In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, Crankworx has been forced to pivot on the fly.
After successfully running its stop in Rotorua, New Zealand in early March, the world tour postponed its Innsbruck, Austria festival from June to late September and ultimately cancelled the cornerstone Whistler event for August.
But there was plenty of work going on behind the scenes.
In separate announcements coming out on Monday, July 27, Crankworx announced that it was running a Summer Series across the province with stops at Sun Peaks, Kicking Horse and Silver Star resorts, commencing immediately and running until Aug. 14.
As well, Vail Resorts announced the sale of Crankworx Events Inc. to Crankworx Live Marketing, headed by Crankworx World Tour general manager Darren Kinnaird, and Montreal-based Boombox Group, led by TJ Walker.
“It’s a dream come true, to be honest,” Kinnaird said from the site of the first Summer Series races at Silver Star. “I’m really thankful for the opportunity, thankful for the support of Whistler Blackcomb in this. I’ve got an amazing team that is still going to work with Crankworx and an amazing business partner with TJ Walker of Boombox.”
Kinnaird expects a smooth transition of ownership, especially in terms of what longtime attendees will experience.
“I don’t think it’ll change much for fans,” Kinnaird said. “Hopefully it’ll just mean more Crankworx, if anything.”
When asked for more detail, Kinnaird said: “More of everything, given time. That’s the hope.”
Though Vail Resorts is stepping out of its ownership role, it will still play a role in producing the Whistler element of the festival.
“We are very pleased that Whistler Blackcomb will continue to be a part of Crankworx as the host venue for this iconic round of the Crankworx World Tour,” said Whistler Blackcomb chief operating officer Geoff Buchheister in a release. “We look forward to partnering on the event with the Crankworx team and are excited to see how they will continue to innovate and grow the sport.”
The Summer Series, meanwhile, features 25 B.C.-based athletes, with 15 participants residing in Pemberton, Whistler or Squamish. Those taking part include Lucas Cruz of Pemberton and, from Whistler, Georgia Astle, Leonie Picton, Trevor Burke, Finn Iles and Jesse Melamed. Disciplines on the docket include downhill, Air DH, enduro and dual slalom.
Kinnaird said the team has been developing the series since early April, after realizing the opportunities that British Columbia presents.
“We have all these amazing athletes who live here. We have all these amazing bike parks in British Columbia, and it’s such a cool opportunity to bring mountain bike racing back at a time when probably not a lot of places could do something like this,” he said. “We talked to the province and they were keen.”
After getting sponsors onboard, things seemed to gain some propulsion.
“We’ve been jokingly saying that we were building the plane as we were trying to take off right until the very last second,” he said.
In terms of coming down to the last second, putting out the announcement the day before competition officially started was also by design, Kinnaird said, to discourage spectators from coming up to the TV-only events.
“We kept things on the DL as long as we could,” he said. “Normally, I would say, ‘Everyone come to Crankworx,’ but with this, we are trying to just tell people to watch from home.
“Enjoy it and let the athletes compete safely so we can make this series happen.”
Kinnaird said that onsite, athletes are wearing masks, following distancing protocols and having temperature checks.
“We have groups in teams, and there are little pods within the teams,” he said.
Kinnaird added that all races are taking place during the week at times where the host resorts are less busy. As well, on the competitor side, mountain biking is a sport that can be spaced out without significant changes.
“We’re in a strange time but it’s a unique opportunity for the whole province to be showcased as the best mountain biking destination in the world, so that when things get back to more normal times, people will want to come back here to B.C., to Whistler, to all these amazing destinations and bring their bikes with them,” he said.
While Whistler was considered as one of the hosts, the tour ultimately decided to try something completely new.
"Because of what’s going on in the world, we had both the challenge and the opportunity to come up with something really different for Crankworx this year. The concept of the Summer Series really centers around the broader picture of what the province has to offer as a whole," communications manager Julia Montague wrote in an email. "During a regular year, it’s amazing to see athletes who travel from all over the world and plan multi-week B.C. road trips pre- and post-Crankworx Whistler. The Summer Series gave us an opportunity to tell a little bit of that story.
"When it goes time to host Crankworx Whistler again, what we’re doing now will amplify our message of 'all roads lead to Whistler' on a whole new level."
For more information on the Summer Series, or to tune in, visit crankworx.com/festival/crankworx-summer-series.
As for the world tour, Kinnaird added that the Innsbruck stop on the circuit, slated for Sept. 30 to Oct. 4, is still looking good at this point.
“There will be more info there when we have it, but we’re still definitely hoping for an exciting event over in Austria,” he said.