Three days ahead of the start of Crankworx Whistler, one of the most closely guarded secrets of the mountain biking festival has been unveiled. Organizers have released the details for this year's course for the SRAM Canadian Open Enduro presented by Specialized, the sixth round of the Enduro World Series (EWS). The race will take place on Sunday, August 10, bringing together the best riders in the sport to battle it out for the highest prize purse in the Enduro world.
"This year's course is a mix of the old and the new," says Crankworx General Manager Darren Kinnaird, who worked with a team of consultants to scout and develop the course. "We've essentially brought some of Whistler's forgotten trails brought back to life, while including one that is sure to become known as one of the best trails in Whistler."
The five stages of the race will take place over the following route:
Stage 1: Micro Climate
Stage 2: Crazy Train
Stage 3: Upper Billy's Epic – 27 Switchbacks – Binty's
Stage 4: Lower Ride Don't Slide – Boyd's Trail
Stage 5: Top of the World - No Joke - Little Alder – Expressway - Too Tight - Upper Angry Pirate - Crabapple Turns - Del Boca Vista - EZ Does It - Monkey Hands
The 2014 course was chosen in order to retain the same challenging technical style that made last year's an athletes' favourite, while presenting competitors with a cross section of Whistler's finest, requiring them to be versatile, all-round racers.
"Each stage will give riders a chance to show their strength in a different way," says Kinnaird. "They're going to have to draw from all of their different skill sets. The advantage is going to come from being able to ride fast, be adaptable and have incredible fitness and endurance."
One of the major differences for 2014 is the amount of climbing in the transition stages. Last year competitors had to climb to two of the stages. This year that number increases to four.
350 riders will take to the course on Sunday - an increase from 2013's 275. With a combined prize purse of $25,000 on the line, the stakes are high.
On the women's side, it's been a year of back and forth for the two top riders. Tracey Moseley (GBR) currently sits atop the women's rankings, though it's been a season of close battles through all previous rounds between Moseley and Anne Caroline Chausson (FRA).
"The battle between Tracey and me is intense this year," says Chausson, who adds that not sitting in first at the moment has an advantage: "That takes off some of the mental pressure."
Chausson was last year's winner at Crankworx Whistler, and is currently coming off a win during the last round at Winter Park - with only 50 points separating the two, it's anyone's game.
"I feel good and I like riding at Whistler," says Chausson. "But this is a new year, a new race. Everybody has the same chance to win."
For the men, this year's race seems anything but certain. Last year's overall champ, Jerome Clementz (FRA), dislocated and ripped all the ligaments in his shoulder earlier this year while racing in the French Enduro Cup - the accident put an end to his quest for continued EWS dominance and left the door wide open. Jared Graves (AUS) won last year's race in Whistler and currently leads the series in points, though each round has had a different men's champ this year. Damien Oton (FRA) and Nico Lau (FRA) are both right behind Graves, while a recent surprise podium in Winter Park by former downhiller Richie Rude (USA) has certainly forced the Enduro world to take notice. There are also some local riders who are hoping to capitalize on the home-soil advantage.
"I'm familiar with this terrain and I am more comfortable being at home," says Jesse Melamed (CAN), who's finished in the top 15 in the last two EWS rounds. Melamed admits though that this advantage can only get his so far: "I have heard absolutely nothing of the course and there are just too many trails here to ride them all!"
Beyond the riders and the excitement of competition, the legacy of Sunday's race is expected to be far-reaching. The trail improvements, a joint effort between Crankworx, SRAM, Whistler Off Road Cycling Association (WORCA) and Whistler Blackcomb, will continue to benefit the mountain biking community long after the dust has settled.
Kinnaird describes Micro Climate, the trail that will be used for Stage One, as "the best new trail Whistler's seen in a long time," while the extensive work to re-route, upgrade and reactivate Crazy Train and Boyd's Trail is sure to excite a lot of riders.
In addition, $5000 will be donated to WORCA in order to further develop and maintain the trails in the Whistler Trail Network.
"The work that WORCA does is such an important part of our riding community," says Kinnaird. "Their efforts help all of us to be able to enjoy the sport we love, and make sure that it's done in a sustainable manner so that future generations can be out there enjoying these trails too."
Full details and schedule information for all the events can be found at www.crankworx.com