The road — or flight path, more accurately — to Whistler was significantly longer than it has been in past years.
But when Crankworx kicks off this Friday, Aug. 7, a season's worth of work will be on the line, as tour champions will be crowned for the first time.
By adding a spring stop in Rotorua, New Zealand this year after its first expansion to Les Deux Alpes, France in 2012, Crankworx created a true tour.
Great Britain's Bernard Kerr, currently the leader for the King of Crankworx title and its $25,000 prize, said his background of embracing all of mountain biking's disciplines has come in handy.
"I've always done most events. I'm quite an all-around rider," he said from the UCI World Cup stop in Wyndham, N.Y.
Kerr, who has a 45-point advantage on France's Adrien Loron, would be five points back of Loron based on his top-four showings this year, but fifth- and 10th-place events in the downhill have boosted him ahead. Kerr is no stranger to the success, having won the European King of Crankworx title at Les Deux Alpes in France in 2012. It was more of a ceremonial accomplishment — there was no prize.
Traditionally at Whistler, Kerr focuses on his strong disciplines and plays a bit more to the crowd in some of the others.
Not this year. Not with cold, hard cash on the line.
"Normally at Whistler, I have a little bit of fun," he said. "One of the events, I'd go down and just ride the bike slowly. But I'll race every event pretty seriously this year."
That doesn't mean it's all solemn and serious. Kerr said several events are more fun to watch as riders put themselves in different contexts. He cited fellow Briton Sam Reynolds, who was second to Kerr in the French dual slope and style event, as particularly enjoyable to check out across the cycling spectrum.
He'll be at a disadvantage to maintain his advantage, though. The World Cup race clashes with the dual speed and style race at Crankworx, where Kerr would have been likely to add to his title.
Crankworx Events Inc. general manager Darren Kinnaird said some strong riding this year has made for a better show on the first two stops, setting up a grand finale in several events leading into the Whistler finish.
In men's slopestyle, Canadian Brett Rheeder has won the first two races, while French downhill rider Loic Bruni will also come to Whistler in search of a sweep. On the women's side, Canadian Casey Brown has won both whip-offs.
Rheeder has the most on the line, though, taking part in the series' flagship event. Winning the title, a near certainty, would land him a cool $25,000. Completing the Triple Crown run, though, would double his winnings.
"That alone has a lot of excitement building if Brett Rheeder can manage to pull off the third one here," said Kinnaird. "We've gotten pretty lucky in year one."
The push for the overall King and Queen of Crankworx titles, too, has riders going hard. As all events count for points in the overall chase, Kinnaird rattled off a laundry list of names of star riders taking on events they might not have otherwise in order to bank some credits in an attempt to snag themselves an additional $25,000 prize.
The versatility of the female riders has particularly impressed Kinnaird, especially with the general willingness to expand into unfamiliar territory in France. Dutch rider Anneke Beerten, currently topping the women's chase, has hit the podium three of four times she's earned points, including taking one win. Beerten is one of the riders Kinnaird cited as extending herself, as she took part in her first-ever whip contest and did her first French downhill in Les Deux Alpes. As well, France's Anne Caroline Chausson took part in her first-ever pump track contest at the event last month, going on to win the whole darn thing to go along with her enduro victory in Rotorua.
"The overall race for the king and queen has been really cool to see throughout the year and it's going to be a good race all through the week," said Kinnaird. "It's what we were hoping for. We have people doing a lot of events and getting points as much as they can."
As organizers, Kinnaird feels the transition to being a tour has generally gone well so far in its first year and doesn't expect to change much beyond minor alterations for 2016. He noted a more cooperative UCI World Cup slate is expected to cause less competition for riders and allow more competitors to do both circuits.
"We got it pretty down here. There might be a few small tweaks," he said. "We should be able to avoid the World Cup schedule altogether. This weekend, we'll miss some of the World Cup athletes."
Kinnaird said another bonus for the season is that most of the top riders in the marquee events are expected to compete. The exceptions are the aforementioned Chausson, who is battling illness, and Swede Martin Soderstrom, who won the dual slope and style in New Zealand but hurt himself and had to pull out of both of the following Crankworx events.
"We're going to have all the best enduro racers here," he said. "On the slopestyle side of things, everyone's healthy and raring to go, knock on wood, except for Martin Soderstrom."
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