The bicycle’s earliest ancestor dates back to 1817, when German baron Karl von Drais unveiled a steerable, two-wheeled rig known as the “velocipede.” Contrary to its name (which may conjure up nightmarish visions of a swift arthropod perfectly adapted to kill humans), von Drais’ machine was awkward and impractical. It quickly fell out of favour—but the idea behind it did not.
By the 1860s, a number of Frenchmen innovated upon the velocipede by attaching pedals to the front wheel for increased locomotion. This particular model was also known by a rather gnarly name: “bone-shaker,” because that’s how unpleasant the ride was.
Today, some sources estimate there could be as many as 2 billion bicycles on Earth, and that more than half of humanity knows how to ride one. Most do so for transportation, getting from point A to point B without the luxury, expense or greenhouse gas emissions of a car. Some, however, choose to ride for sport and leisure, and that’s where the fun really begins.
Since its inaugural season in 2004, Crankworx has grown into a world-class showcase for the sport of mountain biking. The Crankworx World Tour (CWT) features stops in Rotorua, Cairns and Innsbruck, inviting elite athletes from various disciplines to test their mettle at breathtaking venues around the globe.
Yet most summers, Crankworx returns to the riding mecca where it all began: Whistler.
COVID-19 threw a wrench into the gears for two long years—pun intended—during which the Sea to Sky longed for the return of one of its favourite blockbusters. Athletes and fans re-emerged in full force when it finally did in 2022, causing Crankworx managing director Darren Kinnaird to remark it was like “hosting the world’s largest mountain biking family reunion.”
This year’s festival, scheduled from July 21 to 30, could reach even greater heights, he believes.
“We’re really looking forward to this year,” Kinnaird says. “I think last year was a ‘comeback from COVID’-type scenario, and this year, we’ve got a much longer runway to plan the event. There’s quite a few things that we’re working on that will be new.”
Chief among them is the launch of the highly anticipated 1199 track, named in honour of late Canadian downhiller Stevie Smith who racked up 1199 points to win the 2013 UCI World Cup overall title. It is approximately 2.4 kilometres in length and includes 500 metres of elevation change as it winds from near the top of the Creekside Gondola to just above Creekside Village.
According to Whistler Blackcomb’s mountain operations team, the 1199 is rated as a “Technical Proline’’ with natural and artificial features, boasting the largest drops and most committing lines in the Whistler Mountain Bike Park. Its upper section was featured as part of last year’s Enduro World Series (EWS) race in Whistler—itself a Crankworx event—as a teaser for what athletes and fans can look forward to come July.
“It’s going to be awesome,” says Kinnaird. “[The 1199] is a truly incredible track that the Whistler Mountain Bike Park trail crew has been working on for years, and so we’re really excited to unveil that to the world.”
Accordingly, Creekside will become more of a festival hotspot than it has been in years past. Several core events, including the dual slalom, pump track challenge, as well as the speed and style, will return to the Boneyard venue at the base of Whistler Mountain, making them more accessible for fans.
Local mountain biker Georgia Astle is excited for what’s ahead.
“I am a big fan of the Creekside zone from growing up on the south side of town and being there when it first opened up to riding,” she says. “I’m really looking forward to seeing it continue to expand and maximize the terrain we have to offer. Fitzsimmons zone is getting tired and busy; we love the spread.”
By and large, the riders themselves are also very accessible. Elite professionals are known for taking time out of their busy weeks to sign autographs, pose for pictures and greet starstruck young children who could one day join them on the world stage.
Enduro star Jesse Melamed is one among many invested in the future of his sport. He coached mountain biking in Whistler for more than 10 years and is delighted to see some of the young guns he once mentored thriving on two wheels. Athletes such as Wei Tien Ho, Marcus Goguen and Finn Iles brushed shoulders with Melamed in their youth before establishing themselves as top-flight riders.
“I think it’s really cool to see Canada stepping up and having a lot of fast riders,” says Melamed. “I was always inspired and motivated by seeing Canadians on the World Cup circuit so, yeah, it’s cool to have maybe played a part in that for the younger generation.
