sprint away from her at the very end.”
Brandi Heisterman of Squamish placed third between Berkenpas and Guloien.
Decker, from Oregon, came off the course and said he found it a bit scary in places.
“It was so tight between riders,” said Decker. “It was about maintaining focus and not making errors. Letting your tires drift on pavement is pretty scary.”
The racer from Bend finished ahead of Spencer Paxson of Seattle. Squamish’s Greg Day finished in third place.
The six podium finishers shared in $4,500 in prize money.
The event kicked off two weeks of mountain bike competitions with most of the events on the rest of the scheduled based in the Whistler Mountain Bike Park. The cycling events are all free to view with Skiers’ Plaza the best place to see the action. The Crankworx Festival also includes photography and video showdowns with concerts at Whistler Olympic Plaza through the course of the festival.