Queen of Crankworx - The Jill Kintner Interview

There is only one Jill Kintner. This is one athlete who doesn’t stop, who takes podium after podium, who gives back to the sport and her community, who knows her limits, and never stops pushing. And as a competitor, she’s keenly aware of her threats, humbly, and unfailingly, working to stay on top. The numbers speak for themselves:

• 34 medals won at Crankworx since '04
• 8 career Crankworx pump track golds
• 3 pump track golds in 2016

Will she be able to repeat her near-flawless 2016 season? We talk to Jill about the battles shaping up for 2017, the highs, the lows and what it’s like to be Queen, ahead of Crankworx NZ.....

You’re coming off a big year, with eight gold medals, and one silver, on the Crankworx World Tour, a series championship win, and the title of Queen of Crankworx. How are you feeling as these battles all begin again?

Honestly, I am just so glad winter is over and we are here in New Zealand ready to ride bikes! Year-to-year, you never know how things are going to pan out, so while last year was incredible, this year is a new journey. 

How do you look at a year like last year, that was nearly flawless, and try to improve on that?

Yeah, I guess you just kinda just hit reset and try to find new goals. I feel like I am still learning and improving my riding, which is the most important thing. There are subtle things with bike set up, training, mental stuff, cornering speed, logistics, etc. that I work on, so there are plenty of things on my list.

In 2016 you took all three golds on the Crankworx pump track. There are two women in the field who’ve challenged you in the past, who are back in the game this year. Caroline Buchanan, who took the win in Whistler two years ago, was focused on the Olympics in 2016, so she wasn’t at Crankworx. And Anneke Beerten, who took the win in Rotorua in 2015, was battling an immune disorder for much of last year. With Buchanan back, and Beerten saying she’s healthy, does this put the pressure on or just light the fire in you even more?

I’m looking forward to the tight battles, and those two are very talented. I like how pump track competitors don’t really get in your lane to affect the race, but you know they are there, so it makes the game about being tidy with perfect timing and flow. The competition will be tough, as always, so it just comes down to that moment, under the lights with the pressure on. It doesn’t really matter who is there. Can you produce your best riding? That’s my goal. I know good riders are going to be there, so I’m prepared for them to be their best, like I’m prepared to be my best.

How do you typically prepare and practice for an event like the pump track?

Well, we have a friend who built a pump track in his covered horse arena, so that’s a good start. But there’s quite a bit to it. Pump tracks require super dynamic movements with your body, technical skills, and good timing. Gym training helps a ton to be able to handle the compression forces and use your legs. Plyometrics help for speed and sprints- even though you don’t pedal - for power and recovery, bmx for skills, and tight cornering for direction changes. I wish the tracks were a bit more technical, with cornering and combinations rather than just pumping, but when you put the best riders together in head-to-head races, it’ll always be good to watch. If you are a good bike handler, you’ll typically find success, or at least fun.

It’s the day before the pump track in Rotorua. How do you spend your day?

Usually, I’m out doing downhill practice the morning of pump track finals. At Whistler, I had some crazy days where there was slalom qualifying, whip-off finals, pump track practice, then pump track time trials. You’re always out doing something at Crankworx, so it’s hard to be perfectly rested, due of the volume you have to handle during so many events, But that’s what I train for.

You mentioned earlier that you work on your mental game from year-to-year. How much does that play a role?

A lot. I feel pretty comfortable and relaxed at Crankworx because there are so many events. You kind of just show up and ride whatever bike you need at the time, and are in that moment thinking about what you have to do. Obviously, I’ve been at this awhile, so I kind of know what to expect, but really, it’s just taking one step at a time. I know how to focus and tune things out to do my job. I’m also happy to be there with the opportunity and think that’s the best mental strategy to have.

Crankworx must get pretty long when you’re competing in so many events. What do you do to keep yourself relaxed throughout the week and in the right frame of mind?

