Strategy was key in the opening Fat Tire Crit event of Crankworx Whistler this year, with both winners having small crashes and coming from behind to take the titles.
The women went first, racing for 15 minutes plus three laps around an 800-metre loop of Whistler Olympic Plaza that included cobblestone sections, some gravel, some tight turns, a chicane and a wood ramp/jump feature.
A lead group of national and World Cup-level cross-country racers took over early, and at about the halfway mark Jean Ann Berkenpas made a break that looked like it might last. She had about eight seconds on the field at one point, but the chase group, with the ability to draft and conserve energy, bridged up to Berkenpas in the final few minutes.
With three laps remaining, Oregon's Kelli Emmett -- an all-mountain world champion -- pulled into the lead, and held onto it to the finish. New Zealand cross-country champion Rosara Joseph was second and Berkenpas, who won two primes, rallied to place third.
If she had a strategy, it quickly went out the window for Emmett.
"I went too fast to catch that first prime, and then I needed to sit back and recover after that. Then I clipped my pedal in the corner and took myself out. That bumped me back to fifth, but I slowly worked my way back up," she said.
"I was just trying to make jumps, keep up to the other girls. "I got a bit nervous riding with four other girls, I didn't want to crash in one of the turns or something, so I pulled away as soon as I could."
The highlight for Emmett was the crowd, which lined the entire course on both sides and came armed with cow bells and noise makers.
"It was awesome," she said. "There were a lot of people here and that made it really fun. I don't get to race crits, or in front of this many people that often."
Interestingly, the winner of the men's event also rallied from a fall.
Carl Decker, another all-mountain champion, took over the men's race at about seven minutes in to the 20-minute plus five lap race and never looked back. At one point he built a lead of 13 seconds over the rest of the pack, which held together for most of the race but split up in the final laps.
Cody Canning placed second, while Sid Taberlay, a five-time Australian champion, rallied back from a huge crash -- and the threat of being lapped by the pace motorcycle -- to bridge up to the chase pack and even take the lead for a few laps near the end.
For Decker, taking the lead early was the safest strategy.
"I thought that was the safest way to do it," he said. "It was a little hectic out there with all these guys going for it. The first chance I got, I took it -- I'm always better off when I get out by myself and nobody can follow me."
Both Emmett and Decker are sponsored by Giant.
Crankworx Whistler continues today with the Canadian Open Enduro, a series of four descents/singletrack rides that gets underway at 10 a.m. The final section, which starts at the peak of Whistler Mountain, starts at 3 p.m. and finishes at the GLC drops at the base of the mountain. Awards are at 5:15 p.m.
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