At Whistler's Crankworx festival, world’s top free-ride mountain bikers show their skills: photos

Athletes and spectators at Crankworx Whistler, 2012. Photos By Brian Park.

Crankworx, the world’s largest free-ride mountain bike festival, came to a close today in Whistler, BC. The festival, now in its ninth year, lived up to its reputation as airborn athletes flipped and gravity-lovers raced downhill at the mercy of the mountain. Crankworx is a place where bike enthusiasts from around the world witness what organizers call “the mountain biking revolution.

Men and women ages 13 and up participated in downhill racing, cross country endurance races, and slopestyle trick events. In an interview with Pique magazine, Crankworx Whistler general manager Darren Kinnaird said an estimated 100,000 would be at the festival over the 10 days. Riders came from as far as South Africa, the Czech Republic and Japan.

Although not recognized as an Olympic sport, slopestyle mountain biking has gained popularity in recent years. The Red Bull Joyride Slopestyle competition is by far the festival’s most popular event. There was a surprising turn of events this year when one of the favorites to win the contest, Whistler local Brandon Semenuk, crashed on his first two runs and did not advance to the final.

This opened the door for Thomas Genon, an up-and-coming French rider, to take the win. Martin Söderström from Sweden took second place and is now ranked top freeride mountain biker in the world overall. Judges this year saw many “variations” of winning tricks from previous years, showing that there is still lots of room for innovation in this relatively new sport.

Unlike in the Olympics, athletes do not receive medals at Crankworx. Instead they receive cash and other prizes that have a combined worth of $175,000 this year. This is the most the festival has ever had to offer the athletes and shows an increase in sponsorship support due to the festival’s growing popularity.

The $10,000 prize for first place in the Canadian Open downhill was the same amount that Canadian athletes won for getting a Bronze medal at the Olympics (read more in this VO article: How much Olympic medalists get for winning a medal). 

Whistler is known in international biking communities as a Mecca for mountain biking, and Crankworx plays a large part in this reputation.

“We have a few festivals in Europe... but no festival has the same media coverage [as] Crankworx” said Matthias Amann, who recently visited from Munich, Germany to ride the “unique trails” in and around Vancouver.

This year’s festival had the most live video coverage yet, with cameras on many sections of the trails, broadcasting the action to viewers around the world from numerous websites.

“Here [in Germany] we are a small group of mad people,” Amann said, noting that “the acceptance for MTB-Gravity in Canada is much much bigger.”

For more details, see the Crankworx website.

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