Try to have fun. It’s the first event of the season, so is fun to catch up with everyone, say hello, and ride with the best riders in the world on quite a variety of courses and disciplines. When things get going, I try and keep myself rested and mentally sharp, while still enjoying what’s going on. Red Bull helps to keep my energy and focus up. I’m at the point where I make it a priority to enjoy everything that’s going on. I want to experience the event, meet cool people and hopefully make a difference in the sport to the people I can reach. 

Of course the bike plays a big role in your ability to be so versatile. Tell us about your setup for the Crankworx Rotorua Pump Track Challenge presented by RockShox.

What bike are you riding? Norco Rampage Hardtail
Frame Size: Small
Bars: Renthal fatbar lite carbon 740
Grips: Renthal ultra tacky grips
Stem: Renthal Duo 50 mm
Bike Weight: Not sure
Suspension setup: Fox 100 mm 36 air fork
Pedals: Shimano
Wheel size: 26"
Carbon vs. aluminium wheels: Alloy xtr wheels
Brakes: XT brakes
Cranks: XT cranks
Gearing: Gearing 32t
Tires: Maxxis Crossmark and Crossmark 2
Anything else we should know? I like running gears most of the time with a Saint short cage derailleur and shifter

What inspires you to keep pushing?

I’ve got a short window to be the best I can be, so I want to work hard and reach my potential. Riding bikes is my most favorite thing to do in the whole world, and the more you put into it the better it gets. I also really enjoy the people Bryn and I have around us as far as sponsors and support, so that keeps me happy and excited. It’s fun to share cool experiences with the people you love.

Over the past few years, the battle for the Queen of Crankworx has really intensified. More riders are flexing their muscles in different disciplines, getting outside of their comfort zones a bit, in the hopes of proving their versatility and having the chance to be recognized as King or Queen. Does it keep you motivated to push when new challenges like this arise and give you something new to focus on and conquer? Does it make you push just that little bit harder knowing that other riders are setting their eyes on the prize that currently belongs to you?

I think Crankworx is a totally different game because of that, you have to be a good bike rider on any type of bike to win. The prize at the end of it all is so incredible as well that it makes sense that it’s become so popular among riders. Because of the whole points collecting, it takes you out of your comfort zone; I didn’t particularly want to do whip-off last year, but Casey Brown set the bar pretty high, we all had to step up. It was terrifying at moments, but in the end I was really proud of myself and the other ladies who went for the jumps because when you have these new challenges, it gives you another sense of accomplishment. It’s not always about winning or losing, but about the fact that you competed in something that scared you or that you didn’t know you could do. 

How have you seen the mountain biking industry change over your time, in the role and influence women have?

Yeah, over the past 10 years there have been tons more ladies getting into mountain biking. With trail bikes being so versatile, and access to trails getting better and better, I think people, men and women alike, and dogs (haha) choose biking as a healthy active pursuit to be outside ripping around in the woods having fun. 

What’s the year ahead looking like for you?

The Crankworx World Tour is the top of my list as far as goals and objectives, and then some USA National rounds to support the events in my own country. I was contemplating an EWS [Enduro World Series], but I’m not quite sure what I’m going to do with that. I’m up for the challenge, but I don’t know, we’ll see. I try to leave some holes in my schedule so there’s room for random stuff with sponsors or trips. Racing’s really fun and takes most of my energy to be ready, but being a good ambassador for our sport is important too. Locally even, just having a presence so I can put some time and energy into community projects is good. I helped get a pump track approved in the park across the street from my house, and I want to be around for the build and see everyone enjoy it!! Might teach a few pumping clinics too.

From a grassroots level, pump tracks are popping up everywhere. I’ve been to city council meetings where they have 10 locations in mind where a pump track could go because they’re looking for ways to encourage kids and people to get outside. You don’t need a licence. You just need a bike, and to show up. Having fun on bikes outside is much better than sitting in front of a computer screen. Hint hint.