In the wake of a year plagued with more strains of Covid, it has been difficult to know if race events would go ahead, luckily Crankworx managed to make it to the final stop of the world tour in Rotorua. Traditionally held in March kicking off the tour, changes in the schedule now sees New Zealand closing the tour in November. The southern hemisphere spring time, with it’s unpredictable weather patterns, certainly made this one difficult to piece together. Rain and high winds saw a lot of changes to the schedule, especially disciplines like Speed & Style, and Slope-style. Despite this, the week long event was still a success.
In March 2020 I competed in my first Crankworx events of Air DH, and Duel Slalom. This year I decided that I would expand my experiences a bit, and have a go at the Downhill and Pump track events in addition to Duel Slalom (Air DH was canceled this year), so I thought I would share my experiences of this with you. I fall in to the awkward position, of normally doing very well in amateur categories, but being bottom of the list when it comes to professional races. With no amateur categories being available, I decided to join the professionals just for fun, which worked out brilliantly, as when you know you aren’t going to do well, there is no pressure to perform, which means you can just enjoy the experience.
The event kicked off on Tuesday, with a track walk to look at the course being used for the Downhill race. After I had gone through the registration process, provided vaccination details, my race license, and collected my number boards, I jumped in the shuttle to get a lift to the top of the hill. The downhill track starts from the top of Mount Ngongotaha, over looking Lake Rotorua. Once you leave the start gate the top third of the course traverses across wide agricultural fields, with lots of off-camber grassland, with hidden compressions and bumps all the way along. A large scaffolding frame creates a bridge that takes riders over the access road and in to the native forest section. This middle part of the forest is rough and rooty with some big optional drops and jumps. It gets steeper the further down you go, including lots of multiple line options to navigate through sections of very lose dirt, and slippery off-camber roots. Eventually you drop back in the the Skyline bike park, which makes up the bottom third of the course. A couple of big berms, a small rock garden, and a steep wooden bridge, took riders in to what looked like a construction site for the new luge track going in. This then came back on to the steep and rutted grassy trail that runs under the gondola and down towards the finish line. It’s a strange course, which certainly test the skill level of the riders as it seems to have a little bit of everything in it.
Wednesday saw the first tires touch the dirt. With two hours of practice on the downhill track, I did two runs, stopping and looking at features, trying to figure out which lines felt best, and were manageable on the trail bike. Knowing that I didn’t have a lot of suspension to play with, as well as not wanting to injure myself at the start of our summer riding season, I decided to play things cautiously, and opted for a lot of the easy, but slower lines. From midday practice on the pumptrack began, so I swapped bikes and spent a couple of hours learning how to do gates (the bmx style automatic start ramps). I had done them before in the past for 4X, but in pumptrack you aren’t allowed a chain on the bike, and trying to keep your balance without any support from the pedals is extremely difficult. In addition to this the high head winds meant that it was difficult to hold your speed on some of the straights.
The pump track course consists of two mirror image tracks, that two riders go head to head on. Once you come out of the start gate you are faced with two pump rollers in order to generate enough speed to get over a large stall wall. Once over that you go straight down the middle with more pump rollers, that can be optionally doubled up and jumped over. A large berm at the bottom takes riders 180 degrees back towards the start gate with a couple of transfer berms, and finishing with another large berm, to take rider back on to the central straight, and down to the finish line.
By mid-afternoon it was time for our qualifying runs. For this each rider has to do one lap on each side of the course, and their combined times will determine where they place in the first head-to-head knock out round of 16 riders. Although I really struggled with the head wind on the return straight, I surprised myself by not qualifying last. However my time did put me up against 8x world BMX world champion Caroline Buchanan, so unsurprisingly I did not go through to the round of 8. It still felt so good just to get on course and push myself at something I don’t normally do.
Thursday was a slightly more relaxed day, where I only had practice for the Downhill track in the morning. I managed to squeeze 4 runs, just trying to link everything together, and make sure I was feeling comfortable on all my line choices, and that I could put them together in to a full run.
The Downhill race was being held on Friday, with enough time to fit in two more practice runs before heading up for my race run. I was seeded second to last, which meant I was one of the first people on track. This should have worked to my advantage, as I was one of the few riders that actually had a dry track, as it started raining just as I reached the start line. However the tiny bit of rain, mixed with my over eagerness, mean that I slid out in the third grassy corner on track and bent my brake lever. I managed to jump back up pretty quickly, and had a good run through all the really technical and steep parts the course, only to crash again just before coming back in to the bike park. My front wheel hit a soft patch of dirt and came to a stop, sending me over the bars, and twisting my bars right around, so some time was lost to straightening them back up, and trying to get back on course. It’s a shame about the crashes, but it’s such a fun track to ride, I can’t wait to get back next year and try again.
Saturday saw the final event in my race week, the Duel Slalom. By this point in the week I am already feeling pretty battered and bruised, but the Dual Slalom is always so much fun, and had a really good turn out of riders racing. Similar to pump-track, this twin track lets riders battle head-to-head in a knock out format. Once you leave the start gate you are faced with two large berms, followed by 4 rollers, or two doubles depending on how much speed you have. Two more large berms, and a couple more jumps before you reach a huge stall wall. The diggers had made this 2 foot taller than it was last year, with a lot of the girls taking quite a few attempts to get over it. On the down side of the stall wall, there were a number of gates marking out flat slalom corners towards the finish line.
Practice was mostly dry, but with clouds coming in fast we knew the track would change a lot. Heavy rains made the track a lot more greasy, and slippery, slowing down the rolling speed and making all the features a bit more difficult. However this made the whole event so much more fun as a result, with riders sliding all over the place, often facing the wrong way up the track, it was like Bambie on ice. Somehow I didn’t qualify last, but my low qualifying position put me against Kialani Hines, who knocked me out of the round or 16 pretty quickly. She did go on to win the whole race though, so I certainly don’t feel about that.
Although my results certainly weren’t the best, for a non-professional women, doing some of these for the first time (not to mention being the oldest woman at the event as well), I am over the moon with how the week went. I survived everything, and gave it a good go. I had so much fun, and everyone there creates a fantastic vibe. Certainly when it came to the duel slalom race where my cheeks were physically hurting from laughing so much.
The entire event felt worlds apart from when I have attended it in the past. Although the lack of crowds certainly meant it was a lot quieter, and it didn’t have the festival style hype that Crankowrx is known for, it somehow made everything feel more intimate. I could actually find people I was looking for and have conversations without shouting, it was easier to spend time together with friends, rather than running around all the stalls and doing promotional work. It felt more like a well organized local mates race, than a massive world stage event, which was a nice feeling. Whatever way it happens, fingers crossed we can do it all again next year.