After years of championship-level experience in air DH races across the Crankworx circuit and the world, Sam Blenkinsop and Jill Kintner can call themselves winners in Whistler.
It came down to the wire between Blenkinsop and longtime fan favourite Mick Hannah, but the affable Kiwi edged out his opponent in a time of four minutes and 20.486 seconds in the Boneyard. That’s roughly half a second ahead of “Sick Mick” (4:20.946), and it was enough to prevent the Aussie from defending his 2022 title.
“I’ve been second in this race a lot of times, second to Mick, so it’s good to finally win it,” Blenkinsop said. “It feels like it's the first time I've raced here when it's been wet, too.”
Meanwhile, Tuhoto-Ariki Pene secured his second bronze medal in three days (4:22.445) and amassed enough points (679) to overtake Bas van Steenbergen in the King of Crankworx rankings with plenty of events to go.
Kintner returned to Crankworx after focusing on her enduro game over the last few seasons. The Washington state native proved she’s still got what it takes with a resurgent victory (4:47.787), but Sea to Sky fans will find probably a silver lining in Georgia Astle’s runner-up effort (4:49.524). Another American, Amy Morrison, rounded out the top three (4:52.707).
Bailey Goldstone came tantalizingly close to a medal of her own, but wound up fourth after a respectable run (4:53.909).
“It always feels great to take the win, obviously,” said Kintner. “There's so many new faces that I wasn't sure how it would be…but this is in my wheelhouse with everything I’m pretty good at. It’s got [elements of] BMX, slalom, downhill, enduro, fitness, all of these things that I do well."
Roots and rain
Two days of precipitation transformed Whistler’s famous A-Line track into a muddy soup capable of giving even elite riders fits. Blenkinsop’s main concern going in was vision, as rainfall had obscured many of the athletes’ goggles during their practice runs. He wasn’t perfect, and he made a few mistakes that he felt Hannah was sure to take advantage of.
Yet the rain held off when it mattered most, allowing Blenkinsop to see his lines all the way to the bottom.
Kintner, too, realized the importance of measuring one's risks. “It was so wet out there and slippery that you had to take it a little conservative as there were soft, loose roots and things slipping around,” she explained. “A-Line is supposed to be just a fun jump trail, but to race it is actually very exhausting and physical. There's so much tucking and pumping and sprinting.”
Hannah has mastered the air DH discipline and was ready to attack the course differently from last year, when conditions were hot and dry. He fell short of his own high benchmarks this time around, but is taking things in stride.
“I always want to win…but Sam and I are always kind of battling at these air DH races, so it’s cool for him to get a win too,” Hannah said.
Astle credits part of her performance to her gear: a 170-millimetre mullet that she trusts on the A-Line more than any other bike setup. She also knew that, in order to realize success in one of her favourite events, a few sacrifices needed to be made.
Sand and glass
Though originally intending to join the Canadian Open Downhill, Astle removed herself from that race in order to preserve herself.
“I mean, that downhill was pretty taxing,” she said. “Because I haven’t been racing downhill or training, that would have wiped me out for the whole week. So definitely, there's that, but also: I just respect the fact that [the 1199 track] is insane.”
Not that air DH is necessarily any easier, but it is more up Astle’s alley. The Whistlerite dropped in with confidence and found herself in a healthy flow state as she rolled with each jump and berm. Then, as her lungs began to cry out for oxygen, fitness and muscle memory saw her through.
“I was pushing, but I was breathing lots,” Astle recalled. “You feel horrible while you’re doing it—it feels like you’re swallowing sand and glass—but I think that’s just racing A-Line.”
Goldstone, for her part, was building momentum after winning another Canadian Downhill Championship just weeks ago. She elected to challenge the 1199 and surprised herself with a seventh-place result. Today, the Squamolian rolled into the Boneyard feeling well about herself and is unbothered by finishing fourth.
“I could ride [A-Line] in my sleep—it’s the only thing I ride in the bike park—and I felt really good, but I did way better than I thought I was going to do,” Goldstone said. “Since I've been working so much, I haven’t been able to train as much as I'd like to, so winning nationals again for the second time was a huge confidence boost [and so was 1199].”
Shortly before the pros took their turn, Jake Polito made the Boneyard his stage. The young Whistler native blazed his trail down the A-Line faster than any other U19 male (4:32.216) and upgraded his air DH bronze medal from 2022 to gold.
Jon Mozell made North Vancouver proud with his second-place run (4:33.857) and Sam Toohey of the United States joined the party in third (4:39.483).
Among U19 females, none could best American Julia Lofqvist Traum (5:00.928), though Taylor Ostgaard got in there for silver (5:09.263) hours after her sister Aletha prevailed in the U17 event. Natasha Miller ensured that Coquitlam would have a place on the podium by grabbing bronze (5:09.431).
Earlier on Tuesday, Mason Cruickshanks, Mhairi Smart, Cody Kelly and Cami Bragg all snagged more hardware on behalf of the Sea to Sky in the U17 and U15 categories. The rise of young talent from across Canada and the world, especially among women, is music to Astle’s ears.
“It’s so special. It brings me back,” she said. “This is where I started racing, Crankworx Whistler, and it's just so rad seeing how packed the junior women's field is.”
Full results are available online. Pique Newsmagazine has you covered for Crankworx Whistler all week long.