After long, cross-country flights from Quebec to make it to Crankworx Whistler on time, the seven kilometres of trails and 3,400 feet of descent making up the Garbanzo Downhill course didn’t seem to faze the top finishers on Tuesday (Aug. 13).
Having settled for second each of the last two years, Marcelo Gutierrez Villegas finally broke through for the men’s triumph in the long-distance downhill, while France’s Emmeline Ragot followed up her World Cup win at Mont Ste. Anne from Sunday (Aug. 11) with a women’s victory Tuesday.
Gutierrez Villegas was the last rider to reach the finish at the bottom of the bike park Tuesday, removing past winner Sam Blenkinsop from the top of the podium with a winning time of 12 minutes, 28.24 seconds.
“It’s been two years (I’ve been) second place, so this year I was really focused on taking first place. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but I’m stoked with it and how the season’s going for me,” said Gutierrez Villegas, who was among the bunch of riders who were coming off just one day’s rest from the World Cup stop out east.
The 23-year-old has been a consistent performer in the Garbanzo race, having placed as the runner-up to Blenkinsop in 2011 before finishing second to Steve Smith last year. Crankworx’s annual test of downhillers’ stamina suits him because riding in his native Colombia makes it important to focus on fitness, said Gutierrez Villegas.
“Doing downhill biking in Colombia is not that easy. We have tons of mountains … but you have to shuttle everywhere, so I just spend most of my time pedalling and working in the gym,” he said. “That’s why on a track like this, which is such a physical track, I have a bit of an advantage.”
Blenkinsop had taken the provisional lead just moments earlier but wound up 7.43 seconds back of Gutierrez Villegas. The New Zealander flew in from Mont Ste. Anne the day before the race and said he was pleasantly surprised to hit the podium, as fatigue made it difficult for him to put a clean run together.
“It’s tough when you’re so tired that you can’t really stay where you want to … You need all the power you’ve got and (this course) is so long,” said Blenkinsop. “I’m pretty happy to come in second. I was thinking I was going to maybe be top five.”
Nanoose Bay’s Remi Gauvin (+20.47) finished third, edging local rider Chris Kovarik by less than a second for the last podium spot. Kiwi rider Justin Leov, who won the race in 2009, finished fifth, while Whistler’s own Tyler Allison had an impressive day, placing seventh.
Ragot had time for just one training run on the marathon course before Tuesday’s race, but managed to hold off a large contingent of B.C. riders to earn the victory in 14:19.83. Whistler’s Claire Buchar (+19.84) took second spot and 2012 junior world champ Holly Feniak (+43.45) placed third. Pemberton’s Jamie Hill finished seventh.
“I know Claire and Casey (Brown) ride pretty fast here and know the track perfectly, and I had just the one practice run this morning, so I didn’t know how (I’d do),” said Ragot. “I just tried to ride perfectly because that’s what I try to do for the World Cups — I always try to push myself.”
Buchar has been dominant in local and provincial-level races this season, but the Garbanzo Downhill was her first major international event since being involved in a car accident in the spring that left her off the bike for several weeks. She said she was disappointed to feel like she wasn’t in top form Tuesday but recognized that she hasn’t had the time to get there this season.
“I have no legs, but other than that I rode pretty well, considering I was definitely fitter last year — I had more preparation time,” said Buchar. “I’m happy with the result.”
Whistler riders had impressive results in just about every category of Tuesday’s race. Jack Iles placed second in the men’s junior amateur (16 to 18) race, while Finn Iles was also a runner-up in a boys’ division (13 to 15) stacked with locals. Bracken Camilleri finished fifth, Alex Auger was ninth and Jackson and Cooper Bathgate placed 10th and 11th, respectively.
In the masters race, local rider Kristopher Atkinson took second place, while Whistler’s Jon Moon was just off the podium in fourth spot and Andrew Gunn was fifth. Denis Courchesne earned a runner-up finish in the senior amateur (19 to 29) category.