The 2023 Crankworx World Tour has officially kicked off in Rotorua’s Whakarewarewa Forest for the RockShox Taniwha Downhill, putting the world’s best downhillers to the test.
The track is known for it’s rooty chutes and ruts which can be challenging on a dry day, but absolutely menacing in the wet. After a downpour of rain two days before finals, the track dried up for some tacky dirt conditions, but featured a few “choose your own adventure” rut sections making for an action-packed day of racing.
Number one seed in the Elite Men category, and five-time world champion Loic Bruni, was able to keep his composure and dominate through the challenging conditions with the fastest time of 3:00.348.
“It was really good,” The Red Bull rider said of his winning run. “The first day of practice was pretty hectic and super difficult because of the rain. Today my run was pretty late in the day so it was tough to stay in the headspace especially with it getting darker in the woods. I did a pretty good on the top sections, but I couldn’t really adapt to the track. I was a little bit off pace and off rhythm most of the lap but still trying to push. I did quite a few small mistakes but I was feeling fast by the time I reached the bottom, but missed some lines trying to fight the feeling of being so tired and felt like I had barely made it, so it was super tight in the end. It was really cool to make a solid 1 and 1 from yesterday’s seeding and today’s podium. Feeling like I am starting the season in the best way, so I am feeling stoked.”
Fellow Red Bull rider Jess Blewitt won her first World Tour gold medal in the Elite Women category. In 2020 she won the junior category for Crankworx Rotorua Downhill, so she was admittedly chuffed to take another Crankworx Rotorua Downhill W.
“My run went to plan,” Blewitt recounts her winning efforts. “My plan being to keep it rubber side down and that worked. I had got a little bit loose in a few spots but overall pretty happy. Rotorua is a hard track in that you don’t know how much you can really push, so part of me thought I could have gone harder at the bottom but at the same time I think it was a smart race run.”
Rotorua local, and Junior World Champ, Jenna Hastings snagged the silver medal position keeping her home crowd stoked. She had a near 'OTB' after sending it off the big jump, but was able to keep herself cool, calm and collected to put down the second fastest time of 3:42.792 for the Elite Women.
“I had done the big jump twice in practice and it was all good, but then for some reason I was coming in fast, I wasn’t in the right gear, pedalled too late and went so nosey – it was ridiculous,” Hastings says of her recovery off the big jump. “I don’t know how I held onto it, but I did and then my helmet was all in my vision, I had to re-adjust, and then I was so rattled and knew I had to just get to the bottom. I ended up second so I can’t complain really!”
Swedish downhiller, Oliver Zwar, earned his first Crankworx podium with the second fastest time for Elite Men of 3:00.692, and Neko Mulally with a little over half a second difference takes the bronze. Local rider Shania Rawson took home the bronze with a time of 3:45.540, making it a Kiwi podium sweep for the Elite Women.
Results – RockShox Taniwha Downhill
Loic Bruni (FRA) 3:00.348 // Jess Blewitt (NZL) 3:35.792
Oliver Zwar (SWE) 3:00.692 // Jenna Hastings (NZL) 3:42.234
Neko Mulally (USA) 3:01.287 // Shania Rawson (NZL) 3:45.540
Full results: crankworx.com/results/