The Enduro World Series Gold qualifier event certainly came up to standard, being one of the most technical and gnarly races I have ever done. Long step rock gardens, exposed ridge lines, and constantly changing soil conditions made this a huge challenge.
The race is held across the Christchurch Adventure Park, Victoria Park, and Bowenvale hill in the Port Hills of Christchurch. As part of the race entry I was given a week long lift pass to the Christchurch Adventure park chair lift. But, as we only find out which tracks are being raced on Monday evening, the park is closed on Tuesday, and all race tracks are closed off on Wednesday it doesn’t give any advantages for learning race lines. However, it is good for a fun day in the park getting used to the typically lose, steep, clay terrain.
The three day event kicked off with two practice days on Thursday and Friday. Day one saw us practice stages 2 (Lava Flow), 4 (Locomotion in to Double vision), and 5 (Gung-Ho, pick ‘n’ mix, Five X). Day two allowed us to practice stages 1 (Summit Connection, Wasabi, Community Transmission, The GC), 3 (Start block, Tilted Sally, 4WD road climb, Rad^Sick, Sneaky Ridge, New Bridges), and 6 (Throw the goat, Yoda, Access track, The GC, Handle the Jandal). With the advantage of having access to the chairlift I managed to do two runs of all but one of the stages, but even with that I still felt a bit under prepared. The full course can be viewed here on Trail Forks.
When it came to race day on Saturday, we had seeded start times to spread out the racers, and the pro women were the second to last group to start (just ahead of pro men). From the starting blocks we all rode up one of the green descents in reverse. This was a long flowing trail with lots of switchbacks, but made a good warm up to get us up to the top of the chair lift.
Stage 1 – Summit Connection, Wasabi, Community Transmission, The GC This stage had been one of my favorite trails during practice, so it was a brilliant warm up track. Starting right next to the top of the chair lift the stage dropped in to the Summit Connection trail which is some fast rolling hard packed machine built berms, that allowed you to get up to speed quickly. After about 6 corners in, we rode out of one of the berms and straight in to Wasabi, this fresh trail was lose, with steep dropping corners, littered with rocks hiding under the dust, that seemed to change position throughout the day. The GC is the national downhill track in the area, very fast and rough wide open track, with lots of optional doubles. A rough wake up to start the day with, but the first stage of the first race of the season had me grinning like a Cheshire Cat as it just reminded me of everything I loved about racing.
Stage 2 – Lava Flow Another long peddled transition from the bottom of the Adventure park, up the blue trail (Loess Rider), and then across Victoria Park, and along the Bowenvale Traverse trail, to the start of Stage 2. This unique trails was formed by volcanic lava flowing down the hill, leaving rough and janky rocks protruding all over the place. This hectic trail was very confusing with wide taping and lots of line options made it quite difficult to figure out where to go. I managed to pick some good lines in the first half, unfortunately I didn’t notice some rocks in the grass, and I caught my bash guard which caused my chain to jump off mid race. I stopped and put it back on, but from there I struggled to get back up to speed and find my flow, being bucked around by all the lumpy volcanic rock.
Stage 3 – Start block, Tilted Sally, 4WD road climb, Rad^Sick, Sneaky Ridge, New Bridges A steep push back out from the bottom of stage 2 back up to the Bowenvale traverse, and back across towards Victoria Park, and the top of Stage 3. This stage kicked off with a 15 foot long jump, then over a livestock fence and a sharp right in to Tilted Sally. This would probably have normally been a series of switchbacks, but with the lose soil a straight line down the middle had developed. Littered with rocks hiding below the dust made this a treacherous part of the stage. A weave between some trees channeled riders in to a road gap, and then back in to some steep lose rocky chutes. At the bottom of this top sections riders came out on to 22m climb over 170m of steep 4wheel drive access road to pedal up. Admittedly I know I should have been digging deep and sprinting up this bit, but I struggled to find the motivation and just span my legs in an easy gear, knowing I would need to conserve my energy for later in the day. At the top of this we dropped in to Rad^sick which had a bit more flow and gap jumps to navigate. Another quick climb over some grass took us in to Sneaky ridge, which is a short bit of trail with one very steep rough chute which had large tree roots and rocks throughout it. It was one of those features where you take a deep breath at the top and hope you come out the bottom in one piece. After this we did a small drop over a fence on to a long section of hard back flat trail with lots of switchbacks along it which takes us through the fields and to the bottom of the trail. The awkwardness of this trail, combined with a long climb in the middle probably explains why this was my worst result of the day being 69 seconds behind the stage winner.
