It took six years, but at last Whistler's Brandon Semenuk won the slopestyle event at Kokanee Crankworx, firing up the crowd of 20,000 spectators and putting a few personal demons to rest in the process.
"A lot of people put a big emphasis on this contest, and it's kind of more pressure than normal... obviously it's my home town," said Semenuk. "But I rode it like other events, and I've definitely been pretty close to first place the last four years. But it's pretty hard not to get nervous about it and worry too much, so I'm super amped to finally hold a run that takes the win."
For a moment it looked like a bad replay of 2010. His first run was tight and technical with a 360 off the top drop, a tailwhip over the truck gap, a backflip and x-up over the big jump, a huge table over the SRAM hip, an x-up onto the curved ramp and another 360 off the ramp and a backflip-tailwhip off the bottom air. Where it went wrong was off the final Kokanee Cabin jump where he couldn't get his bike back under him in time and crashed hard.
"I didn't think I had it," said Semenuk of his mindset after the crash - over-rotating his flip-whip off the bottom Kokanee Cabin jump. "That only gave me one more chance to try and put a run together to get into the finals. It's not a huge confidence booster, but it definitely gave me some drive to get that (second run). I put everything together, and I was stoked that it held up to the finish."
The second run was identical to the first with a little more air and some smoother landings, and his flip-whip at the bottom was perfect. That put him ahead of Nevada's Cameron Zink, the reigning champion, who was sitting on top with a 94.0 and 15-year-old Anthony Messere of Surrey - an incredible up and coming rider who got the most air of any athlete on the SRAM hip and landed a flip-whip of his own over the cabin jump to rank third with a 92.8.
Once the qualifier was over, the top eight riders went to a super final where they were given an additional run. Semenuk would get to go last so he'd have a chance to regain the lead if anybody succeeded in beating him.
Both Zink and Messere pulled out all the stops, with Zink landing a superman seat grab and backflip off the big dirt jump at the top and Messere launching a gutsy front flip off the start ramp, but both riders had crashes on their runs and couldn't top Semenuk.
Semenuk said he was prepared to try to at least match Zink's flip or Messere's front flip, but in the end he didn't need to. He rode out to the bottom of the course with over 20,000 screaming fans cheering him on, where he was promptly tackled and sprayed with beer by his fellow riders. He collected $25,000, Zink $10,000, Messere $5,000, Greg Watts (fourth) $3,500 and B.C.'s Geoff Gulevich (fifth) $1,500.
While he wanted the win, Zink said the Joyride course - built to the riders' specifications - was the best yet.
"Every time we show up to a course, everyone has their discrepancies and everyone has their opinions on what's wrong," he said. "So finally, instead of (taking) the advice of a few riders they took everyone into account - and to make it happen was the best thing ever.
"Riders need to be consulted because even the best builders that ride, they're not doing certain tricks off the jumps every weekend. Most of the time (courses) are good, but they could be so much better. The riders see the potential."
Zink said he was in a bad injury cycle for years, with five knee surgeries for four torn ACL ligaments since his previous Crankworx win in 2006. In 2010 he came back with wins at Red Bull Rampage and Crankworx, and it's been smooth sailing ever since.
"Now I feel as good as I did when I was these guys' age," he said. "Sometimes it seems like no matter what you do you keep getting messed up and you're not doing well at contests - and you almost believe that you're not capable of what you really are capable of. Now, I'm back where I can try and win every week, and battling these two was the funnest thing in the world for me. It's the best mountain bike story ever, with us trying to one-up each other."
As for Messere, he was a pro BMX racer when he was younger as well as a recreational downhiller, and didn't get into slopestyle until last year. While Semenuk - now 20 - also competed in Crankworx as a 15 year old, he didn't qualify for the finals that year, making Messere the youngest athlete to podium at the event.
But even as a newcomer, Messere has been watching the events for years and is blown away by how much the sport has grown.
"How much it's progressed in just the last couple of years is crazy," he said. "Five years ago a backflip was the biggest trick, now it's front flips, no-handers, flip-whips - I can't imagine what it's going to be like five years from now."
This year's competition seemed to be about surviving as much as anything else. Andreu Lacondeguy stomped a double backflip up top, but had trouble off the last jump and crashed twice in qualifiers.
Sam Pilgrim, riding a small hardtail, never got to show why he is currently ranked second behind Semenuk on the Freeride Mountain Bike World Tour. He flatted and threw a tire at the start of his first run, then missed a pedal after the drop on the second run and was forced to bail.
Yannick Granieri got into trouble after landing a huge backflip up top, eventually crashing into a barrier on the side of a berm and launching himself over the fence and down a hill.
Tyler McCaul crashed after landing on his front wheel off the curved ramp, injuring his shoulder. Kurt Sorge of Nelson also crashed up top.
