With the red dust still settling in Cairns after the inaugural Australian World Tour stop, the festival set sights on Rotorua for its eighth running. The just managing to squeak through in March 2020 before the world blew up, Crankworx Rotorua was held last year, but as a very intimate, athletes and media-only event.
For 2022, with the international borders open and fans cordially invited back into the festivities. Tāwhirimātea is the Māori god of weather, and it’s clear that he missed everyone, over the last couple of years, and so he made sure this Crankworx would be extra memorable. The weather was, err…ummm…torrential, but even shin-deep mud was no match for all of that pent-up energy in Rotovegas.
“There were heaps of crowds out there, and people all down the tracks heckling even when it was raining and muddy,” says Polygon Factory Team rider Brady Stone.
For the fourth and final stop of this year’s Crankworx World Tour, we are once again Pinning it with Polygone, with Brady Stone, Jai Motherwell and Anthoney Messeray flying the team colours in New Zealand.
Join the gang from Polygon as they take on Crankworx Rotorua
Previously on Pinned with Polygon
- Pinned With Polygon | The gang goes to Crankworx Cairns
- Pinned With Polygon | Getting Loose at Cannonball with the Polygon Crew
Return to the Taniwha Downhill
The Taniwha hillside has been the longtime home of downhill in the Whakarewarewa Forest. So it’s fitting that Crankworx kicked off the festival here. Folks have been sending double crown bikes down this hillside for so long that there are probably a few locals who could ride it with their eyes closed. So the course builders threw in a few fresh lines of rooty, loamy goodness to keep the riders guessing.
When the riders were set loose for practice, the course was wet and greasy. Stone ice skated his way through seeding into 23rd.
“There were lots of really fast sections that were rutted up, so you’re sliding around all over the place, but still going really fast, which was challenging,” he says.
The Whaka Forest is best known for its dirt, and as things began to dry out throughout the day, the course rubbered in, the grip improved, and the times dropped.
“You had to be on it the whole way down. As the track dried out, the ruts were changing, and there were some new sections which were really cool. But by the time we raced, it had just dried out enough that it was grippy everywhere and running the fastest it had been all week,” he says.
Head to head on the dual slalom
With rain soaking the course before practice and qualifying, the wind picked up to blow the storm through and dried the venue out. However, the gusts stuck around, making a tricky technical dual slalom even tougher.
“The wind was great for the course because it dried out. Everything was pretty tacky, but it made some of the rhythm sections hard to get through,” says Stone.
The flat corners also tripped up a good portion of the field, with riders trying quite a few different lines. The course in Cairns was sculpted into a dusty piece of art, and Stone and many other riders opted for their dirt jump bikes. However, in Rotorua, trail bikes reigned supreme.
“Some people were racing on jump bikes, but they really struggled through the flat corners. I’m more used to trail bikes, so the Siskiu was pretty ideal for me. I just pumped up the suspension and the tyres really hard, so I didn’t lose too much through the rhythm sections from the bike squishing it all up,” says Stone.
The choice to race the trail bike, pingy suspension and all, paid off in qualification, with Stone carving his way into 12th place for the brackets — his highest seed to date. However, finals were short-lived, and he was knocked out by Crankworx vet and Rotorua local Lewis Hamilton.
“The first run, I got all the way down to the flat corners, and then my chain came off. I was on the slightly faster side and managed to carry some speed through the flat turns to the finish.
On the second run, I was on the other side, and tried pushing it a little harder through the flat turns. I started washing out in the rut and blew all my speed, and that was me,” he sighs.
In Cairns, several riders mused that the spacing of the features on the pump track made for a technical challenge.
“There weren’t as many rollers, and the gaps between the berms and the rollers were a little bigger than usual,” Polygon rider Tom Wrigley said of the Smithfield course.
Stone said the same of the venue in Queensland. And all that time working on his PHD in the conservation of energy on the orange dirt of Smithfield was of little use, because Rotorua is one of the tightest and most technical pump tracks we’ve seen to date.
We mustn’t forget Stone’s day job is racing on the EWS. And so competing on a track that doesn’t have roots, rocks and ruts, and on a small bike with no rear suspension, against the world’s best is a bit like asking us to write this article in Ancient Sumerian. Making the task even more herculean, the weather made for yet another truncated practice session.
