Giant 2W 2020/21

Round 3

The final round of the 2W enduro had been postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak. So what was originally supposed to be held in the middle of a dry and sunny February, was now being held after a week of heavy rain in the middle of April. Despite this, the sun did come out on race day, and generally everyone seemed in good spirits after a long hiatus from racing.

The race village was held in the new Tawa car park development on Tarawera road, which was ideal with its extra coffee cart waking us up on an early and cold start. With six steep and technical trails, made even more excitable by some heavy rain on the days leading up to the race our choice of what order the race the trails in was going to be imported.

We started the day with a short and sharp climb up to Stage C – Te Mounga, this pedally but fast paced track was a good one to warm up on. The new entrance to the trail was still very soft and like pedaling through a swamp, but once I got up to speed it felt like muscle memory was kicking in. The fairly flat trail carries a lot of flow with lots of tight trails through the trees, and a couple of rough open areas.

From there we moved along the same hill to Stage E – Taniwha. This stage made use of the mainline on the downhill track, steep with lots of rough root drops. The predictability then rapidly changed as the trail turned on to a fresh new section, which was 100m of steep muddy ruts which had little room for error and resulted in a lot of tripodding to keep myself upright. It worked though, as this trail caused a lot of people to crash, so I was just happy to have got through it cleanly.

Our second climb up Hill road took us up to the top of Stage F – Te Rua. Normally this trail causes me a lot of problems, but after the high of surviving the downhill track, I was feeling really good. Keeping it clean through the slippery polished roots, meant I could open it up in the bottom section, which was dry, rough and lose. 

The other half of the course used trails that were all accessible from the Apu Moana climbing trail. We dropped in to Stage D – Minerals, which was a new trail to the roster, quite tight and technical but great fun to ride. This is normally one of my favorite trails to ride, and I was feeling really good in the top section, but after the first trail crossing I got stuck on a low line, where I got stuck in the tapping which lost me quite a bit of time.

The second climb back up Apu Moana, took us to Stage F – Te Ruru. Slightly shorter than Minerals but a bit steeper and gnarlier, and one very exciting section on the bridge which crossed the climbing track. Three slippery clay corners with root drops in between them that feed in to a bridge (where all the spectators had decided to gather and watch the carnage). On the back side of the bridge a large rutted and slippery chute made it a bit dicey on whether you kept the bike upright. I got through all the gnarly bits cleanly, with no drama, but then came unstuck on a couple of extremely slippery off camber logs near to the end of the trail, which resulted in a tactful ‘dismount and run’ section. Maybe I should consider racing cyclocross instead?

The last climb of the day, and the third time up Apu Moana, to the top of Stage B – Tuteata. We had left this trail untill the end, in the hope that a rut would have formed in some of the sloppier parts, which would give us a better chance of riding it out. To our advantage the track had dried out a lot during the day.The fast and pumpy top section turned in to some steeper clay switchbacks in the lower part of the trail. Although the narrow benches and off camber sections would have been slippery in the rain they had dried out just enough to give us the support we needed.

From the bottom of the final stage it was a short and gentle spin back to race village to get our BBQ sausages. Despite being on a new bike in conditions that I normally hate (I am not normally a good wet weather rider), I was really stoked to have just kept it clean. Seeing so many rider rolling over the finish line covered in mud from their various slips and spills made me feel pretty happy about just surviving. Although this is the first time I didn’t make the top spot in my age category I was still really happy with how my race went, as this is the type of stages that a couple of years ago would have had me throwing a tantrum. On top of that, the gaps between my times and the top girls were the closest they had been all season, so over all I really can’t complain. And when the results were all rallied up I managed 5th female overall for the season, which in an extremely talent packed field is pretty damn good.

Round 2

A change of scenery for the second round of the 2W enduro, this time being hosted at Te Puia which made for a really special setting for the race village. Unlike round 1 which had a few long, difficult stages, this round had lots of fun, short stages in it.