Stage 4 – Locomotion in to Double vision A second steep climb out from the bottom of Victoria Park and back in to the Adventure park took us to the top of Stage 4, and one of my favorite trails of the race. Locomotion was a short straight forward flow trail with a couple of climbs before dropping in to an off camber corner and the start of Double Vision. This is a new trail in the park, with lots of steep dropping corners and a very cool cave feature, which has riders riding through the rocky alcove. Lots of off camber root sections in the bottom section of the trail made it feel more like my home trails of Rotorua, which explains why it was one of my best result of the day in 9th place.
Stage 5 – Gung-Ho, Pick ‘n’ mix, Five X This stage was in the same part of the forest as stage 4, but with the benefit of using the chair lift to access it. The stage used the first few meters of Gung-Ho before dropping over an off-camber log and straight in to Pick ‘n’ Mix. This relatively fresh trail had changed a lot since practice, drying out, and becoming very soft and lose in corners. Some steep sections with lots of catch berms made this one a lot of fun, and resulted in my closest stage time of the day, only 20 seconds behind the stage winner. The stage finished before joining on to Dream Catcher, which is the flow trail we took to get back to the bottom of the chair lift.
Stage 6 – Throw the Goat, Yoda, Access track, The GC, Handle the Jandle. The final time up the chair lift to the last stage of the day. I had been nervous about this stage all day. Arguably the toughest stage, running along a ridge line, in high winds along the top of a cliff. I had ridden this twice during practice, and never managed to get through the final rock chute cleanly, and without stopping, and this had been playing on my mind all day. The stage started on ‘Throw the Goat’, this rough and rocky trail in the open grassland was awkward to find any flow, and had lots of odd spaced gap jumps to keep you questioning your line choice. It certainly felt like the type of trail that only a mountain goat could navigate successfully. This trail then turned on to ‘Yoda’, which is essentially three long rocky chutes that step down the exposed ridge line. They are difficult to navigate, and if you misplace your wheels there is a chance that you will just fall off the side of a cliff. Somehow the race adrenaline kicked in, and I managed to do what I couldn’t during practice, although very slowly, I managed to navigate my way through the boulder fields whilst keeping my feet on the pedals. Admittedly I was so happy to have survived that section, that I stopped concentrating, and nearly crashed in the next flat corner. From the bottom of Yoda, we had a slight traverse along one of the access roads which linked us back on to the the GC (the bottom section of stage 1). The fast and rough downhill track hadn’t changed much since the beginning of the day, with its bumpy and dusty corners. At the bottom of the GC we had one final hill sprint up the access track and on the ‘Handle the Jandal’. This part of the stage is probably the most bike park feeling trail all day, big smooth berms and wide lipped jumps all the way to the finish line.
This enduro is probably one of the most difficult I have done in a long time. The overall distance and the transitions were all absolutely fine, and even the day after my legs felt quite fresh. However the technicality of the stages was an all time high, and I haven’t felt this scared going in to a race in a while. The high exposure, steep sections, rock gardens and lose dusty soil made it extremely difficult to find any flow, but it’s exactly those things that made it so much fun. 140 people were registered to race, but race day saw 25 DNS (did not start), and 5 DNF (did not finish). Being the first race of the season, and not knowing the trails very well meant my nerves got the better of me and I wasn’t confident in a lot of steep sections with blind rises, as a result my overall position of 11th out of 18 is not where I wanted to be. But I did really enjoy myself and push my limits, which is always a good thing, and has me fired up for another season of racing.