“Mountain biking and sport in general is just so good for developing people into the best version of themselves.”
Astle concurs. “The fans bring the hype, so we love and really appreciate everyone out cheering on the sidelines,” she says. “It’s really cool to meet the folks of Crankworx and hand out jerseys to the kids. I remember all of my positive interactions with pro skiers and boarders as a kid, and they’ve stuck with me.”
Just like Melamed, Astle gives back to the community that shows her love. She’s coached some promising pupils, including Whistler teen Cami Bragg. Though just 14 years old, Bragg routinely holds her own in U19 events and is already a veteran of Crankworx races around the world.
“Georgia is awesome,” Bragg says of her mentor. “So many of the local girls look up to her and she helps everyone out in so many ways.”
Pembertonian Lucas Cruz is another homegrown talent who had a career-altering encounter at Crankworx. He met Smith years ago in the bike shop of his first sponsor, Evolution Whistler—a memory he’ll never forget.
“[Smith] is such an inspiration to all Canadian downhillers, and the legacy he has left behind is something very special,” says Lucas. “The new era of Canadian World Cup racers has become a part of his legacy, and I hope we can do the same by inspiring people to get out there and go fast!
“Crankworx is a special time when you can get up close and personal with fans, friends and family, so it’s important we take advantage of that. This is our time to put on a show but also give back to the community that shows us so much love and support. Plus, I used to be one of those fans, so I have to put it into perspective and enjoy the position I’m in!”
Enter the next generation
Grassroots youngsters like Bragg, Lucas and his brother Tegan again will join hundreds of internationally recognized names over the course of the 10-day festival.
Bragg reached Crankworx Whistler’s U15 podium three times in 2022, winning both downhill and air downhill and placing second in dual slalom. She admits to feeling some heat going into this year.
“Yes, there is definitely pressure,” Bragg says. “I’m fortunate to have the best support from YT Industries—their bikes give so much confidence—and locally from Evolution Whistler and NS Billet, which enables me to focus on racing. I’m also really excited to race the new 1199 track.”
Though they are a bit older, the Cruz brothers are just as thrilled to return to Crankworx on home soil.
Lucas missed last year’s downhill podium by roughly two-tenths of a second as a pro, but does own two victories from 2019 in the downhill and air downhill. He’s grateful organizers scheduled the upcoming festival for July to accommodate World Cup riders like himself.
“The times were very tight between the top six or seven guys [in 2022’s downhill], so it’s always really good to have that kind of competition,” Lucas says. “And it’s kind of an even playing field this year because of a brand-new track, a very different track than the last race. I’m looking forward to it.”
Meanwhile, Tegan has a DH silver medal from last summer in the U19 age category. He got to stand on the podium with his friend Jackson Goldstone, who won that day, and he’s no doubt looking to ride even faster this time around.
The Cruz brothers haven’t gotten to do many Crankworx events over the last few years due to their busy World Cup itineraries, but they always look forward to coming home where the sidelines are packed with loved ones and start lists are riddled with heroes of the sport.
“Everyone knows Whistler. Everyone thinks of it as one of the best places to ride mountain bikes in the world,” said Tegan. “And when you put a full-size event like Crankworx into the mix, it’s pretty amazing.
“You never see so many professional athletes and people who just love to ride their bikes up the mountain at the same time.”
Indeed, there will be many big names putting on a show this month. Bas van Steenbergen of Vernon looks to defend his King of Crankworx title from last year, as does reigning Queen of Crankworx Caroline Buchanan from Australia.
Meanwhile, the enduro universe looks to dethrone incumbent EWS overall champion Melamed, including his former Rocky Mountain Race Face teammate Remi Gauvin. On the women’s side, Andreane Lanthier Nadeau has waited an entire year to avenge her disappointing fifth-place result last time out.
For more information, and the full schedule of events, visit crankworx.com/whistler.