Australian rider Benny Phillips hopes to retain his slopestyle crown in Queenstown tonight – but faces hot competition from the world’s best.
The 21-year-old pro was a huge crowd favourite at last year’s event, impressing the 3000-strong crowd with a stylish double backflip.
Phillips has battled with injury since then but is ready for another epic aerial contest in Queenstown’s Ballarat Street carpark.
“I’ve been back on the bike three weeks and feeling pretty good,” Phillips says.
“This is my first event back. I’ve been injured for the last eight months – I broke my leg and ankle and then first ride back from that I broke my foot.
“I’m looking forward to it. It’s such a fun contest – it’s like a bunch of mates riding – and there was such a great atmosphere last year.”
Phillips, known for his huge tricks and technical combos, stormed onto the dirt jump scene by winning the best trick contest at Crankworx in Whistler, Canada, two years ago.
And he has some big tricks planned for tonight.
“I’ve got a couple of cards up my sleeve but all will be revealed Thursday night.”
More than 20 pro and amateur riders have gathered for the $10,000 slopestyle, a marquee event of Queenstown Bike Festival. They include top international riders Sam Pilgrim, winner of 2012 Red Bull Rampage Kurt Sorge and American BMX rider Chad Kagy.
UK pro freestyle rider Pilgrim will be one of the main challengers for the crown. The 22-year-old achieved five first places last year – including the Teva slopestyle in Colorado – and was ranked seventh overall.
Pilgrim says: “It looks pretty cool – obviously a crazy place to come to and the course looks fun.
“I have a little thought about what I’ll do – backflips or 360s off some features, not sure off others.
“I’m not sure what I’ll do on the main one – I’ll have to ride it first. I’ll probably end up doing a backflip superman.”
The Teva Slopestyle has silver status accreditation and a place on the Freeride Mountain Bike world tour this year, which has attracted riders and seen course designers Kelly McGarry – a pro NZ freerider who will also compete – and Tom Hey up their game. Hey’s firm Extra Mile Trail Building built the Queenstown course during the past few days.
McGarry says: “The course worked real well last year and the crowd loved it, so we stuck with the same design more or less.
“But some features are bigger and there’s an extra one at the end, so it’s up to everyone’s creativity to see what they can do with it.
“We have a lot more international riders this year, which is really exciting. The level is going to be really high so it will be a good show, all under lights and bigger and better than last year.”
The competition begins at 6pm.