Through My Lens | Crankworx Rotorua

Monday, March 30, 2015

Crankworx is well renowned within the cycling community as the world's largest mountain biking festival. In late 2014, the festival announced a third event in Rotorua, NZ - an addition to their Whistler and Les Deux Alps stops in the Northern Hemisphere, which would create a trilogy of MTB competition at the highest level.

After having visited New Zealand in 2014 and realising how easy a trip it is to make, there was no way I would be missing the opener to what was sure to be a phenomenal event. With the gear and experience I had gained in the past two years of shooting mountain bikes, it was an event I simply couldn't miss.
Run over 5 days, with 6 events, Crankworx Rotorua bring attracted a huge selection of world-class riders, brands, photographers and journalists, all keen for a piece of the action and to take something special home with them, or in some cases, onto the first round of the UCI world cup. Each course, and the event centre overall had a taste of the Maori culture, and the event was spectacularly well run.

First up on the list of events was the Oceania Whip off world champs - if you're not sure what a 'whip' is, this photo might help.

Connor Fearon, world-cup rider from Adelaide, Australia whipping off on his prototype Kona Downhill bike.

With 90% of the bikes media standing in one place just off the course, I couldn't spend the whole time there and needed to move around and get something different. I certainly wasn't the only one with the idea, but that's how the story goes. Here's on of my favourite photos from the whole week, shot with a shutter speed of 1/30th of a second - for reference the one above was taken at 1/800th.

Brendan Fairclough, English rider - powerhouse on a bike.

Following whip offs was dual speed & style - a competition where riders race 1v1, side by side down a short track with tight berms, rollers and large jumps, judged (a) on their speed - who finishes first, and (b) which tricks and style points they can gain in their run. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves in illustrating the event.

 Martin Soderstrom (Sweden, above left) took the event with visible confidence and skill on the course.

What a location, am I right?

With the pump track challenge scheduled for the evening on the same day as speed and style, the mini-events were being pumped out (pardon the pun) as the week progressed, however rain and a rider knocked out cold called for the postponement of the event, to be run under lights the following evening (after the downhill event). The prospect of lights was cool, though low-light photography is never easy, it was a fun event to shoot and get creative with what light there was. Here's a taste of what I came up with! Slow shutter speeds, wide open apertures (lots of f/1.4!) and pans were the order of the day.

Thursday brought the downhill event - a discipline I'm used to seeing practice, seeding (qualifying) and then racing for. Apparently the race was pre-seeded, I'm not quite sure what that means, but at least it was a few less photos to edit from the week. It's always so impressive to watch the pro riders throw down their talents, this race was no exception. On a remarkable course, which challenged racers top-to-bottom, the crowds were thick and loud throughout the skyline park. I picked two shots for the final group of riders to come through - a sharp, fast-shutter style shot where riders sledded down a chute toward the finish arena, and a panning shot as they cleared the final step-up jump, very close to the finish line. 

 A rider lays it down in the wooded section up top. Super high ISO in this area, the darkness was real.

 Three bridges like this made part of the trail, with this likely the most tame of them all. The rider's position gives you an idea of just how steep the ramps are - with his seat just about on his chest.

 Finish arena shot (1) - UK rider Brendan Fairclough not looking back as he chases a 

Canberra rider David  McMillan makes it look easy, taking his signature style to the air for the crowd.

With the downhill run and won; over as quickly as it started - keep in mind I'm used to spending an entire weekend (up to 4 days) shooting an exclusively downhill event - the Enduro race was the next thing to look forward to. As I wasn't committed to shooting for any clients this week for the enduro race, we picked the Saturday for a rest day, instead I edited my pump track shots and downhill shots from the day before, and caught up with other media-folk, whilst enjoying some time off my feet in the media centre. 

I even made it up the hill to watch some Slopestyle practice with some Aussie riders who had made the trip to compete in the Amateur downhill divisions - it's always awesome to catch up with riders outside of work, and it gave me the chance to soak up the atmosphere of the event and really appreciate the Slopestyle for what it is, not through the lens. Following this, however, it was back to work and up the hill to shoot the enduro; of which 6 stages were raced outside of the Skyline MTB park, and stage 7 followed the majority of the downhill track raced a day earlier - epic, right?!

 Can you see the exhaustion in his eyes; after 50km of riding and nearly 2km of elevation gain?

The downhill riders were in their element come stage 7 - here NZ Red Bull rider Brook Macdonald opens it up into the finish arena. Unbelievable.

My shots didn't vary too much in the Enduro - I just shot most of the Pro class for myself, it's good practice and there's a chance of that magic shot that catches the eye of many - or even the right people who might like to use it. By this stage I was feeling the whole week of shooting, but also very excited to see the Slopestyle on Sunday - which I also shot sparingly, after having shot much of practice earlier in the festival, and because I wanted to soak up the event. I had never seen this discipline in the flesh before, it is truly impressive what these riders do with their bikes - watching it, one might think it possible that they could do it too - not without years of commitment and practice, in reality! Here's my favourite shots.

 Psyching up... Riders prepping themselves to commit to the tricks they're hoping to land this run. Sporting the Kiwi touch like much of the course. It's touches like these that make the photos!

And balls like these that make champions. 

Thanks for reading about my experience with the inaugural Crankworx Rotorua, it has been an amazing opportunity to shoot brilliant riders. I will be back for sure - perhaps one of these days I will cover the trio. I hope to see you there - if not look out for the blog! 

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