Words by Lauren Gregg @lauren.gregg
Following our race in Aspen, Colorado, EWS racers headed north to Whistler for the seventh stop of the World Tour, to conquer the toughest race of the year- Crankzilla.
When racers started arriving in Whistler, the town was ominously engulfed in heavy smoke from the numerous fires burning around British Columbia. BC’s worst fire season in 30 years made riding and practicing the terrain very challenging for riders leading up to the race. We all watched the forecast for smoke in anticipation and hoped it would clear before our race.
The course was released on Sunday evening, one week from race day. I was sitting in a bar eating pizza with some of my local friends, and as we studied the course map we realized this was going to be one of the most challenging EWS races they had ever put on. It consisted of five massive stages, 35 miles and over 13,800 feet of descending! The liaisons were also huge, with so much vertical to ascend and a massive push up to stage 4 near the end of the day.
During the two days of practice, the smoke still hung thick over the valley. After riding Stage 2, the most technical stage I’ve ever seen (full of sketchy rock features and noticeably lacking any flow, rhyme or reason) and then pushing my bike for a solid hour and a half up an almost-vertical fire road to the top of stage 4, I knew this race was going to be in a league of its own. I was intimidated and felt sick after spending all day outside in the smoke and heat. My final practice run was a full lap on Stage 1, Top of the World to Ride Don’t Slide- one of the longest stages ever in an EWS (4.5 miles / almost 30 minutes!) and a stage that was sure to push riders to the absolute limit of what their bodies, especially their hands, were able to take.
I was intimidated waking up on race morning, knowing that this was going to be the most challenging race of my career so far, but after a tough start to the season I was determined to give it everything I had to finish the day. I’ve been watching Crankworx since I first started riding, I’ve always looked up to the athletes competing at this event, and finishing Crankworx Whistler has always been a dream of mine. Today was the day. Today I would conquer Crankzilla or die trying.
It took a long gondola ride followed by a second chairlift to get us to the top of Stage 1. The mist was thick and the air was cold, and rain overnight had changed the track from the dry dusty conditions of practice to wet and a bit slick. As I came up to the start line, I took a deep breath and dropped in. We started on Top of the World, a physical and exposed rocky trail that seems to go on forever, and then just when our hands felt like they couldn't take any more, we dropped into Ride Don’t Slide, a super steep and rooty track where you constantly have to fight to stay upright over the drops and techy moves. After almost 30 minutes, I was so stoked to have made it to the bottom in one piece. Many riders did not make it through Stage 1, and after surviving the mega stage, I was determined to make it through the whole race.
It was then time for the most technically challenging stage of the day. I was nervous about Stage 2 and ended up having 2 big crashes on the rock rolls. For a moment my heart dropped at the prospect of an injury or mechanical taking me out of the race, but once I got up, dusted myself off and caught my breath, I was relieved to be able to keep on rolling and finish the stage.
We pushed our bikes up the steep transfers and shredded down the last three stages. The stoke was high on course, but energy began to run low. Stage 3 and 4 went pretty smoothly, with the long, rocky Stage 4 being my best finish of the day. It was hard to hold onto the handlebars down these very physical stages, but after nearly 8 hours of racing we made it to the top of the final stage. Stage 5 was in the bike park and was live broadcasted to the fans online and in the plaza below for a little extra pressure. My excitement grew as I got closer and closer to the finish line and knew I was going to make it. Finally, during my first season racing self-supported internationally, I was able to keep my bike and body in one piece. The early season challenges and disappointments made finishing this race all the more sweet. After some rough races and bad luck, it was such a great feeling to have progressed and finally make a solid finish on such a challenging track.
Finishing Stage 5 and riding into the throngs of Crankworx fans rushing the finish area was the realization of a dream come true - I had conquered Crankworx! I was elated and so grateful to have finished the most challenging race of my life.
The moment after crossing the Crankworx EWS finish line was a true moment of joy. It was the culmination of years of hard work, overcoming fears, and pushing my limits. Years of watching my heroes tackle this race and then training to one day do the same. Being so intimidated during practice and turning up to the start line anyway. Getting up after two big crashes during the race and refusing to quit. Pushing my body right to the breaking point and further still. Silencing the fears in my mind and riding the gnarly trail in front of me. Crossing that finish line was worth every second and an achievement I am very proud of. It was a moment I'll never forget.
I could never have done it without everyone who has believed in and supported me over the years. Thank you so much to WTB and my sponsors for turning this dream into a reality!