Given the thousands of spectators packing Whistler Olympic Plaza for the Ultimate Pump Track Challenge, it's hard to believe this event has only been part of Crankworx for four years.
It's even harder to believe that Washington State rider and Whistler regular Jill Kintner has won each of those years. She's been a dominating presence in the track, but this year looked like she'd have her hands full with Australian rider Caroline Buchanan, a BMX world champion and four-cross star. The two qualified first and second, setting up the final showdown on the course, which included a ramp start, two tight berms and burly rhythm sections that put the top pump trackers in the world to the test.
In the final, Kintner got the jump on Buchanan from the start. Buchanan tried to catch up, but made a rare error to put herself a full second behind on the second run. The gap was too big to overcome, and Kintner - despite a mistake in the start of her second run - took her fourth consecutive pump track title at Crankworx by a wide martin.
She told announcers that three wins was special, and the fourth entry was more about having fun than anything. She also pointed out that the level of riding was coming up with four world champions in different disciplines on the podium.
"I was really looking forward to have some top quality competitors here, especially for the girl class - it's stronger than it's ever been," she said. For Kintner, who rides every kind of bike discipline but got her start in BMX - and returned to the discipline to win a bronze medal when the sport debuted at the 2008 Olymic Games - it's been great to see the progression of women in the sport.
"This is kind in our blood," she said. "Caroline and I grew up doing this stuff, as did Anneka (Beerten) and Katy (Curd).
"The course was built really well... it's like a total lactic acid burn with back-to-back heats. It's really quite physical, you have to use your entire body and get low, and use your legs to push yourself back up. - you can barely do two laps of this thing without being flooded out. And you have to stay alert, and there are a lot of jitters at the start listening for the airhorn, and making sure your pedal is in the right place for the old-school BMX starts. But it's so much fun."
Kintner's strategy was to go hard in the first run and build a gap that would allow her to relax a little on the second run - and maybe set a pace that would force her competitors to make mistakes. "The more mistakes that others make the more you can gain on them and then in the finals you might get a good margin that protects you on the second run," she said.
Other than the start and coming out of the last berm, she said it was hard to see how the other competitors were doing. "They're not really in your head, you're so focused on what's ahead that you have to idea or way to gauge where they are. You just hope you come through the corner where the course merges that they're not in your lane."
In the bronze medal match, British rider Katy Curd defeated North Vancouver's Micayla Gatto.
In the men's competition, American Mitch Ropelato was also going for the four-peat - and looked to be unstoppable. He was finishing half a second to a second ahead of the other rider in all of his heats.
But mistakes happen. In his semi-final against Sweden's Martin Soderstrom, Ropelato got out to a late start. He put all of his effort into catching up, got too close to the edge of one section and slid off. The most a gap could be for a second round was a full second, and while he was faster than Soderstrom in the second round he could only make up about half a second.
Meanwhile an unknown French rider, Adrien Loron was making his way up through the other side of the bracket and appeared to be getting faster with every run. He defeated Kyle Sangers in the first round, Danny Hart in round two and Christian Wright in round three to move up to the semi-finals and a battle against Joost Wichman. The first heat was close, just five hundredths of a second in Loron's favour, but Loron got off to a late start in that round and burned through the second run. Wichman made a mistake, but it wouldn't have mattered.
That set up a final between Soderstrom and Loron. Soderstrom made a mistake right out of the start of the first run, although he still kept things close. But Loron pulled away gradually, making up fractions of a second on Soderstrom on every feature of the second run and came out of the second berm would a solid gap.
Loron said he had been training for the competition since his win at Crankworx Les 2 Alpes.
"There were a lot of big names tonight, but I was confident because I trained a lot for this event - but I'm really happy to win because big names are big names.
"I love to ride pump track and this year the pump track was the craziest I've ever seen, and it was so cool to ride it."
Loron said it did feel he was getting faster over the course of the evening, but so was Soderstrom. However, Loron never lost confidence.
"I could see that Martin was nervous at the start but I was confident in the second run. But Martin is also really fast, so it was difficult. I think my last run was one of my best of the night, which is what I needed to beat him."
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