Pedaling out from Te Puia took racers along the scenic Hemo gorge trail and into the Redwoods trail network. I decided to get a couple of quick trails out the way before the short course riders got on to the track, so I started with Stage B – Te Hungia > Dodzys. Te Hungia is a straightforward track, quite tight and narrow with a few small drops. The exit of it however had an extremely tight hairpin onto an access road and a short sprint into Dodzys skills area, jump line. This was a very difficult line to do at race speed, the first few tables were really short, and you had to scrub a lot of speed off to ensure you didn’t over shoot the landings. It was also extremely difficult to not get carried away having fun, and pulling up for more air time. 

Following this I took the short climb up to Stage A – Old Exit. This is one of my favourite tracks in the forest, fast and rough with plenty of tight corners and a few more drops. 

From here I started on the first of the longer trails and climbed up to Stage D – Box of Birds. I probably ride this trail more than any other trail in the forest. It’s so much fun fast and flows through native forest, with optional steep lines to be had. There was a short section in the middle which had been recently felled, this meant the track changed from soft grippy soil to lose powdery dust almost instantly. The track then drops back into the forest with some fun steep corners.

Unfortunately the next climb was the most exhausting of the day, climbing up a steep technical climb called ‘As you do’. This did however take me directly to the start of Stage E – K2. Although this is a fun trail, it’s another one that’s difficult to race. Navigating some deep ruts and tight corners, on ground which is a mixture of sand and clay, becomes very difficult to do at race speed. It all went cleanly though and I managed to hold a few good high lines, so I was feeling good as I headed for another brutal climb straight up Direct road.

Direct road does what it promises and takes me directly to Stag C – Te Ruru. This classic track always delivers a good time. Smashing through the native roots in the top section, before it takes you in to some steep rutted switchbacks. Half way down the trail there is a wooden bridge over a climbing track. It is very easy to have far too much speed at this point and huck off the end of it, but another set of corners, all with large drops in the middle of them makes you think twice. The track then opens up into some fast traverses through the trees, with a few small jumps and off camber sections in it. This is where I came unstuck. I rode high over some off camber fallen trees, and unfortunately where previous riders had crashed, the soil on the backside of these trees had become soft and churned up. So when my front wheel hit this it washed out and dragged me and the bike down this hill. Luckily I don’t think this small crash slowed me down to much and I was back up to speed by the finish gate.

After the two previous horrible climbs, the next one was relatively relaxed. Apu Moana meanders through the forest on some nice mellow switchbacks, which took me back to the top of the same hill I had just come down. This time to ride Satge G – Tumeke. This was one of the first trails I ever rode when I moved to Rotorua, and it’s still one of my absolute favourites. The top section is just fast, slightly benched off-camber trail with a decent size flat drop and then a step down onto the road crossing. Landing that jump in the sweet spot gives you a big boost across the road and into the second section. The translation of Tumeke, is ‘To Much’, and it’s easy to see why. The constant barrage of rooty dropped corners followed by flat loose corners, fast sections to pump through, and a couple of steep rollers, all finished off with a small gap jump in to the finish line, is probably why I enjoy it so much. Tumeke is relentless, and it keeps you on your toes the whole way down.

I took the access road option for a chill climb back over to the final stage of the day, Stage F – Corridor > Eastern Spice. The top of this stage had recently been resurfaced, and was smooth, and running fast. Big berms and lots of hipped jumps, with a fantastic big step up feature before it drops back into the older forest of Eastern Spice. Here it became much rougher, with some water ruts, and lots of exposed chunky tree roots. Even between the technical parts there was still space to fit in some more gap jumps, just for the fun of it.

Leaving the Joker until last (because the time doesn’t really count for anything, so it I didn’t need to conserve energy for it) we decided to make it a party train lap. Instead of leaving each other nice gaps to allow for clean race runs, we all set off immediately after each other. Racing that closely with other riders is always guaranteed for some laughs down the rough and rutted track.

