The excitement had been building for the new Crankworx World Tour season after major changes had been announced to its 2023 downhill mountain bike format, with the promise of the best downhill mountain bike season yet. The Crankworx World Tour did not disappoint as it kicked off the season in style. The first round attracted some of the best downhill mountain bike riders to take on the RockShox Taniwha Downhill course, that included current downhill world champion, Loic Bruni.
The Rotorua Whakarewarewa Forest would give riders a true test of downhill mountain biking skills, with heavy rainfall in the days leading up to the event, resulting in deep ruts, super slick roots and plenty of mud to challenge the riders during practice.
Thankfully, the sun was shining on race day and with the return of the voice of downhill mountain biking – Rob Warner, who co-hosted with Elliot Jackson downhill fans were treated to a feast of pure entertainment. Although some would argue the course preview ride with Rob and Jess Blewitt was even more entertaining than the actual race.
The women's racing saw Jess Blewitt, fresh from Red Bull Foxhunt NZ and the recently crowned New Zealand National Champion, take the top spot beating last year's junior world champion Jenna Hastings by a sizable gap of 6.442 seconds. Jess' win marks her first Crankworx World Tour gold medal in elites with her previous win being from the junior category in 2020.
Jess spoke after the race, "My run went to plan, but the only plan I had was to keep it rubber side down and that worked. I had gotten 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 push, but I think it was a smart race run.”
Current men's downhill world champion, Loic Bruni, wrapped up a perfect weekend of racing after he put seconds into the rest of the field in seedings. He went on to win the finals by a tight margin of 0.344 after an impressive ride from Oliver Zwar who was riding for his new team FMD Racing. Neko Mulally rounded out the top three on his custom Frameworks bike fitted with a new carbon rear triangle, to just under a second off Loic's winning time.
Following the race, Loic 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 adapt to the track. I made 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 pretty stoked.”
The opening round of the Crankworx World Tour was packed with excitement and drama and sets up a thrilling season of racing. CWT now heads to Australia for Round Two in Cairns, from 17th-21st May. The action continues in Routora with the Official New Zealand Whip-Off Championships on 22nd and the Pump Track Challenge on 26th March.