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Whistler riders shine through in Crankworx

Semenuk on podium, three locals in top-12 at slopestyle
$10,000 Man North Vancouver's Ben Boyko pulls in his bike after a tailwhip over the big gap in Saturday's Kokanee Slopstyle contest at Crankworx. Boyko went on to win first place in the competition, boosted by a huge 260 drop off the gap-o-tron. Photo by David McColm.

Local park riders held their own against the top riders in the world in the 2007 Crankworx freeride mountain bike festival, which wrapped up on Sunday with the Canadian Open Downhill.

While World Cup racers grabbed most of the podiums in the race events, the Kokanee Slopestyle on Saturday was very much a B.C. affair with North Vancouver’s Ben Boyko taking the top spot, and Whistler’s Brandon Semenuk in third place. Both Kyle McDonald and Alex Prochazka qualified for the super final by finishing in the top-12.

In the junior race categories, Whistler’s Tyler Allison placed first in every event he entered, and he entered every race except for the Volkswagen Biker Cross and Slopestyle. That’s despite a field that included more than 60 youth riders from across North America.

Jim Beam Air Downhill

The Air Downhill is one of the fastest and most popular downhill events in the world, and has now sold out for five years running. This year there were 340 riders in the race, which takes place on A-Line — a trail with more than 100 jumps, berms and other features, as well as speed sections where some riders were clocked at 64 km/h.

California’s Brian Lopes defended his title from 2006 with the fastest run of the day. He crossed the finish line in 4 minutes, 21.87 seconds. He was followed by Australia’s Nathan Rennie, in 4:22.58, and Greg Minnaar of South Africa in 4:23.47. Cedric Gracia of France, another World Cup racer, placed fourth in 4:25.03.

The top Canadian in the running was Whistler’s Jeff Beatty, who placed sixth in 4:29.55.

Thomas Vanderham of North Vancouver was the next fastest local, in ninth place, while Andrew Mitchell and Steve Smith of Vancouver Island were 11 th and 12 th respectively.

For the pro women, British racer Tracy Moseley took the top spot in 4:50.95, while West Vancouver’s Micayla Gatto stole second place from World Cup start Fionn Griffiths with times of 4:53.24 and 4:53.87 respectively.

Whistler’s Jen Ashton placed fourth in 4:55.96.

Other locals racing include Bethany Parson in eighth place and Miranda Miller was 11 th .

There were three starters in the four-wheel category this year, with Whistler’s Stacey Kohut placing first in 5:44.96, followed by Ellis Tull of Nanaimo in 6:32.08, and Gavin Williamson of California in 7:18.32.

In Junior Men 16 to 18, Edward Masters of the U.S. took the top spot in 4:36.73, followed by Nathan Vials of England and Tyler McCaul of California. Simon Garstin of Courtenay was the top Canadian in fourth.

The top Whistler rider in the running was Ian Morrison, in sixth place with a time of 4:41.84.

In Junior Boys 13 to 15, Tyler Allison took the top spot in 4:41.28, edging out Remi Ganvin of Nanoose Bay and Victoria’s Kyle Marshall. Other Whistler riders in the top-10 include Simon D’Artois in seventh and Nick Geddes in eighth.

James McSkimming won the Amateur Men 19 to 29 category in 4:33.09, more than five seconds ahead of Paul Stevenson of England and Kyle Thomas of North Dakota. McSkimming’s time would have placed him 12 th in the Pro category.

Other Whistler riders in the top-10 included Jeff Leigh in sixth, Tristan Merrick seventh, Robin Potvin eighth, and Christian Stadler ninth.

In Master Men 30-Plus, Whistler’s Chad Hendren took the top spot in 4:40.32, followed by Clinton Fowler of Seattle and Vincent Saut of France. Kelly Walters was the next fastest local, in sixth place.

In Amateur Women 19 and Over, Aja Philp of North Vancouver was first in 5:16.56, followed by Jerusha Millar of Vancouver and Jenny Pederson. Kimberly Saprunoff of Whistler was fourth and Nellee Lavoie fifth.

In Junior Women 13to 18, Casey Brown of Revelstoke placed first in 5:08.21, followed by Jessica Allouche and Marlee Cheler of Squamish.

Telus Dual Slalom

A timing error and lack of daylight forced officials to reschedule the finals of the Telus Dual Slalom from Friday evening to Saturday morning, making it impossible for several top World Cup racers like Brian Lopes and Mike Haderer to compete.

