Photo: Ryan Howard during the Whip Off
Crankworx Rotorua 2019
Behind the lens
Rotorua, the heart of mountain biking in New Zealand's North Island and host of the first stop of the Crankworx World Tour. I'd visited this volcanic town before but not during Crankworx. I assumed the bike park would get hectic during events but mellow out in-between; what a misconception that was. The week was packed with racing, practice for races and contests while speakers filled the airwaves with a constant noise of commentary and promotion.
Skyline was no longer the sleepy bike park I remembered it being. Crankworx had transformed it into a village bustling with screens, PA systems, stands, people and bikes. Hostels were full of riders from all over the world and the giant pine trees of the Whakarewarewa (Redwoods) forest were about to enjoy a prime spot for the action about to unfold on the Enduro World Stage.
Here's how the week of organised chaos unfolded.
Update - Find the Crankworx Rotorua 2019 highlights video on the getabmx videos page (published 10 July 2019).
Local boy Keegan White knocking out Kyle Strait before winning finals against Bas Van Steenbergen.
19 March - Dual Slalom
After a rushed hostel check-in I was off to the dual slalom course, held on a public track on the outskirts of Redwoods forest off a main road, just in time for the first heats. I caught up with an old friend (Jake Scoynes who I'd interviewed nine years ago) from my hometown, who is currently Tahnee Seagrave's mechanic, while the berms were being roasted in front of us. It was exciting racing and a local guy I'd never heard of knocked out a field of big-name riders. If Steenbergen hadn't crashed in the finals the outcome could have been different but such is the nature of racing. Luck wasn't on Tahnee's side either as a crash took her out of contention for the finals.
20 March - Air DH
Mr Black is Skyline Rotorua's answer to Whistler's A-Line - a flow jump trail used for the Crankworx Air DH. When I last rode it in December it was super smooth and fast, so in car park I pumped up my tyres and suspension for maximum speed. After the first couple of corners in practice I was in for a nasty surprise - a very dry summer season had beaten the track into a dusty and hole infested pulp. Safe corners now felt sketchy and jumps were taking a lot more muscle to clear.
After three practice runs, and suspension and tyres back to normal pressures, I got comfortable drifting into corners and letting the back end dance over the holes. During my race run I played it safe on the top flat loose corners and pushed elsewhere, keeping it smooth and racing most but not all the jumps, and gave the crowd a trick to make it worth their time. After feeling pretty pinned I was surprised with only a 7th out of 10th finish in Seniors. I guess I played it too safe and didn't pedal enough...
21 March - Downhill
The downhill track started near the top of the mountain on a fresh track above the bike park before joining with Skyline Rotorua's The Fuzz. Having walked the top section and ridden the bottom I can say the track is serious. The top has some insanely steep sections and wild root gaps and the bottom is rough. With the blown out loose conditions this was a wild track to race.
I didn't film much as I chose free laps over hiking up the mountain, but I saw Tracey Hannah finish with a comfortable lead and some crazy lines and saves in the bottom section. It was interesting to see different lines being taken too. There was to be no Kiwi win on this day as Brooke Macdonald came down with the fastest time to top the elite men's podium.
21 March - Speed and Style
I was excited about this one as it looked exciting through video so expected it would be a good one to see live. There was more berm than jump carnage despite some heavy aerial manoeuvres and another 'I'd-never-even-heard-of-him' Kiwi win.
Martin Soderstrom was in a class of his own, but a crash on a 360 double whip on the first jump in the finals gave Billy Meaclem an easy win.
This straight double whip went a little better for Soderstrom than the 360 variant that took him out of the top spot. It would be Billy Meaclem, who that night took third at Whip Off, going home with the gold.
21 March - Whip Off
Straight after Speed and Style the crowds gathered around the jump built for one purpose - going sideways. This was the rowdiest event of the week and spectators were going nuts. In my eyes Alan Cooke, who won the previous Whip Off in Whistler, had the best style. However it was German nice guy Peter Kaiser who impressed the judges with his shear amplitude. Ryan Howard didn't look like he had to try for second - he just rode it how he would normally. Kiwi Billy Meaclem was back on the podium taking the third spot.
Alan Cooke's whips ooze style from take off to landing. Fully whipped under a full moon.
22 March - Pumptrack
What is it with these Kiwi's? There aren't many of them and they're so laid back but when it comes to racing the gloves are off (usually literally) and things get serious. It was 2018 pumptrack champion and French slopestyle guy Thomas Lemoine who took it home but locals Keegan Wright (2nd) and Billy Meaclem (4th) weren't far behind. On another note, these sundown events seem to really get the crowd fired up.
Lemoine (blue bike) had an unlucky streak in Speed and Style but put that all behind him to take the reigns at Pumptrack.
23 March - Slopestyle
Back to day light. From the first day of practice Brett Rheeder looked on fire and wasted no time dialling in his run. While most riders were cruising the first jump Rheeder was throwing corked 720s.
Brett's preparation and focus was evident during competition. He set the highest score on his first run and the only one in the 90s. Rogatkin no doubt is Rheeder's biggest threat but he crashed hard on the final jump and was unable to take a second run. Anthony Messere looked strong but only managed 6th. Torquato Testa was a name I wasn't familiar with but the Italian looked impressive and just missed out on a podium spot behind Alex Alanko and Thomas Lemoine.
The course turned into a war zone as crashes began to out-number completed runs, and I was surprised a larger crowd hadn't gathered for what I always presumed was the largest event of Crankworx. At least the heavens didn't open!
Tom Isted, from the UK, has a strong BMX background and looks like he has seamlessly transferred his skills and tricks to the big wheels. After crashing on a double backflip on the last jump in his all-out final run he had to settle for his first run score finishing just in the top ten.
24 March - EWS Enduro
The final event of Crankworx was the first round of the Enduro World Stage. Stages one and five were at Skyline and the others were in Redwoods. It rained the night before making conditions in the woods exciting. After racing I rode the tracks and there was a real mix of everything, from steep damp woods with sniper roots to fast blown out open sections.
And with the end of the final stage of the EWS came the end of the first stop of Crankworx, and the flock of riders and screaming crowds that accompanied it. Skyline and Redwoods were peaceful again and it was easy to ride. Crankworx defintiely isn't boring, but it is chaotic.
View more photos in the Crankworx Rotorua gallery.
More New Zealand content @milan_getabmx
Soderstom on the last jump in the final round after his 360 double whip crash, still managing to stretch out a textbook dumped 360 for the crowd.
Vaguely related videos
A few short phone and GoPro videos from Redwoods and Skyline. More @milan_getabmx