2019's Maxxis Slopestyle in Memory of McGazza, the first contest of the Crankworx FMBA Slopestyle World Championship season, brought a triumphant return to the top step for Canada's Brett Rheeder.
The 26-year-old won the New Zealand event in 2018 before spending the rest of the season falling just short, always behind Nicholi Rogatkin, of the US.
"It feels really good. It feels really relieving. First contest of the year, I'm always nervous of screwing up or messing up my run and not getting a good place, and then having people wondering 'Oh, maybe Brett doesn't have it any more.' I went through a big winter filming, and then last-minute training for this. It was pretty intense work and I didn't really have many days off. To have it pay off - it's the best feeling ever. This, right now, is what I live for."
Rheeder's run, on Saturday, was packed with technical tricks.
"I started off doing a switch-7 on the step-down, followed by a regular cork-720 on the shark fin. I went into a 360 double tail whip on the step-up, and a opposite double tail whip on the right hand hip, into a double-truck on the boner log. A switch-truck up onto the flat drop. I flip-whipped the flat-drop, into a front-flip one foot can, and into a cork-720 bars pin on the last jump."
A slight bobble on his final landing had the crowd on edge, but he managed to hold on, with a quick touch of his foot to the ground.
Rheeder scored a 93.75 on his first run, a score that held steady. In fact, the top three after the first set of runs remained unchanged after two.
Rogatkin, for his part, ended his day in ninth place with a 63.25, after going down on both runs.
Stepping up to second place was a man who spent most of 2018 just off the podium, including three fourth-place finishes, Frenchman Thomas Lemoine.
"It feels good. I'm happy that I've done a good run today and I'm looking forward to the rest of the season. It's good motivation for what's next, so that's cool," Lemoine said.
Lemoine's stylish and smooth first run earned him an 87 from the judges.
Behind Lemoine in third, a newcomer earned his first piece of Crankworx hardware. Alex Alanko, of Sweden, competing in just his second Crankworx Slopestyle competition, was nearly speechless as he came off the podium dripping with celebratory champagne.
"I'm in disbelief," the rookie 23-year-old said. "It's a good feeling, for sure."
Saturday's contest sets the tone for the three-event long Crankworx FMBA Slopestyle World Championship season. Rheeder's first place finish gives him the early lead for the title he also earned last year.
Another year on Kelly McGarry's course is in the books. The best slopestyle mountain bikers in the world now set their sights on Crankworx Innsbruck, with three months to take Saturday's results, build on them, learn from them, recover from them, and prepare to take them all to the next level, and beyond.
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