Squamish riders came through in the Crankworx Summer Series over the past three weeks, with local residents claiming third-place overall finishes on the men’s and women’s sides, respectively.
The series, held at SilverStar, Kicking Horse and Sun Peaks with downhill, Air DH, enduro and dual slalom races, ran from late July to Aug. 14.
Rhys Verner came away with the third-place showing on the men’s side, finishing behind winner Finn Iles of Whistler and runner-up Bas Van Steenbergen while outgunning veterans like Whistler’s Jesse Melamed and Kirk McDowall.
Verner enjoyed racing with friends like Iles, who generally race other disciplines, and also appreciated Psychosis race at Kicking Horse, beating the old course record (along with winner Henry Fitzgerald and Iles) en route to finishing second overall
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Though the third-overall finish doesn’t fatten Verner’s wallet, it’s still a confidence boost considering the competition.
“It was awesome. I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty good all-around rider and can adapt to different stuff,” he said. “This just proved that point.”
Verner acknowledged he was more comfortable with some events than others, but managed to shine anyway, highlighting his runner-up finish in the Sun Peaks AirDH to cap the series on Aug. 14. All told, Verner took five podium appearances — two seconds and three thirds — over the series.
Completing a 12-race-in-18-day gauntlet at three different locations was admittedly challenging for all riders involved.
“It was pretty full-on. It was a lot,” Verner said. “The actual physical side of it isn’t a whole lot more riding than I would normally do in that time period. It’s just... you had to make sure the mental side was intact. I find it a lot easier to keep the mental side intact when you’re doing well.”
Verner will now head to Europe for an abbreviated five-race Enduro World Series (EWS) season beginning at Zermatt, Switzerland on Aug. 30. In prior years, he felt he’d entered seasons behind the pack, as he focused on his postsecondary studies until late April, but Verner feels stronger entering this campaign, especially after the Crankworx tune-up.
“Normally, once I finish school at the end of April, I just go right to racing and I feel like I’m always playing catch-up,” he said. “This year, I used that time to ride and train properly and I feel like it paid off.
“I’m going in with some serious confidence and I’m feeling good.”
Admittedly, though, Verner has some mixed emotions regarding holding an international season during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m super excited to race and I really want to. It kind of is my job and for a lot of people I race against, it is their job. People are allowed to travel for their job,” he said, “but I’m definitely a little bit on the fence for a few things. To be honest, I didn’t think it was going to happen. You get a bunch of people from a bunch of different countries going to some small towns, it seems a bit sketchy, but I feel like there are people that have done more research on this than me that gave it an OK to go.”
Verner stressed that in that context, there’s additional pressure to ensure that he represents the mountain bike community in the best possible way.
“I’m definitely trying to be as responsible as I can over there — wear a mask and make sure that we’re staying in the same bubble and not give anyone a reason to look bad on the mountain bike community because it is a crazy time right now,” he said.
Enduro World Series racer Andréane Lanthier Nadeau took third overall on the women’s side, edging Miranda Miller by just 10 points. She earned three victories, including the Psychosis win, and two runner-up results.
She also enjoyed racing downhill as a change of pace.
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Over the three-week marathon, Lanthier Nadeau was proud of how her endurance held up.
“[I was surprised at] how many races I could do even if I was completely empty,” she said. “To still be racing and pushing ourselves, I think everyone found new limits.
“It changed my perspective on how much I can accomplish, so if I ever show up tired to a race, I know that if I really focus on the process, I can put something really nice together.”
Lanthier Nadeau feels that the experience made her a better rider that will have plenty of new skills on the international level.
“It was a tall order but everyone came out with so many new skills and new learnings,” she said. “It was once in a lifetime. I’m don’t know if we’ll ever do it ever again exactly like that but I was thrilled to be part of it.”
Lanthier Nadeau was grateful to Crankworx for putting together the series and preparing the athletes for the remainder of the year.
“We raced 12 races, but they put on 12 races,” she said. “All the athletes are so thankful for the team that put it together.”
Miller, meanwhile, will join Verner in Europe after a fourth-place finish overall, just 10 points behind Lanthier Nadeau. Miller hit the podium nine times in all, with four second-place finishes and five thirds.
While entering the series with lots of unknowns, including a cramped schedule and potential negative reception during COVID, Miller said things went well.
“Crankworx did a really good job. They were really strict — either you were wearing a helmet or a mask. Never did we get to hang out with anyone who isn’t in our group,” she said. “That made everyone feel a little bit safer and things flowed pretty well.”
With the high volume of racing and practising, Miller said there were some highs and lows, as she could feel great one day and lousy the next.
“You just had to be really mindful of how you used your energy. It was hard, but everyone was doing it,” she said.
In terms of racing, Miller loved the Kicking Horse Enduro, where she and Lanthier Nadeau battled back and forth all day, with Miller taking second by just three-hundredths of a second.
“The whole time, we were paying attention to how we were doing and instead of messing with you, it made us ride better,” she said. “It was good to practice some race techniques and just feel that pressure again.”
Heading into the EWS schedule, she feels OK, as the racers land in a major centre and then head straight for the mountains, but still, Miller wonders if it’s the best thing to do.
“[It’s] a little weird, not even so much from a safety point of view,” she said. “I’m like, ‘Well, what’s wrong with taking the year off?’ but the series is trying to keep going. It’s risky but it could also be kind of damaging to your career a bit if you don’t go and everyone else does.”
Miller said lots of athletes, including several riding for contracts for 2021 and beyond, are committed, but she knows her sponsor, Kona, will support her if she is uncomfortable and needs to bow out.
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“They’ll support me if I come out, ‘This is weird, I’m going home,’” she said. “Worst case, you can bail out.”
Meanwhile, Kasper Woolley finished sixth overall despite missing some time with injuries. All told, Woolley took three second-place results and three thirds.
The enduro specialist enjoyed the opportunity to hone his skills in several disciplines.
“It was super cool to do back-to-back weeks of the same [event],” he said, with Psychosis serving as the lone exception. “You got to do a bunch of different disciplines, which is what Crankworx is all about, but then the next week, you got to do the same thing.”
Woolley was admittedly not 100% heading in, as he sprained his ankles the day before the series started.
“I had quite a few challenges,” he said. “I wasn’t sure how the first week was going to go. Enduro was a bit tough, but then it wasn’t too bad. I could manage it.”
At Kicking Horse, Woolley crashed in Psychosis practice, landed on his leg and missed the rest of the week. He was still sore upon his return, but saw a silver lining.
“I raced all of Sun Peaks, but my leg was pretty bad, still really bruised,” he said. “Sometimes it takes your mind off the racing and sometimes you can even do better.”
All told, Woolley’s highlight was the SilverStar Downhill, as he wasn’t racing a downhill bike but he still got second within a second of Iles.
Post-Crankworx, Woolley is off to the U.S. with his team and hopes to race the final two EWS contests.