Whistler, BC. Home of big mountains, big air, and big money.
Crankworx is a long-running event on the mountain-bike calender, renowned for hosting gravity-oriented races, trick comps, and all manner of big bike hype. Whistler has played host to this globally-renowned event for years, and the town really knows how to throw down for bike parties.
Thankfully, the Crankworx minds are the same ones behind Whistler Cyclocross, a new race weekend on the PAC NW cross calender.
Four of us made the trip over from Vancouver Island, cramming Halldor’s ’88 Volvo with spare wheels, a Broad Street Cycles tent, coffee, and race kit.
With freshly built Naked team bikes, this was to be a shakedown race weekend. In addition to the racing, Whistler brought together a bunch of good friends living in different places. The convival CX atmosphere is one of the best things about this sport, but can lead to some late nights and hazy mornings…
Mark Oldenburg, Mighty Riders CX racer, and long-term single-speed crusher, was kind enough to host us at his in-law’s condo. Mark is a seriously cool guy, and will be making the trip with us down to Louisville KY for Single Speed CX Worlds.
The Crankworx crew did an exemplary job of putting on this race — the level of professionalism surrounding the event was world-class. Between the wheel-pit area, event banners, streamlined registration table, and event emcees, participating in Whistler CX felt like a true top-tier race.
Timing chips contributed to the polished feel. There is a particular element of obsessive nerdery around cyclocross lap times. As racers, we obsess over minute differences in tire traction, line choice, and drivetrain gearing in an effort to gain a marginal time advantage over the short course distance. Having access to accurate time splits after the fact was an engaging aspect to Whistler CX’s event.
“Brutal,” would be one adjective. “Empirically bad,” is another.
In short, the track started in the central square at Whistler Creekside. Launching racers into a double-set of stone stairs before bottle-necking at a pedestrian bridge, the start on day one was sketchy, and slow compared to most cross races. This urban portion of the course wound its way through tight corners over flagging stones, and dropped us down a 5-stair set before returning to the central plaza. And then up. A few corners blunted the first meters of climbing, but largely the course ascended straight up the snowless ski hill. A hard right, and the flagging tape slalomed riders back down towards the lap point. The downhill was raw. Riders were running into rim-eating holes in the loose corners, and pinch-flatting on the big rocks that populated the track. One last hairpin corner before the steep descent ended led racers over a triple barrier set, again set on a steep downhill. In typical Whistler fashion, it suited riders with a mountain-biking background and offered a substantial time-advantage if you could bunny hop them.
Day two saw a re-working of the course. A more cross-friendly line could be cut through the downhill, and the barriers were swapped to an uphill orientation making for a tricky, and fun, section of the course.
This event has got so much potential. Top-level infrastructure, and a natural home in the bike-crazy town of Whistler will cement the event in the long-term. Wrinkles in course location and design, however, need to be ironed out. Cyclocross is a sport of nuance. The name of the game is balancing power, traction, and speed to complete the course as efficiently as possible. Having a course that encourages this is key to a good event. If Whistler CX were to use their considerable resources to build a killer course, perhaps envisioned and laid out by a CX veteran, they would have a world-class event on their hands.
With so much elevation gain per lap, the racing was highly selective. In the Elite Men’s field, Vancouver CX-phenom Kevin Calhoun started strong and finished with a healthy gap on both days. A small field contributed to the feeling of riding in no-mans land for much of the 60min. race. Brett Wakefield provided a good sparring partner throughout the weekend, with Bob Welbourn proving too fast for me to close in on during Saturday’s race. With an even smaller field, and no Welbourn on Sunday, I managed a 2nd place finish. Bumping up my result from the bottom podium step on Saturday to 2nd on Sunday left me with some prize money, and a redeemed feeling about the raw course conditions.
And the new Naked Team X cross bike? Shredder. This thing carves corners like a knife, and punches out of corners like crazy. Smooth on the stair set, it was nearly silent on the choppy washboard descent. Shredder.
Crazy traffic. Our trip back to the Van Island oasis was cut short by backed up Sea-to-Sky Highway traffic. A detour in Squamish, complete with a pump track session and pizza began the post-race recovery. The last ferry out of Horsehoe Bay finally got us out of mainland traffic, and back for a late arrival in Victoria.
Special thanks to Clint Trahan for his excellent imagery, and BIG THANKS to Broad Street Cycles helping us get to the start line.