Both Zink and Messere were able to walk away from crashes on their final runs, although Messere was pretty sore after dropping about eight metres from the SRAM hip to the dirt.
Videos are available online at www.pinkbike.com.
Svik, Kintner take Giant Slalom titles
Friday night's show may not have included any backflips, but spectators at the annual Giant Slalom, sponsored by Giant Bicycles, got to see some incredible riding.
Organizers decided to forgo the usual head-to-head format for a safer two-run time trial, with the win going to the rider with the lowest combined time.
Tomas Savik of Czech Republic took the Giant Slalom title with a two-run time of 1:20.25, followed by Johanne Fischbach of Germany in 1:20.76 and Blake Carney of the U.S. in 1:20.85.
For the Pro Women it was American Jill Kintner - winner of the dual slalom and pump track challenge, second in Air Downhill - who took the title in 1:27.40. She was followed by Melissa Buhl of the U.S. in 1:30.68 and Danielle Beecroft of Australia in 1:32.42.
Whistler's Stacy Kohut was the only four-wheel competitor this year, but put down two fast runs on the course without a single pedal.
Whistler's Jack Iles topped the Boys 13 to 15 category in 1:26.83, followed by Ryan Cameron of Australia in 1:27.98 and Galen Carter of the U.S. in 1:30.97.
Kyle Walstrom, Eric Wong and Dixon Black were first through third in Junior Men 16 to 18.
Clinton Fowler, Brian Onofrichuck and Kris Jamieson topped the Master Amateur Men 30-Plus group, while the top three in Senior Amateur Men 19 to 29 were Mike Dekoning, Guy Gibbs and Kyle Quesnel.
Lopes, Chausson take reworked Canadian Open Enduro
The Canadian Open Enduro took place on Sunday with a whole new format - five timed descents around Whistler, Blackcomb and Lost Lake Park. Riders had to pedal and push their bikes up to the start lines, and were limited to one bike and one set of tires for the event.
Brian Lopes, never one to shy away from a climb, had the lowest combined time for the men, 2:31.38. He was followed by Nicolas Vouilloz of France in 2:31.92 and Remy Absalon of France in 2:33.94. Whistler's Matt Ryan and Dylan Wolsky were ninth and 10th, Jesse Melamed 12th and Dave Burch 18th. Danny MacAskill, the now world famous trials rider, also gave it a shot, placing 21st.
Anne Caroline Chausson - winner of the Jeep Air Downhill - led the women in 2:45.74. She was followed by Whistler's Fanny Paquette in 3:06.54 and Jacqueline Harmony of the U.S. in 3:07.07. Whistler's Joanna Harrington finished just off the podium with a 3:08.58. Whistler's Katrina Strand was sixth in 3:10.06.
There was a solid turnout with almost 120 riders taking part.
In Amateur Women 19-Plus, Whistler's Carrie Meltzer was first in 3:18.11, followed by Marilyn Manso in 3:24.27 and Sarah Olner in 3:31.35.
Jack Iles took the Boys 13 to 15 in 3:05.84, followed by Galen Carter in 3:06.90.
Max Houtzager of the U.S. took the Junior Men 16 to 18 in 2:55.56, followed by Richard Holmes in 3:05.32.
Devon Lyons of the U.S. topped the Master Amateur Men 30-Plus race in 2:46.82, followed by Australian Joel Robinson in 2:47.21 and Canadian Kris Atkinson in 2:48.84. Local riders Todd Hellinga and Rob McSkimming were sixth and seventh to round out the top 10.
Whistler's Shane Gayton was first in Senior Amateur Men 19 to 29 in 2:39.82, followed by Australian Luke Garside in 2:42.58 and Ben Hoffmann in 2:43.98.
New champion crowned for Air Downhill
The Jeep Air Downhill is one of the longest running events at Crankworx. Going from top to bottom of the A-Line course on Whistler Mountain, the course features over 100 jumps, drops and berms, with competitors carrying a lot of speed and a lot of air the whole way.
Brian Lopes had won the event for five years running coming into 2011, but this year it was Andrew Neethling of South Africa who had the top run. He finished the course in 4:13.34. Lopes was second in 4:14.28 and Mick Hannah of Australia third in 4:17.22. Nanaimo's Steve Smith, who won the Canadian Open Downhill and is ranked fourth on the World Cup circuit, was the top Canadian, in fifth place, with local rider Ian Morrison placing one spot back in sixth. Chris Kovarik, an Australian who lives part-time in Whistler with wife Claire Buchar, placed 10th.
Anne Caroline Chausson repeated her win in the Air DH to take the pro women's category in 4:33.16, almost eight seconds ahead of Jill Kintner's 4:40.98. Whistler racers Sarah Leishman, Casey Brown and Claire Buchar were third through fifth respectively, with Katrina Strand picking up eighth.
