Iles third in first elite event 

First Crankworx event of the season wraps in New Zealand

click to enlarge PHOTO BY SCOTT ROBARTS COURTESY OF CRANKWORX - JUMP UP Whistler's Finn Iles, shown here in Whistler at Crankworx Whistler 2016, placed third in his first elite-division event in Crankworx Rotorua last weekend.
  • Photo by Scott Robarts courtesy of Crankworx
  • JUMP UP Whistler's Finn Iles, shown here in Whistler at Crankworx Whistler 2016, placed third in his first elite-division event in Crankworx Rotorua last weekend.

When he was dominating the UCI World Cup junior tour, Finn Iles put up times that rivalled the top riders in the men's elite division.

In his first test after graduating from the junior tour, the two-time overall champion confirmed the speculation, placing third in the Crankworx Rotorua Downhill in New Zealand on March 25.

Kiwi star Sam Blenkinsop easily rode away with the win, topping Australia's Mick Hannah by 5.14 and Iles by 15.86 seconds.

On the women's elite side, Tahnee Seagrave of Great Britain topped Switzerland's Emilie Siegenthaler and Squamish's Miranda Miller.

Iles said even with his vast experience, it was still an exhilarating accomplishment to be in the top division.

"It was a bit nerve-wracking, actually. I've been thinking about it a little bit, because it's a big step up into the elites," he said. "I felt like last year, I did quite well on this track and even in some of the World Cups, I put up some good times. But coming into this race, it was a bit of a different state of mind because I felt like now that I'm actually racing the guys, it's a bit more pressure.

"The conditions were tough and it was a bit of a struggle to get down the course without falling, so in the gate I was a little bit nervous.

"But as soon as I started riding, I felt like most of the nerves just went away."

In his third time at Crankworx Rotorua, Iles said he now has enough familiarity with the downhill course that it serves as a measuring stick of his abilities heading into the coming season.

"Being able to use that track again, it's a benchmark for where I am right now because I don't have to relearn the track," he explained. "It definitely helped me out."

Iles' offseason plans were sent into flux with snowier than usual weather in Vancouver and Squamish, meaning he had to spend more time indoors in the gym. However, he went to the Southern Hemisphere for about two weeks before the start of Crankworx and got in his downhill reps.

"The snow this year has been pretty ruthless. In Vancouver, it's been mainly snowed in on Cypress and Squamish hasn't been available," he said. "We went to Queenstown before Crankworx, so I got in 10 days on the downhill bike and I felt like that was super beneficial."

Iles has about three weeks more training here in Canada before heading to Europe for the first Mercedes Benz UCI World Cup race of the season in Croatia.

Elsewhere at Crankworx, Hannah nicked New Zealand's Matt Walker and Czechia's Tomas Slavik in the elite men's Air DH, while American Jill Kintner topped Canadian Vaea Verbeeck and Siegenthaler in the elite women's event. As well, in the junior men's 17 and 18 race, Pemberton's Lucas Cruz established himself as the Sea to Sky's heir apparent to Iles. Cruz bested New Zealanders Sam Robbie and Tuhoto-Ariki Pene by over a second to claim the convincing victory. North Vancouver's Ethan Shandro, a regular in Whistler, dominated the youth division with over five seconds between himself and the field led by runners-up Finn Parsons and Finn Hawkesby-Browne, both of New Zealand.

In the Crankworx Rotorua Slopestyle in Memory of McGazza, Canadian Brett Rheeder took the top step with a 94.25 on his first run. Belgium's Thomas Genon and Italy's Diego Caverzasi both improved in their second attempts but couldn't surpass the Canuck, posting scores of 91.50 and 90.50, respectively.

Another Canadian win came in the Official Oceania Whip-Off Championships as juggernaut Casey Brown won the women's side over New Zealand's Vinny Armstrong and Switzerland's Alexandra Wohlgensinger. American Ryan Howard took the men's win over Great Britain's Kaos Seagrave and fellow Yankee Tyler McCaul.

In the Mons Royale Dual Speed and Style Rotorua, Sweden's Martin Soderstrom emerged with the win over New Zealand's Joe Simpson and France's Adrien Loron.

Lastly, in the RockShox Rotorua Pump Track Challenge, both finals featured national rivalries. On the men's side, Tomas Lemoine knocked off Chaney Guennet in an all-France final while New Zealand's Michael Bias won the small final. On the women's side, Jill Kinter beat Kialani Hines in an all-American matchup while Jonna Johnsen of Denmark won the small final.After the first of four Crankworx festivals, Blenkinsop has accumulated 500 points to take the lead on Hannah (325 points) and Walker (305 points). Meanwhile, defending champion Kintner scored 565 points to stake out an advantage on the women's side. Canadians Brown and Verbeeck kept themselves in striking distance with 425 and 365 points, respectively. Both winners will receive a $20,000 prize.The Crankworx World Tour will resume in June in France and Austria before wrapping in Whistler in August.

For more information, visit www.crankworx.com.

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