Hotly contested battles for the King and Queen of Crankworx are on the menu during a feast of mountain biking action at Crankworx Rotorua.
Riders collect points throughout the year and it all starts at the Crankworx Rotorua Giant Toa Enduro tomorrow. The winners are named at the end of the season, during which there are points up for grabs at 30 events for men and 22 for women.
Some top contenders who have thrown their hat in the ring on the women's side include reigning Queen Jill Kintner (USA), Casey Brown (CAN), Tahnee Seagrave (GBR), Emilie Siegenthaler (SUI), Vaea Verbeeck (CAN), and Cecile Ravanel (FRA), who won't be competing in Rotorua but will be on the hunt for points when the Crankworx World Tour hits Europe.
In the race to be crowned King, defending champion Adrien Loron (FRA) will be back at it, as will Tomas Slavik (CZE), Sam Blenkinsop (NZL), Barry Nobles (USA), Bas van Steenbergen (CAN), Austin Warren (USA) and Bernard Kerr (GBR), who will miss Rotorua with a broken foot but hopes to be back in time for Europe. Similarly, Jack Moir will miss Crankworx Rotorua with a back injury.
Here is how the action will shape up in Rotorua:
Most points up for grabs
The winner of the enduro will walk away with an impressive 225 points. There are six endurance-testing stages during which riders take their time pedalling up the hills then race against the clock on their way down. In 2017 New Zealand's Matt Walker placed second in the Giant Toa Enduro, then kept that momentum rolling, taking the lead in the battle for King coming out of Rotorua.
This year there are three downhill races being held in Rotorua, each with points up for grabs for the top 10 men and women, including 150 points to the first place finisher of each.
First up is the wild card. The Redwoods DH is new for this year and for many this will be the first time racing in the Whakarewarewa forest. Watch for Tracey Hannah, of Australia, the Crankworx downhill champion three years running, to rise to the challenge, along with 'The Bulldog', New Zealand's Brook MacDonald.
Next up speed and style co-mingle on Mr Black, Skyline Rotorua's answer to Whistler Mountain Bike Park's A-Line. In years past, fast and stylish riders like reigning Queen Jill Kintner (USA) and Bas van Steenbergen (CAN) have dominated, but the battle for royal supremacy seems to have changed the game. Last year's King, Adrien Loron (FRA), proved his all-round MTB mastery at Crankworx Whistler this past summer, emerging victorious in the Fox Air DH and claiming valuable points which eventually enabled him to clinch the title.
The Crankworx Rotorua Downhill rounds out the three races. Look for last year's winner Moir and current world champion Miranda Miller, of Canada, to show off what they've got.
Where the multidisciplinary masters play to win
In some ways, these are what the King and Queen race is all about. They are the great equalisers, where mountain bikers from multiple disciplines battle it out against one another. Three head-to-head events are on the docket in Rotorua this year - Dual Speed and Style, Dual Slalom and Pump Track.
One of the most anticipated additions to the 2018 Crankworx World Tour is Dual Slalom. In Rotorua Empire of Dirt has laid down a new track that has competitors frothing. Excitement around the 100% Dual Slalom Rotorua also stems from the fact it offers up another option for female competitors to race in.
Historically, the RockShox Rotorua Pump Track Challenge has seen some of the week's most epic battles play out. This year is looking to be no exception, with the likes of Kintner, Loron, Danielle Beecroft (AUS), Chaney Guennet (FRA) queuing up to take on the new course.
Finally, the Mons Royale Dual Speed and Style Rotorua adds the trick specialists into the mix. There have been a few tweaks to the rules of this evolving discipline heading into this year; riders now face a stiffer time penalty if they do not do a trick, or choose to scrub or whip a jump.
Back on the table
Once again part of the King and Queen points battle, the Official Oceania Whip-Off Championship is a jam session that has pushed many outside their comfort zone and sideways into the New Zealand night.
For whip veterans such as Casey Brown, who has also signed up for every single event available to female competitors, the extra 100 points on offer for first could be the boost she needs to make it to the top. On the men's side, watch for Reed Boggs (USA) who took the win in 2017 and Austin Warren (USA), who came second in the Whistler Whip-Offs last year.
The dark horse in the battle for King
With so much on the line during Slopestyle, it's not often these riders have royal aspirations, though with exceptional talent comes exceptional circumstances.
Points are available for the top 10 in the Crankworx Rotorua Slopestyle which could make the difference for Slopestyle riders who compete in other events.
A re-shaped course awaits this year's Slopestyle competitors in Rotorua as, for the first time since Crankworx touched down in the southern hemisphere in 2015, the course will see a refresh with a few jump rebuilds.
Crankworx Rotorua battle for royalty - March 17-25
Saturday, March 17:
Giant Toa Enduro presented by CamelBak
Sunday, March 18:
Tuesday, March 20:
100% Dual Slalom Rotorua*
Wednesday, March 21:
Crankworx Rotorua Air DH
Thursday, March 22:
RockShox Rotorua Pump Track Challenge presented by Torpedo7
Friday, March 23:
Mons Royale Dual Speed and Style Rotorua
Official Oceania Whip-Off Championships presented by SPANK*
Saturday, March 24:
Crankworx Rotorua Slopestyle in Memory of McGazza
Sunday, March 25:
Crankworx Rotorua Downhill
* denotes events new to the King/Queen battle in 2018