Stacy Kohut didn't have anyone to race with this year in the four-wheel category, but finished in 6:05.72 - pretty good for a rig without any pedals.
In Amateur Women 19-Plus, the top three were Julie Istvan in 4:53.82, Trish Bromley in 4:58.37 and Shelly Flood in 4:59.10.
Whistler's Jack Iles was first out of 43 racers in Boys 13 to 15 with a time of 4:35.72. Jayson Giorio was second in 4:39.79 and Australia's Cameron Ryan third in 4:40.55.
Kelowna's Bas Van Steenbergen won the Junior Men 16 to 18 group in 4:28.45, followed by Maxime Chapuis of Switzerland in 4:31.41 and Luca Cometti of the U.S. in 4:33.43.
Kyana Livingstone was first in Junior Women 13 to 18 in 5:14.58. She was followed by Ava Buchan of the U.S. in 5:29.83 and Danno Kennedy in 5:43.70.
Mathieu Hebert topped the Master Amateur Men 30-Plus group in 4:31.51, followed by Andrew Gunn in 4:32.91 and Tyler Earnheart in 4:35.15.
Regan Hogelie won the Senior Amateur Men 19 to 29 in 4:29.27, followed by Corey Hatch in 4:29.82 and Robin Potvin in 4:30.01.
Phillips, Zink top Trick Showdown
Riders got their first opportunity to compete on the Red Bull Joyride course on Thursday at the Teva Best Trick Showdown.
Benny Phillips, an Australian who recently moved to Whistler, landed a 360 double downside whip to win the top air. There was no shortage of flip-whips and other tricks. Andreu Lacondeguy actually over-rotated his attempt at a double backflip. Phillips won $4,000 for his efforts, plus a handful of cash from the announcers.
The second obstacle of the evening, the Kokanee Cabin, was also worthy fo the highlight reel. There were a few interesting flip-whips, including one by 15-year-old Anthony Messere. Kyle Strait might have taken the event with a double whip - if it wasn't for Cam Zink, the 2010 Crankworx slopestyle winner - landing a corked front flip off the lip to win $4,000.
"The first to hit it was (Greg) Watts - and it's not huge but it's tricky," said Zink. "It's a big lip with a slow takeoff, and you're totally blind so when you come in you have to feel completely confident with how fast you're going. It's hard. (Front flips) are hard to trick off lips, so it was good one."
After the Teva Best Trick Showdown the action went up the mountain for the second annual Pump Track Challenge. The new course, dubbed Crystal Viper, is being raved about by locals and the pros. The riders got two timed runs to determine where they fit into the brackets, then faced off against other riders in a head-to-head format. They started on opposite ends of the track and the rider with the lowest combined time would advance.
Ropelato, Kintner defend pump track titles
This year's podium was similar to 2010 with Mitch Ropelato and Jill Kintner defending their titles. Ropelato got a bye in the first round then beat Michal Marosi, Eric Carter and Carney Blake to take the win. Kintner won battles against Neven Steinmetz, Danielle Beecroft and Melissa Buhl to win the women's contest.
Garbanzo DH - the rest of the riders
Due to Pique's print schedule we were not able to include all the junior and amateur category results for the Garbanzo DH in last week's coverage.
In Amateur Women 19-Plus, Genevieve Mckew of Australia was first in 19:31.62, followed by Lindsay Trimble in 19:42.21 and Alyssa Lyons in 19:48.43.
Whistler's Jack Iles won Boys 13 to 15 in 16:04.05, more than 11 seconds faster than Carter Faulkner's 16:15.40. Tom Van Steenbergen was third in 16:22.72.
Over the week Iles would win four events at Crankworx and place second in two others to win the Prince of Crankworx title. Iles, 14, also has another year in the 13 to 15 category.
Pablo Seewald of Argentina won the Junior Men 16 to 18 in 15:17.86, followed by American Kyle Warner in 15:21 and Thomas Crimmins of Australia in 15:29.93.
In Master Amateur Men 30-Plus, Kris Atkinson was first in 15:21.58, followed by American Tyler Earnheart in 15:23.19 and Craig Wilson in 15:35.66.
Santiago De Santiago of Argentina won Senior Amateur Men 19 to 29 in 14:37.29, followed by Nick Scott of Great Britain in 15:03.28 and Whistler's Denis Courchesne in 15:10.80.
Complete results for all events are available at www.crankworx.com.
For the record
In last week's reporting of Crankworx the author wrote that it was Gee Atherton who broke his neck last season when it was his brother Dan. The report suggested that Australia's Troy Brosnan, 17, already has a World Cup win to his credit when in fact he was the 2010 World Junior Champion as well as the World Cup's top junior racer. His best World Cup result to date is third.