Brewing Talent: The Phenom Phenomenon


Crankworx’s eight-year history is dotted with historical upsets – the breakout moments from athletes and upstarts previously unheard of. So, what is the key ingredient to these overnight sensations? Why are careers launched and records broken so frequently at Crankworx? The answer lies in understanding whether talent bursts forth like a shot of espresso or is brewed slowly like a drip coffee.

On the racing side, the answer is definitive. It’s impossible to achieve champion status overnight, says veteran rider Brian Lopes. “Becoming a champion requires fitness, skill, using your head, and being disciplined,” says Lopes. “Years of practice and experience are what it comes down to.”

Mileage is the only way to becoming a champion like Aaron Owin, who secured the 2011 UCI World Cup overall title. Five seasons in, he’s still considered to have had a rather fast ascent to the top.

On the other hand, slopestyle athletes appear to have had a sharper trajectory to stardom – at least at first glance.

In 2004, Paul “Bas” Basagoitia borrowed a friend’s bike to compete in Crankworx’s inaugural Slopestyle event. Coming from a freestyle BMX background, he’d had no real experience in Slopestyle. Admittedly, the scale of Crankworx surprised him.

Despite his inexperience, Bas blew the doors off the course and won the event, a moment that would forever change his life. “After I won, my phone wouldn’t stop ringing,” says Bas, recalling the sponsorship opportunities and event invitations that flooded in for weeks after.

Kyle Strait also pinpoints his bronze in Crankworx’s 2004 Slopestyle as a pivotal career moment. In fact, the legendary huckfest was seen as a catalyst for the evolution for freeride mountain biking as a whole.

Fast forward to 2011 when 15-year-old Anthony Messere was placed in the Red Bull Joyride Slopestyle as a standby athlete. Shortly after texting his buds from the top of the course, he threw down a gnarly bag of tricks that rocked him to third place. Messere has now signed with Red Bull.

Australian seasonaire bike bum, Benny Philips had his own glory moment last year. He was thrust into slopestyle and the TEVA Best Trick Showdown as an alternate and ended up winning round one Best Trick in the peer-judged jam event.

Of all the success stories, Bas’ is the anomaly. While there’s no doubt he had natural talent, he’s convinced that some of it was also luck.

Messere’s performance was hardly a surprise. Before the Crankworx limelight shone brightly on the young wunderkind, his name had been bubbling just under the surface all season long.

Similarly, Philips’ performance at the TEVA Best Trick Showdown was the result of an entire summer throwing down in Whistler Mountain Bike Park’s Air Dome and, before that, countless sessions in his native Australia.

Whistler Mountain Bike Park Manager Brian Finestone endorsed both Philips and Messere at Crankworx. Fully immersed in all facets of the local mountain bike community, he keeps watch over his roost, hawk eyes peeled for a beacon of talent in the flock.

“I think the one thing that always stands out is passion,” he says. “If you’re looking for limelight it may never be cast on you. You can tell who’s hard working and who’s put in the effort to have good looking tricks.”

It’s only fitting that the home of Crankworx is the ultimate talent incubator. Whistler is a Petri dish filled with world-class trails, training facilities and frequent visits from the hottest pro riders.

Brandon Semenuk is the latest local sensation, but there are others waiting in the wings.

Whether in Whistler or abroad, somewhere a grom is putting in the 10,000 hours it takes to perfect one’s skill, their ability brewing slowly like a flavour-punching cup of French roast.

The Freeride Mountain Bike World Tour paves the way for early talent detection from all corners of the world. But it takes a mainstream event like Crankworx to provide the perfect storm of world-class courses, high profile competition and media attention to showcase talent that’s been brewing behind closed doors.

The bottom line is that there’s no easy path to the top and no golden handshake. Dedication and catching the attention of an influencer like Finestone help. But, just one thing will push it to the next level: passion.

“Without a doubt, every one of those athletes has put in their time,” says Finestone, “and has the passion to do this whether they’re on a stage or at a set of dirt jumps with just their best friends.”

PUBLICATION: Crankworx program guide
Photo: Kike Abelleira, Crankworx

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