The event ran without a hitch on Saturday, and for the spectators who returned to watch the racing was intense. The course held up well enough given how slippery the dust and gravel could be, and was challenging from top to bottom. Because there were only a few spots on course where riders could pedal, riders had to build speed by pumping their bikes through the turns, and keeping their tires on the ground through the bumps, jumps, and chicanes.

The pro men’s category ended with a showdown between current World Champion Sam Hill and previous champion Greg Minaar. Hill slid out on one corner in the first of two heats, and wound up 1.5 seconds behind Minaar in run two.

Minaar’s gameplan in the last run was to play it safe by staying close to Hill, knowing that 1.5 seconds is a lot of time to make up on the dual slalom course. However, Hill had another mistake in the top section while racing to make up time, and Minaar was unchallenged at the finish.

“Once I saw that (Hill) had made a mistake, I took it really easy until the end because there was still a chance that you could fall or go off-course,” said Minaar.

Minaar said the win was made easier by the fact that some World Cup racers dropped out, but said it worked out in the end with a dual against Sam Hill.

“We had some good racing at the end, and that’s what really counts for the riders,” said Minaar. “The course was challenging, you needed to be on your game, but the racers really enjoyed it. It was different than World Cup, but you needed the same skills to win.”

In the bronze medal race, J.D. Swangren edged out South Africa’s Andrew Neethling. Although Swangren was an unknown coming into the race, he made a name for himself early by giving Sam Hill a run for his money in the semi-finals. Swangren won the first race, but had problems in the second that allowed Hill to move on.

In the Pro Women, Tracy Mosely placed first, followed by Joanna Petterson, Lisa Myklak, and Leanne Gerard. Moseley finished with huge gaps in all her races, even as some of the top World Cup racers were eliminated through the finals.

“I just tried to focus on the course, and didn’t pay much attention to what the other racers were doing,” she said. “It was a hard course, but I think that worked in my favour because my bike was set up perfectly.”

In Master 30-Plus, Whistler’s Cory Leclerc edged out J.J. Desosmeaux in the final run to win the gold medal, while Nick Tuttle beat out Ryan Cleek for the bronze.

Leclerc is a bit of a dual slalom fanatic, and has pushing to have dual slalom in Whistler for years.

“What’s not to love? Two guys go head to head on a gnarly course, and only one of them will go on and win. It’s a true test of bike skills, and all you need is a little bit of a slope and some dirt pushed up into berms. The spectators love it, the riders love it,” he said.

“You wouldn’t think anything that small could be so scary, but you really had to lay into the curves so fast you can feel your tires struggling to hold on.

“Even if you crash in your first run the difference going into the second run is only 1.5 seconds, that’s the maximum gap, so anything can happen. A kid from California almost beat Sam Hill, the world champion, and then Hill slides out in the finals. It was so exciting, and I hope it will be back next year. We had some problems with timing but the organizers really pulled it together today and put on a great event.”

In Junior Boys 13 to 15, Tyler Allison picked up his third win of Crankworx after a showdown with Nick Geddes.

Allison was not 100 per cent for the ride, after a serious crash in training. He popped over the lip of a berm and wound up going into the ground head-first. He sprained his hand in the crash and cut his lip on the mouthguard of his helmet. Still, although he only fit in two training runs before the contest he decided to race.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever raced dual slalom, and it was fun. The key was staying low on the corners and not getting too high,” he said. “I liked it because you could barely pedal at all once you were out of the start. You had to try to pump your bike to find speed, but still stay under control. I’d like it if they kept the course there all the time so we could practice.”

Nick Geddes was happy in second place. “That was my first time in a dual slalom, and it was super-fun,” he said. “It’s not like racing downhill or cross-country or biker cross. If you go out as hard as you can pedal you’re probably going to fall. You can’t worry about the other guy either — you don’t have the time to worry about what he’s doing because if you lose your focus for even a second you’re going to miss something.”

Noah Brousseau edged out Jay Boysen in the bronze medal race.

In Junior Men 16 to 18, Curtis Robinson edged out Tyler Gorz in both races to take the gold, while Miles Payton beat Christian Dalsgaard to take the bronze medal.

Kyle Thomas was first in Senior Men 19 to 29, followed by Kyle Thomas, Brad Tibbs, Brandon Cassell and Damian Bissett.

In Amateur Women 19 and Over Kat Duffels placed first, followed by Kristen Smart. Danice Uyesugi beat Kimberly Saprunoff to the bronze.

