Loic Bruni and Jess Blewitt win Crankworx DH season opener

Crankworx Rotorua kicked off the 2023 downhill season with a star-studded line-up of racers. The elite men’s field was a who-who of international talent, including race winner and reigning world champion Loic Bruni. In the women’s race, a trio of up-and-coming New Zealand talents cemented their success around the world with a solid win on the downhill podium at their home circuit.

Bas van Steenbergen
Bas van Steenbergen on a drier day while sowing in Rotorua. Photo: Clint Trahan

Canadians in Rotorua

Four Canadians competed at the Rotorua DH in elite men’s and women’s categories. Georgia Astle (Devinci Global Racing) led and finished eighth in the elite women’s race. Bailey Goldstone (Santa Cruz Bicycles) followed in 10th place.

Jake Jewett (Pivot Factory Racing) led the Canadian men and slipped to 11th place. The reigning King of Crankworx, Bas van Steenbergen (Hyper), started his title defense with a 19th place finish.

Neko Mulally rides a muddy Rotorua DH practice session
Neko Mulally during a wildly muddy training session in Rotorua. Photo: Clint Trahan

Mud, sun and the return of Crankworx Downhill

The root slides and steep ruts of Taniwha Downhill are a challenge in good weather. Add two days of rain, constantly changing lines and it was a wild weekend in Rotorua. Two rainy days during practice kept the racers on their toes and made the ruts deep and binding. Sun and Kiwi DH fans came to the final.

World champion Loic Bruni (Specialized Gravity Racing) wins the men’s race with just under 0.344 seconds.

“The first day of practice was pretty hectic and super difficult because of the rain. Today my run was quite late in the day so it was difficult to stay in headspace, especially as it got darker in the forest,” Bruni said after his win. “I did pretty well in the upper sections but I wasn’t really able to adapt to the track. I was a bit off pace and rhythm for most of the loop but still trying to push. I made some small mistakes but when I got to the bottom I felt fast but missed a few lines trying to fight the feeling of being so tired and felt like I barely made it so was it ended up being super tight”

Despite his struggles, Bruni walks away with the win ahead of Sweden’s Oliver Zwar (Canyon Cllctv) and USA’s Neko Mulally (Frameworks Racing).

“It was really cool to make a solid 1 and 1 from yesterday’s seedings and today’s podium,” said Bruni, adding, “I feel like I’m starting the season off on the right foot, so I’m excited.”

Crankworx Rotorua podium celebrations
Blewitt and Bruni celebrate their first wins of 2023. Photo: Rachel Hadfield

New Zealand sweeps home podium

In the women’s, Jess Blewitt returned to a track that earned her junior women’s gold in 2020. The New Zealand racer used that experience to claim her first elite gold medal at the women’s Crankworx World Tour on Sunday.

“My run went according to plan,” said Blewitt about taming the difficult course conditions. “My plan was to keep the rubber side down and it worked. I was a bit loose in a few spots but pretty happy overall. Rotorua is a tough track as you don’t know how much you can really push so part of me thought I could have gone harder on the bottom but at the same time I think it was a smart race run.”

The three women on the podium are all from New Zealand but are all international talent. Junior Women’s Downhill World Champion Jenna Hastings followed in second and Shania Rawson in third.

“I’d done the big jump twice in practice and it was all good but for some reason I got in fast, I wasn’t in the right gear, I was pedaling too late and I got so curious – it was ridiculous,” Hastings said , to stick to a near OTB and second place. “I don’t know how I stuck to it, but I did and then my helmet was all in my sight, I had to readjust, and then I was so confused and I knew I just had to get to the bottom. In the end I finished second, so I really can’t complain!”

Results – RockShox Taniwha Downhill

Loic Bruni (FRA) 3:00.348 // Jess Blewitt (NZL) 3:35.792
Oliver Zwar (SWE) 3:00.692 // Jenna Hastings (NZL) 3:42.234
Neko Mulally (USA) 3:01.287 // Shania Rawson (NZL) 3:45.540


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