“In Rotorua, the course was really tight, and you could work for your speed wherever (you were) on the track rather than just trying to hold your speed all the way,” says Stone.
“I’m not super used to that type of racing, and (with the short practice) I was still trying to figure out the track,” he says.
Speed and Style
Hot off a bronze medal in Cairns, Anthony Messere was the sole Polygon rider in the Speed and Style, and was chomping at the bit for a repeat — and redemption from his champagne fumble on the podium in Cairns.
Once again, the weather did its best to derail the festival, making for a shorter practice session that went straight into qualifying.
Messere qualified in second place, giving in a favourable matchup in the first round of the bracket against Kiwi rider Connor Mahuika.
But in the quarter-finals, battling Peter Kaiser, disaster struck. A pair of hard crashes in the first run meant the Polygon rider had to make up at least two seconds and reach deep into his bag of tricks to advance. Unfortunately, even with the crowd-pleasing lawn dart on the final booter, Messere was knocked out by Kaiser.
Slap on the muds, this is going to be sloppy
The weather was the overarching arrow in the side of Crankworx Rotorua, causing delays and making for some pretty tricky conditions through just about every event.
And so it’s fitting that Tāwhirimātea, the Māori god of weather, would flex his muscles once again, opening up the heavens to ring in the weekend.
Run down after a week of competing, Polygon’s resident gravity warrior Stone was battling a cold when it came time to blast down Mt Ngongotaha at Skyline. With the race running same course as last year, Stone limited his practice time. This was a blessing in disguise because all the lines you would have spent Wednesday and Thursday dialling in through practice were no use because white water rapids were raging down the bogged-out track.
“I wanted to save myself for the race, so my plan was to get in a few practice runs on Saturday and then race — it was pretty exciting,” Stone laughs.
According to the Kiwi it was one of the sloppiest races he’s ever done, and he managed one clean run with no crashes. Unfortunately, it wasn’t during the race.
“When I crashed, I couldn’t even stand up afterwards and get back on my bike (because it was so slick). I literally could not stand up. So, I just had to laugh at myself because everyone else would be doing similar, and just crack on,” he says.
Requiring a powerwash before going anywhere, Stone managed to finish out Crankworx Rotorua and his season with another P15.
Wet and whippy
The whip-off is usually the first event off the mark to get folks hyped for the rest of the long weekend. Unfortunately, heavy precipitation left the Whip-off jump in a sad state on Wednesday evening, with the event delayed until Sunday before the slopestyle.
“It was just too wet because there was something like 70mm of rain on the day it was scheduled for. It kept getting pushed back, and we weren’t able to do any work because it was too wet or it was raining. When you touch the soil there when it is wet, it just turns into slop,” says Jai Motherwell, who pulls double duty competing for Polygon and building with Elevate Trails.
Earlier on Sunday, Motherwell tells us it looked like there was a river running down the tarps, and you could see where it was seeping through.
“We were just watching it happen, and there was nothing you could do about it,” he says. “And when we would get a window where we could work, another big downpour would come and we’d have to cover everything up. .”
When the tarps were pulled off the jumps, it was a nightmare scenario. A saturated flat bottom, soft lip and gooey landing — oh, and there was a headwind too, and it rained 45 min before the event was supposed to start.
So it was all hands on deck to get gravel and some plywood down in the flat bottom, and the gas torches were lit to evaporate as much water as humanly possible.
“We did a little bit of prep work, and when I did a test run on the Whip-Off Jump, it was a little bit soft, but it would work,” he says. “I’m still gobsmacked that we managed to get every event to run without any cancellations. And it wasn’t just us, Empire of Dirt was doing the dual slalom and the pump track, and they kept those courses running through it all.”
It was quite an effort to get enough speed to clear the sizable jump, but the riders still managed to put on a show. And the sun even came out.
Catch up on the last episode of Pinned with Polygon, when the gang got together for Crankworx Cairns.
Photos: Henry Jaine / @HenryJaine
Video: Josh Birkenhake / josh_birkenhake