Kokanee Slopestyle

While a crowd of more than 15,000 spectators were watching them, all 25 qualified riders in the fifth annual Kokanee Slopestyle were watching each other. The stakes went up with every run it seemed, as riders tried to one-up each other on the course.

The winner, after two qualifiers and two runs in the final, was North Vancouver’s Ben Boyko. Boyko took charge in the finals with a run that included a can-can off the top road gap, a tailwhip over the big gap, the biggest air off the Sram wall, a 360 off the Gyro drop, an X-up over the next gap jump, a table off the satellite dish, and a 360 off the Gap-o-Tron — a 22-foot drop onto a transition that most riders said was too flat.

The drop prompted all the riders to use dual suspension bikes that are heavier, and according to Boyko, harder to do tricks with. He credits his win to his decision to go with a bike that has six inches of suspension front and back.

“Most of the other riders were on four inches, but I went with the six inches. I couldn’t have done my run without that extra suspension,” he said.

For Boyko, who competes professionally on the freeride tour, this was his biggest result yet. He received a cheque for $10,000 for his efforts.

“This is my first win in a big contest, and for it to be in what everyone says is the biggest slopestyle in the world is just unbelievable,” he said. “It’s really like a dream come true for me.”

In second place, with arguably the best two runs on the top of the course, was Andreu Lacondeguy of Spain. The crowd booed the judges for his first low score, but Lacondeguy didn’t miss a beat in his second run. He did a backflip over the road gap, a can-can over the gap, a whip off the transition from the quarter pipe, a table off the Gyro box, a no-hand backflip over the next gap, a 360 off the satellite dish and a table-top off the Gap-o-Tron to move into second place.

For Whistler fans, one of the best parts of the slopestyle was seeing three local riders mixing it up with the biggest names in freeriding. Brandon Semenuk, Alex Prochazka, and Kyle McDonald, all 16 years old — made it through the 104-rider qualifiers on Thursday into the 25-rider finals on Saturday night. All three also qualified for the super-finals by finishing in the top-12.

Semenuk was in the hot seat after his first run, which was good enough to put him in third place when all was said and done. That run included a no-footer off the road gap, a tail whip over the next gap jump, an X-up off the Gyro box, a tail whip over the next gap, a 360 off the dish, and a table off the Gap-o-Tron.

“It was pretty scary, the course was so sketchy,” he said. “I just tried to ride confident, because I knew I couldn’t do anything if I had no confidence in myself. I’m pretty psyched to finish third, but I’m also happy to get out of the competition with no injuries. Everything was just so huge.”

Semenuk spent time in California last winter practicing his dirt jumping, but said that nothing could prepare you for Crankworx.

“We only got a handful of training runs on the course, and only a few practice drops at the end, but everybody was in the same boat,” he said. “I still can’t believe it.”

Fourth and fifth overall went to Cam McCaul of California and Paul Basagoitia of Nevada. Basagoitia came the closest to upsetting Boyko with a run that included a backflip over the road gap, an X-up and can-can off the next gap jump, a bar spin off the Gyro box, another backflip off the next gap, a 360 off the dish and an attempted tailwhip off the Gap-o-Tron. He made the move perfectly, but landed a little forward and was thrown down hard when his front wheel buckled. He got up and was prepared to try for the lead again, but lost his bike off a gap jump.

Prochazka finished in sixth place, with a run that included the biggest backflip he has ever landed in a competition — and probably the biggest backflip of the day in the first two runs of the finals.

“I’m so happy right now,” he said. “I was even worried that I wasn’t going to qualify. I really liked my runs, and I was happy with everything except for when I crashed.”

In his second run in the super-final, Prochazka was the only rider to do a backflip off the road gap, then follow up with another flip on the gap jump — which he over-rotated and landed too far back on his rear wheel to recover.

“That flip on the (road gap) was the most amazing thing I did today, I definitely didn’t practice it. Andrew Taylor and I really feed off each other in contests and we feed off the other riders, so that I knew if I did that trick that he would do it next.”

Kyle Mcdonald placed eighth overall, with runs that featured a backflip, tailwhip, and a scary no-hander off the Gap-o-Tron that none of the other riders tried to imitate.

For the first time the Kokanee Slopestyle event was broadcast over the Internet by Telus and Rip.TV. More than 10,000 viewers tuned in from around the world to watch the competition, and thousands of people are continuing to visit the website to watch the highlight reel.