The 2023 Crankworx World Tour kicked off in Rotorua and there were impressive victories for Emil Johansson, Loïc Bruni, Jess Blewitt and Harriet Burbidge-Smith in New Zealand.
In Sunday’s slopestyle competition, Johansson kicked off his Crankworx season the way he ended the last, with yet another impressive victory. However, it was far from easy for the Swede who was pushed all the way by Poland’s Dawid Godziek.
Seeking a third Triple Crown of Crankworx in three years, Johansson showed no sign of rustiness as he scored 93.75 with a hugely technical run that included a 360 barspin to double downside whips both ways and a new flat drop flip x-up.
That left him top of the table after his first run, ahead of Godziek on 91.5 and the UK’s Tom Isted on 88. The Brit then failed to improve on his first run score, while Godziek raised the bar with a second run full of hammers – including a cashroll barspin on the stepdown, and a twister no hander.
However, the Polish rider could only secure a 93.5 and Johansson could relax during his second run, safe in the knowledge he had already secured a 10th victory on the tour.
Johansson, 23, said: “We are all competing because we like to push ourselves, and it makes us grow. We push each other by pushing ourselves. It’s sick to be part of it and to play a part in the progression. Everyone is evolving all the time and that’s what keeps competitions fun and interesting.”
Sunday also saw the Dual Slalom take place and in the women’s event it was Aussie rider Burbidge-Smith against the UK’s Martha Gil in an explosive final.
After Burbidge-Smith had edged the first run, in a first for Crankworx, both riders were disqualified for missing a gate in the second run and, after a lengthy review, the win was awarded to the Australian.
Burbidge-Smith, 26, said: “I had to be cleared to race today because I hit my head pretty hard during Speed & Style yesterday. I had a good time in the first run, which was lucky as we both missed flags in the second run.”
In the men’s final, last year’s winner Jackson Frew attempted to defend his title against local favourite Tuhoto-Ariki Pene. The Kiwi grabbed the early advantage, crossing the line with a narrow lead on the first run. However, he couldn’t hold on and slid out at the bottom of the final run, handing the gold medal to Australian Frew.
Earlier in the week, five-time world champion Bruni was able to keep his composure through the challenging conditions with the fastest downhill time of 3:00.348, which just edged out Sweden’s Oliver Zwar (3:00.692) with American Neko Mulally third in a time of 3:01.287.
Nice native Bruni, 28, said: “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 pretty good on the top sections, but I couldn’t really adapt to the track. I did a few small mistakes, but I was feeling fast by the time I reached the bottom. Feeling like I am starting the season in the best way, so I am feeling stoked.”
In the women’s downhill final, Blewitt won her first World Tour gold medal, after winning the junior category in 2020, with compatriots Jenna Hastings second (3:42.234) and Shania Rawson third (3:45.540).
Blewitt, 20, said: “My run went to plan. 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, but I think it was a smart race run.”
Elsewhere during the week, competitors participating in the Pump Track Challenge were treated to a freshly reshaped, tight and technical course.
In the women’s final, Caroline Buchanan got the better of Kalani Hines to make it back-to-back victories at the New Zealand venue, while the bronze medal match-up saw two home favourites battle it out as Jessie Smith narrowly edged out compatriot Shania Rawson.
There was also a home hope in the men’s final as Kiwi rider Tuhoto-Ariki Pene took on current UCI Pump Track World Champion Niels Bensink from the Netherlands.
Pene delighted his home crowd as he went all out in the second of two runs to overcome Bensink’s first run time advantage and claim the title. Third place went to Australia’s Jayce Cunning who defeated Bas van Steenbergen.
In the Speed & Style event – which combines elements of Dual Slalom and Slopestyle – there was yet more home success as New Zealand’s Robin Goomes overcame Australia’s Caroline Buchanan in the final.
The Kiwi rider put together a stylish run as she combined plenty of speed with some huge backflips to take the win. Britain’s Martha Gill claimed bronze after overcoming New Zealand’s Jenna Hastings.
In the men’s event, Australia’s Mike Ross edged out British rider Kade Edwards in a thrilling final that saw Ross pull off some trademark tricks – including a huge cash roll on the first jump. In an equally enthralling bronze medal match, Frenchman Tomas Lemoine overcame American rider Garret Mechem to claim third place.
Results – RockShox Taniwha Downhill
1) Loic Bruni (FRA) 3:00.348 // Jess Blewitt (NZL) 3:35.792
2) Oliver Zwar (SWE) 3:00.692 // Jenna Hastings (NZL) 3:42.234
3) Neko Mulally (USA) 3:01.287 // Shania Rawson (NZL) 3:45.540
Pump Track Challenge presented by Torpedo7
1) Tuhoto-Ariki Pene (NZL) // Caroline Buchanan (AUS)
2) Niels Bensink (NED) // Kalani Hines (USA)
3) Jayce Cunning (AUS) // Jessie Smith (NZL)
Speed & Style Rotorua
1) Mike Ross (AUS) // Robin Goomes (NZL)
2) Kade Edwards (GBR) // Caroline Buchanan (AUS)
3) Tomas Lemoine (FRA) // Martha Gill (GBR)
Maxxis Slopestyle in Memory of McGazza
1) Emil Johansson (SWE)
2) Dawid Godziek (POL)
3) Tom Isted (GBR)
Dual Slalom Rotorua
1) Jackson Frew (AUS) // Harriet Burbidge-Smith (AUS)
2) Tuhoto-Ariki Pene (NZL) // Martha Gil (GBR)
3) Bas van Steenbergen (CAN) // Jenna Hastings (NZL)
Header image: Emil Johansson performs during Slopestyle at Crankworx in Rotorua, New Zealand on March 26, 2023. Credit: Graeme Murray / Red Bull Content Pool