NZ National Downhill – Rotorua

Everyone remembers their first time right? The energy, the nerves, the thrill. Well The first round of the New Zealand Downhill series held a lot of firsts for me; The first race of the season, my first downhill race in New Zealand, my first time racing on my new bike, and my first time ever racing in the elite category at a downhill event. It has been over a year since I last raced a downhill race, so understandably my nerves were building up in the week before. Strangely enough the relaxed nature of everyone around me meant that all these nerves dissipated as soon as I arrived on Saturday morning, and something all felt very familiar about it.image2(1)Unlike the UK downhill races I had done in the past, the New Zealand Downhill happens all on one day. Kicking off with practice runs at 9am until 1pm, then first race run at 2pm, and second race run at 3:30pm. Fastest run wins – simple.image3There had been a lot of rain fall during the week leading up to race day, which had left all the trails in the area running very slick and unpredictable. Luckily the Redwoods has a high level of pumice content in the soil, which means it drains really quickly, and the soft loamy soil is world renowned as hero-dirt. So despite my trepidation that this race course was going to cause carnage, by the time the first few riders had gone down the track had dried out and was in absolute perfect conditions.NZDHThe track was fast and a lot of fun; rolling down the start ramp and in to the top of the Taniwha National DH track was a rough start, with a line of fast rooty drops. The track was then taped on to a different trail, appropriately called ‘un-ridable’. This included a short section with some more big tree roots, but then quickly diverted in the a brand new section. The new section would have been lovely and loamy when it was first cut, but with the week of rain it had got pretty slick, making the steep off camber lines a real test of skill, as I handled two wheel drifting down the hill. As it joined back on to the older part of the trail, all that fresh muddy loam was dragged along with the riders, creating a couple of boggy sections, slowing riders down before hitting the first step down. If you survived this top section it was mostly clear sailing from here. A sprint across the access road sent racers in to a big step down, some more technical roots and a sizeable huck-to-flat drop. Then it was on the pedals for the first long straight section. Lots of straight lines and rooty drops and very few corners. After all that tight forest riding in the top and middle sections, the bottom section was like landing on the moon. The open dry and dusty hillside was the perfect final test for bike handling skills. Flat out, very fast race down the hill seemed like an easy finish, but the weather beaten hillside was the roughest part of the track. It took everything I had to keep the wheels on the ground as I got thrown over the large ruts and bumps towards a gap jump, just before the finish line.image6
This is the first time I have ever raced downhill, where I actually wished I had a big downhill bike. I was keeping pace through all the technical parts of the track, but the two long and rough straight sections I was noticeably slower. I found I was getting knocked around a lot more than those riders on downhill bikes.
I can’t fault my race run, I hit every line I wanted, and pushed the limits of both myself and my bike. Given that there was only 0.01 second improvement between my two runs I was definitely consistent. I have always been of the mind set to aim high and see what happens, so I entered the elite category not really knowing what to expect. With four women entered I knew it would be a fight for third place. Unfortunately with two women out with injury, there were only two of us left to race. This didn’t put me off at all as I was determined to test myself, so I’m very happy with finishing second place in elite, 5th overall, and the fastest women on a trail bike.