‘I rode a line between triumph and disaster’
Mountain biking is a complex sport – not just in its many title classifications, which could give boxing a run for its money, but in terms of defining what it actually is. On the letters pages of cycling magazines, middle-aged men hold forth on what their pastime is all about, just as fashion designers try to explain their spring/summer collections. I should know, because I used to edit one.
Every day I battled with renegade writers at Mountain Bike Rider, who were always lobbying to push the envelope, to move the sport on from its boring cross-country roots, all the while testing increasingly expensive bikes far beyond the means and needs of our readers. Presiding over us was a board of directors who didn’t care as long as we shifted more magazines.
We didn’t, which made my tenure as editor shorter than expected, but a visit at the end of June to Innsbruck, in Austria’s Tyrol, provided a happy trip down memory lane. Crankworx – a sort of Glastonbury for mountain bikers – was in town for the first time, with up to 17,000 spectators gasping as the pros pulled stunts none of us could ever hope to emulate. I can barely do a wheelie (as my erstwhile colleagues would scornfully attest) but I had brought my bike this far. Had I bitten off more than I could chew?
Crankworx began 14 years ago in Whistler, Canada, arguably the home of modern mountain biking. Latterly, it has evolved into a touring circus of derring-do, with headline sponsors, big prize money and editions in New Zealand and the French Alps. Hosting the event marks a giant X in the box marked “gnarly”, so it was a coup for Innsbruck, keen to position itself as Austria’s outdoor capital.
Was it a leap too far? There were grumbles when the trick contest had to be pulled because of bad weather, but the legacy for mountain bikers is undeniable. Not only did the city build new trails to secure the event, it is also busy extending them.
Tom Prochazka, who cut Whistler’s legendary A-Line trail, will oversee the expansion of the fledgling Innsbruck Bike Park in Mutters, about a
Matt Hampton gets an adrenalin buzz as he puts Innsbruck’s tough new mountain bike trails to the test
Clockwise from above: cycling a mountain trail; tackling one of the obstacles; a welcome break; and Innsbruck old town