Words by Flow | Images by Flowtographer

Crankworx isn’t all about teenage Canadian rubber people doing flips. In fact, the downhill is the centrepiece of the event for many, and today saw some of the world’s fastest riders take to the slopes of Mount Ngongotaha.

 

The field for the Crankworx Rotorua downhill race wasn’t far shy of that you’d find at World Cup; the Athertons (Gee and Rachel), the Hannahs (Mick and Tracey), Hill, Bruni, Blenkinsop, MacDonald, and they weren’t hanging about either. In many ways, it was a good preview for the upcoming season, which gets kicked off in France in just two weeks.

The course was largely the same as was used for the World Champs back in 2006, and it was interesting to see how much the riders still loved it, it’s clearly aged well. Rain which was forecast failed to materialise, and conditions were about as perfect as you can imagine come race time. Rotorua’s famed dirt is some of the most magical stuff you can ride on, and it was at its most luscious this afternoon.

In the women’s racing, the battle was really between two riders; Rachel Atherton and Tracy Hannah, and they finished in that order. The huge gap back to third highlighted the fact these two women are in a different league, and we’re looking forward to seeing them battle it out throughout the year.

The men’s racing could have been won by a dozen different riders, and the hot money was on the Kiwis – Blenkinsop, Brannigan, MacDonald and the Masters brothers were all favourites. But the Frenchman, a young Loic Bruni, crashed the party in a big way. He smoked the field by two and a half seconds, ahead of an ecstatic Eliot Jackson, with Blenkinsop in third. Powerhouses Hill and Atherton were both well back, along with Mick Hannah (the last rider on the hill) who can’t get a break, picking up a front flat.

Today was also the last practice session ahead of the Giant Toa Enduro, which kicks off early tomorrow morning. Stages 4 and 5 treated riders to yet more incredibly slippery roots and greasy mud, but the field must be getting well accustomed to it by now, as there was a lot less crashing and fewer concerned faces than we’d seen in Stage 1 practice! A few course modifications announced yesterday also removed some of the tighter, slower trails as well, which was greeted with praise. We’re really excited to see how it all pans out tomorrow in the dark forests of Rotorua.

Practice also got underway for the slopestyle as well. Set amongst the massive pines, the word from the riders is that they’re loving the course, and while they were all really just feeling out the size and shape of the jumps today, the forgiving Rotorua dirt is likely to encourage some truly rowdy riding come Sunday.

As if the day wasn’t already jam-packed enough, things were capped off with the Pump Track Challenge, which was held under lights after being postponed yesterday afternoon. The head-to-head format is a winner, and while local favourite Keegan Wright was edged out by veteran racer Joost Wichman, it was a great way to cap off a huge Friday of racing.

I can see my hotel from here. Hey, get out of my minibar!

I can see my hotel from here. Hey, get out of my minibar!

Andrew Neethling had some of the smoothest lines of all, but a flat tyre ruined his final. Poor little fella.

Andrew Neethling had some of the smoothest lines of all, but a flat tyre ruined his final. Poor little fella.

Roto dirt is something else. With a bit of moisture in it, it's the grippiest stuff since a scared cat on Velcro.

Roto dirt is something else. With a bit of moisture in it, it’s the grippiest stuff since a scared cat on Velcro.

Bernard Kerr, on a charge out of the dark redwoods.

Bernard Kerr, on a charge out of the dark redwoods.

Brendog, just casually boosting into a VERY fast section of the course.

Brendog, just casually boosting into a VERY fast section of the course.

Connor Fearon, taking a moment to whip up some cheer on his way to fifth.

Connor Fearon, taking a moment to whip up some cheer on his way to fifth.

One of the course favourites, Brook MacDonald.

One of the course favourites, Brook MacDonald.

Loic dropping through the loudest part of the course.

Loic dropping through the loudest part of the course.

Sam Hill received a loud welcome to the finish, but lost too much time up there somewhere for the podium.

Sam Hill received a loud welcome to the finish, but lost too much time up there somewhere for the podium.

Brook MacDonald didn't spend a moment more than necessary in the air.

Brook MacDonald didn’t spend a moment more than necessary in the air.

Sam Blenkinsop's wild style would've won him the lunatic air-pedalling race, but it didn't get him the win in the downhill today. There is no more exciting rider to watch we feel.

Sam Blenkinsop’s wild style would’ve won him the lunatic air-pedalling race, but it didn’t get him the win in the downhill today. There is no more exciting rider to watch we feel.

Make some room up there, Gee. Rachel was the Atherton who shone today, taking the win over Tracey Hannah.

Make some room up there, Gee. Rachel was the Atherton who shone today, taking the win over Tracey Hannah.

Rachel Atherton's composure in the steep woods was streets ahead of all the other women, excluding Tracey Hannah.

Rachel Atherton’s composure in the steep woods was streets ahead of all the other women, excluding Tracey Hannah.

We're big fans of this affable and entertaining young French kid.

We’re big fans of this affable and entertaining young French kid.

Cash cash!

Cash cash!

Tracey, Rachel and Emelie.

Tracey, Rachel and Emelie.

Loic and Blenki are great mates, a pat on the back and a face full of bubbles from a mate.

Loic and Blenki are great mates. A pat on the back and a face full of bubbles from a friend.

 

Blenki in a sea of green.

Blenki in a sea of green.

Crankworx Day 2 15
Stage 4 of the EWS runs through one of our all-time Roto favourites, Te Tiwi o Tawa. A rooty, off-camber, but strangely rhythmic ride through the native bush.

Stage 4 of the EWS runs through one of our all-time Roto favourites, Te Tiwi o Tawa. A rooty, off-camber, but strangely rhythmic ride through the native bush.

The lower half of stage 4 spits riders onto Billy T where there's barely a root to be seen.

The lower half of stage 4 spits riders onto Billy T where there’s barely a root to be seen.

Josh Carlson pre-jumps into a Billy T fadeaway. He's loving the rooty conditions, telling us it's just like home. Whether he means Wollongong or adopted homeland of Canada, we don't know.

Josh Carlson pre-jumps into a Billy T fadeaway. He’s loving the rooty conditions, telling us it’s just like home. Whether he means Wollongong or adopted homeland of Canada, we don’t know.

All hail the king: Nico Voullioz. Hunting for lines out of the main rut, looking light, fast and very relaxed.

All hail the king: Nico Voullioz. Hunting for lines out of the main rut, looking light, fast and very relaxed.

Six weeks to build this course, probably needed a lot of dirt?

Six weeks to build this course, probably needed a lot of dirt?

Sam Pilgrim, no sleeves, no worries.

Sam Pilgrim, no sleeves, no worries.

Semenuk, seriously inverted on the final jump.

Semenuk, seriously inverted on the final jump.

Watching and learning.

Watching and learning.

Lofting through the Rotorua Redwoods.

Lofting through the Rotorua Redwoods.

There is a lot of time to trick, with that amount of air.

There is a lot of time to trick, with that amount of air.

Martin Soderström, casual barspin up the stepup in practice.

Martin Soderström, casual barspin up the stepup in practice.

Crankworx Day 3 Pump 13 Crankworx Day 3 Pump 12 Crankworx Day 3 Pump 8 Crankworx Day 3 Pump 11 Crankworx Day 3 Pump 10 Crankworx Day 3 Pump 9 Crankworx Day 3 Pump 6 Crankworx Day 3 Pump 5 Crankworx Day 3 2
With the pump track event held under lights, it was tough to get shots, so we went for something a little #arty.

With the pump track event held under lights, it was tough to get shots, so we went for something a little #arty.

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