I made it back to the finish line, with plenty of time to spare, and made sure I dug in to the BBQ and drinks on offer. Despite a crash on Te Ruru, and a few mistakes on Old Exit, I was pretty happy with how I performed. My times were where I expected them to be, and I repeated my success of round 1, with a 1st place in category (30-39), and a 7th place in the women’s overall. Not bad for a fun day on the hill.

Round 1

The end of October signalled the start of the New Zealand 2020/21 race season for me, with the first round of the Giant 2W enduro, held in the Redwoods forest, Rotorua. I competed in all the rounds last year, and little has changed in the overall format of the race. I opted to race the long version of the course, without any assistance from the shuttles. Previously this would have consisted of 6 stages (4 of the shared with the short course riders), however this year there were 5 stages, and only two of them were shared with the short course racers. Although there was one less stage than last year, all 5 stages were arguably more technical and more fun, with more stages occurring on harder trails. Another minor but significant change was to the way the stages were announced. Most of the trails were announced daily in the run up to race day, but one stage was held back, only being announced on the start line. This late notice reduced the local advantage, as local riders couldn’t spend all week practicing it.

For this enduro transitions aren’t timed, and you can complete the stages in whichever order you like. I opted to climb to the highest point and tackle Stage E – Hatu Patu. My theory was that the long technical climb along Tuhoto Ariki would be a good warm up before dropping in to my first stage. Good theory, but I misjudged a pinch climb over some roots, and fell off 100m in to the first stage. Only a minor set back, and I got going again quickly. Being in the dense native forest meant that it had not had a chance to dry out, so the technical tight rooty sections became extremely slippery, and required a bit of luck to get through them cleanly. Much to the amusement of the photographers.

From the bottom of stage E I climbed up to the top of Stage C – Franklin Furter > Riff Raff. One of my favourite trails, and one that was due to be logged soon, so it was great to have one final blast down it. Long fast narrow straights, with tight dropping corners in it makes it a fun challenge, and my best stage finish of the day.

Next came Stage A – Taninwha National DH. This was always going to be an interesting one. The downhill track has been raced so many times over the years, there are countless ways the race organisers could tape the course. This time they had used an old part of the track called ‘unridabble’. After a weeks worth of rain on soft unridden dirt, it turned in to a rutted, sloppy, mud fest in which few people were getting through on their pedals, and had me laughing the whole way. The middle section of this track vaguely followed the normal DH track, whilst zigzagging to avoid any major obstacles.

I then climbed back up to the start of Stage D, which had only been announced that morning, as the climbing trail ‘Frontal Labotomy’ but in reverse, in to Whaki. This certainly came as a bit of a surprise to most people. Normally a climbing trail meant it had lots of flat corners, but a surprising amount of flow, and required looking well ahead to predict what was coming next. The stage then joined in to Whaki, which is a descending trail, although it has a few flat pedally sections as well. This resulted in a brilliant blind stage, but with a lot of sprinting involved.

A short climb took me to the final stage of the day, Stage B – Hot X Buns. Always a fun trail to ride with its fast rooty sections, but a horrible stage to race, due to massive pinch climb, that never seems to end, in the middle of the stage.

There was just one more thing to do before heading back to the race HQ, and that was the ‘Joker Stage’. Although the time on this stage didn’t count towards your overall standings, it did give you a chance at some spot prizes. Riding down from the high point on ‘Bunny Jugs 2’ this trail is quite fun and flowy. However, after the last couple of stages I didn’t have the energy to do anything other than cruise down the trail, and back to the finish line.

Given the Covid pandemic across the world this year I am glad to have been racing at all. Despite a small crash at the start of my first stage, I had a fairly clean race and was quite happy with my fitness and skills gained over winter. Bagging a 1st place in category and a 7th fastest female overall, is not a bad start to the season.