It’s been a long time since any pro rider was as excited as Tommy Zula was to win a Crankworx Whistler event.
The American, who bested France's Adrien Loron in the Rock Shox Ultimate Pump Track Challenge final in the Boneyard on Aug. 15, eagerly looked up at a screen broadcasting the race to determine whether his two-run combined time was enough to knock off the four-time Crankworx World Tour champion, and upon receiving that confirmation, jumped into Loron's arms. And, naturally, he chugged a whole beer in the finish corral.
"I wanted this race so bad for the past few years, so I'm so stoked to walk away with it," said Zula, who has only raced the Whistler pump track and is now eager to test the other World Tour stops. "This year, winning qualifying definitely helped and made me a little bit more confident coming into tonight. I knew I had the speed."
Zula had to take out a trio of big names to win, defeating Kyle Strait and Austin "Bubba" Warren before facing Loron in the final. Even several of the Round of 16 matchups wouldn't have surprised Zula as a showdown for the gold medal, so he felt honoured to win it all.
"I was really nervous against Kyle Strait because he's always helping me and giving me pointers and he's such a big name," he said. "Austin Warren, too, he was going fast."
"I started feeling really good about halfway through the day today," he said. "I stiffened up my fork a little bit. In between the rollers, there was a janky, harsh feeling, so I added some tokens on my fork.
"I got the bike working good and that was it."
Though he walked away with silver, Loron still took a victory, claiming the World Tour title and cutting significantly into Mitch Ropelato's King of Crankworx lead.
Loron held the world tour title three consecutive years before ceding it to countryman Chaney Guennet in 2018, and he's thrilled to have it back.
"It's amazing to get this title back," he said. "I lost it last year, and I was thinking about doing something about it. I'm super happy to have it."
In the small final, a local's Cinderella story came tantalizingly close to a medal as junior Jakob Jewett fell to Warren by just four hundredths of a second. Jewett knocked off big names such as Ropelato and Guennet on his journey to the final four, eventually succumbing to Loron and Warren.
On the women's side, American Jill Kintner grabbed the crown for a seventh time, toppling fellow Yankee Jordy Scott in the final. Kintner has been feeling ill all week, but considering her closest battle was a 0.76-second combined gap over another American in Kialani Hines, it's hard not to wonder how significant the chasms could have been were she entirely healthy.
"They're short events, so you find the strength and it's really fun," she said. "I love the pressure."
It was Kintner's third victory in as many days as she won the Air DH and 100% Dual Slalom as well.
After taking much of the year to focus on the Enduro World Series, Kintner returned to Crankworx for its final festival of the season here in Whistler. That's in large part because of the unique and challenging tracks riders face here as opposed to other spots on tour.
"My favourite part about Whistler is that the course always has something different," she said. "[The pump track] was challenging in the shark-fin area. It was loose and technical.
"BMX tracks where you don't have to brake or think, I can't stand those."
Kintner also used the race to debut her Queen of Hearts bike, recognizing her status as the Queen of Crankworx for the past three seasons.
However, Canadian Vaea Verbeeck, defeated by Kintner in the round of eight, earned enough points to secure this year's Queen of Crankworx title. As well, Hines, who won the first two pump-track races of the season, came away with the world tour crown after defeating Joey Gough for bronze.
"I'm really excited and I really wanted it. I didn't really think I was going to get money for it," said Hines, referring to the $5,000 cheque for the overall winner. "I'm bummed out right now because I didn't ride how I wanted to here. But I can't complain with coming home with the overall because it proves I rode good all year."
Friday's Crankworx action includes the CLIF Speed & Style at Blackcomb Base II, with the women's contest at 3:45 p.m. and the men at 6 p.m. At 8 p.m., the Best Trick contest will return and at 9 p.m., Seattle rock band Naked Giants will play a set.
For more, visit www.crankworx.com.
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