Phoenix Enduro – 2020

The Phoenix Endro, held in Christchurch adventure park, and the trails on the neighbouring Victoria Park hill, was to be the second round of the Asia Pacific Enduro Continental series to be held in New Zealand. However due to covid restrictions, and the lack of international riders, this got demoted to a Qualifier round, not that any of this made the day any less fun, and the trails less epic.

Following the devastating fires two years ago and the pandemic this year, the Phoenix Enduro seemed to rise from the ashes and delivered a really fantastic race course. The first practice day was on the Thursday before the race, with three of the stages open to practice. Unfortunately, our flight in to Christchurch didn’t arrive until the middle of the afternoon. So a two hour flight, rapid van rental, and car-park bike-building later we managed to squeeze in a quick run down each of the three stages before they closed. I’m not sure how much this actually helped. Having never ridden here before, everything was very new to me, and in the rain the trails looked very different to how they were going to be on race day.

The second practice day, for the last three stages was much more relaxed, and the drier conditions allowed me to get used to the hard packed clay, and deep dust that is so characteristic of Christchurch trails. The race day was predicted to be around 40km and 1800m of climbing. So in order to conserve energy for race day we did one run of each trail, and one final run combing a few bits together.

Race day saw everyone setting off from the race HQ, at the foot of Christchurch Adventure Park. Although we were seeded for the start line, the transitions weren’t timed, and it didn’t matter what time we dropped in on the stages, as long as we did the stages in order. The climb to stage 1 was a fairly chill one, climbing up what is normally a green graded descent. Although it’s a long climb, it wasn’t overly steep, up until the last stretch, which required pushing my bike up a very steep access road. At the top we were rewarded with some pretty amazing views over the city. Stage 1 was a long stage including Gnarly nun > Flying Nun > Captain Torpedo > Drainpipe. The first part of this stage lulls you in to a false sense of security. Big dirt berms with soft soil and plenty of grip (although too much front wheel grip did see me do a massive over the bars crash here in my practice run) means you get up to speed quickly, before having to navigate some lumpy and awkward rock gardens. Once the trail joined in to ‘Captain Torpedo’, everything changed again. Fast hard pack dirt, well built corners meant the speed picked up again, feeling like a very long pump track. However the narrowness of the trail, meant that at race speed you had to be very careful not to overshoot the edge of some of the corners and go barrelling down the hill.

To save the legs, during a long and steep enduro we accessed stage 2 using the chair lift in the park. The second stage used parts of the national downhill trail, The GC > Handle the Jandle. This track was massively different from when I rode it in practice, with slippery mud being replaced with clouds of dust. Once through the confusing multi-line forest section the trail opened up in to a fast and rocky trail, accentuated with lots of jumps.

The third climb of the day turned out to be a long one. Climbing up another down trail, ‘Loess riders’, was actually very difficult with its steep sections to burn the legs out on. Once we reached the top of the bike park, there was a further steep climb to push our bike up, that took us to the top of Victoria Park. Then as if we hadn’t climbed far enough we then traversed along the ridge line to Stage 3, Huntsbury Downhill > Bowenvale Downhill. This stage was a stark contrast to the previous groomed ‘bike park’ tracks. Using what looks more like an old walker path through the open hillside, it was fast and flowy, whilst being careful not to catch a pedal in some of the tougher-than-they-look tussocks that lined the track. This then turned in to some very wide and big flat corners, which had lots of feet out trying to control the motocross style drifts on all the lose gravel. Once again the bottom section tightened up in to a narrow benched trail which threatened to clip pedal and bars alike.

From here on I have never had to push my bike up hills so much since the NZ Enduro nearly two years ago. The steep roads around Victoria Park were only rideable by those that enjoyed the punishment. Luckily although it was steep it didn’t go on for too long, and we reached the start of stage 4 quickly enough; Radi Garden > Rad Sick > Pono’s. This stage kicked off with a big 15foot jump before dropping in to some very steep rocky sections of trail, which had gotten a lot rougher since practice. This stage had a lot going on, with technical sections and rapid changes in direction and flow, made it a difficult one to piece together, but was worth it for another two jumps to show off on at the finish line.

At this point in the day it had got extremely hot under the midday sun, and my 4th bottle of water wasn’t doing much to take the edge off pushing my bike back up the step access tracks towards Stage 5; Gung Ho > Addiction. Gung Ho is a fun and flowy bit of trail, but we quickly cut off on to a brand new trail called ‘Addiction’. In practice this trail was full of fresh loam. But hundreds of riders and some rain later had packed everything down. This didn’t stop it from being fun, the steep dropping corners and off camber traverses really tested the skills of even the best riders.

Stage 5 dropped us back in the race village where we had a little bit of time to grab a drink before heading back up to Stage 6 – Throw the goat > Swingers Party > Double Overhead Cam. For this final stage we were grouped back in to our categories (as this was an EWS qualifier I was in open women, which is all women aged 19-35 and all elite riders). Whether it was because it was the last stage of the day, or simply because I was back on my favourite terrain, which is steep and rocky, I had a blast, and put down everything I had for the finish line.

I knew I was always going to be on the back foot here. In a place I have never ridden before, with limited practice, on trails which are very different terrain from what I normally ride. In addition to it being an EWS qualifier, which always attracts a very high level of riders. I was over the moon to have ridden everything cleanly with minimal mistakes. Although my times weren’t quite where I wanted them to be, I was still really happy to finish up in 7th place, which improved my global ranking to 34th overall. I was really impressed with all the trails Christchurch had to offer, and I can not wait to come back and race again next year.