The Reigning Queen of Crankworx is Feeling Her Best Ahead of Crankworx Innsbruck

63 Crankworx World Tour events. Seven bronze medals. Eight silver medals. 16 gold medals. Two Queen of Crankworx titles. And that’s all only within the past few years…

Vaea Verbeeck is a powerhouse on two wheels and a rider that needs no introduction (but we’re going to give her one anyway because she does a lot of cool stuff). From working her way up the ranks on the Crankworx World Tour to being at the forefront of the women in freeride movement to supporting the riding community through a hands-on approach, Verbeeck is an activist in her own right. Whether it be for her fellow competitors, the global mountain biking network, or the trails we ride, the Maxxis rider is unapologetically determined to better the sport we know all too well.

She’s been busy these past few weeks – attending Red Bull Formation in the Utah desert, recovering from a knee injury, and training for the upcoming Crankworx World Tour where she’ll be defending her Queen of Crankworx title – but she gave us the exclusive on how the first half of 2022 has been shaping up for her.

You were one of the 12 riders that made the trip to the Utah desert for Red Bull Formation. Can you walk us through your experience this year? Despite a knee injury, it still seemed like you had an epic time! 

“This year’s Formation was 100% an amazing experience. Ending on a crash and a knee injury is obviously not ideal, but it does not take anything away from the previous couple of weeks that lead into making Formation 2022. I was feeling in the right place, at the right time, excited for pushing myself and that attitude just kept growing after picking my line at the Formation site. I could feel the energy and the support behind me, yet I felt in such a good state of mind that it all happened in a very relaxed and casual way. That is what made the whole experience so special; it just all felt right. 

My main goal was to ride all the features from the peak down to the hip, and everything else after that would be a big bonus. We managed to break it all down and tick things off whenever the wind would allow me to. And at times where the wind wasn’t ideal, I would hike up to the very peak to tick off the other features on my line that weren’t impacted by the wind as much. That all went very smoothly, and by the afternoon of riding day one, I found myself having ridden from the peak down to the hip. It was an unbelievable day! 

Riding day two was all about checking off the big drop that followed the hip (going for extra bonuses haha). I warmed up by sessioning the new trick jump that would complete the line at the bottom. Then rode the ridgeline and hip to feel good on bigger hits. After that, Ryan McNulty and I were just chilling and waiting on the wind to get perfectly dialled. No need to take any chances on that drop. After some time, the wind gust started to space out a bit more and we could see our window appear for hitting the drop. I thought I would go hit the ridgeline once more to get back into things. That’s when I got picked up by gust mid-air on the big hip and put a foot out on the landing to prevent me from completely hitting the ground. Safe to say I still hit the ground… haha. It was such a bummer… I didn’t get to even give our drop a go and we had spent so much effort on it on the digging days. It was unfortunate for sure, yet I was aware that I was working on bonus features and that I had already gone over such a successful Formation experience. So all was good in retrospect and at that point I was just really hoping that my knee wasn’t in too bad of a shape for the rest of the season to kick start. 

I am currently on the mend and feeling so very fortunate so far. I had an awesome surgical team at home in Vernon as well as their rehab clinic team that have been super accommodating to me. Shoutout to Progression Muscle Bone & Joint Clinic and Dr. Secretan! Sorting me well and quickly with getting an arthroscopic mini meniscectomy surgery to clean up the Meniscus tears as well as cutting a notch in my ruptured ACL for better immediate mobility. Their team is also sorting me with a CTI knee brace which will be key once I’m back on a mountain bike. For now, I’ve completed recovery and rest and kept swelling at bay. I am walking solid and started strength training as well as road riding. One week at a time I’m progressing towards riding and even racing mountain bikes in a couple of weeks’ time!! That would be a positive quick return.”

For those who haven’t ridden that type of desert terrain, can you explain some of the major differences you have to take into consideration with terrain like that versus what we have across British Columbia?

“The number one big difference out in Virgin Utah is most definitely the exposure and the risk factor. It is a legendary freeride mecca, and is so impressive looking with its steep tall cliffs and manicured lines that have only been ridden by some of the best in the business. I would say the one thing you can do in order to process how to ride well there is just to expose yourself to that environment, spend time out there, start small and build up confidently. I spent a month in Virgin this past winter and that made a world of difference in my 2022 Formation success.”

Let’s talk specifically about tire choice now, as you head from the desert to the Austrian Alps. Can you give us some insight as to what you’ll be running during Crankworx Innsbruck and how you make adjustments for different riding conditions around the world? 

“When riding big and heavy hits I definitely ramp up both suspension and tire pressures. I went from running 27 psi (which is already pretty hard) when riding downhill trails or bike park, to mid 30’s psi when riding big mountain freeride. The tire combination I normally use (Maxxis Minion DHF and DHR II) is already a good biting tread which was perfect for speed control in loose Virgin riding just like it has great rolling speed for building up momentum in a jump line. Those are the main tire components I look for on downhill race tracks as well; traction control and the ability to build speed.”

We’ve seen so much support for the progression of women in freeride recently, from Red Bull Formation to Harriet Burbidge-Smith’s progression camp, Trek Momentum, to the addition of the FMB World Tour Women’s Division. What do you think we can expect from women across the 2022 Crankworx World Tour?

“What I am expecting is a deeper field of solid riders. More opportunities for growth as well as better exposure for upcoming riders to see the outlets that they can grow into can only lead to more riders showing up at events with the required set of skills and the experience required to perform at a higher level. It’s a complete cycle that feeds on its success and builds onwards to continued progression.”

How are you feeling heading into the 2022 Crankworx World Tour season as the reigning Queen of Crankworx? 

“I mean all depending on my knee’s recovery, I have been feeling at my best these past few months. I have been dialling back a little bit on Crankworx specific training in order to make space for more personal growth in the big mountain freeride scene. So I may be less prepared for racing, but my mental and physical stoke is there and those are such important components for success. Fingers crossed my rehab keeps going strong and I can be somewhat ready to race all the disciplines and just have a good time with it. I definitely would love to defend the overall title! Fingers crossed the season is long enough for me to make a solid showing. Right now, I am excited about the challenge so I would say that’s a great start.”

Having had such a successful season last year, how do you continue to stay motivated to push for more? Is there any advice that you would give to riders looking to make their mark on the sport?

“Personally, I go off of feels and do what feels right and what fuels my fire. Taking a step back from racing and adding to my repertoire has been so fuelling and I’m just stoked. I love Crankworx events and the variety of riding that I get to do. So I would say just find what makes you stoked to show up every day and get better at, and everything will at the very least be super fun and motivating.”

Vaea Verbeeck, riders. She’s unapologetically determined.