Yo Chuck, they must be on a pipe, right?
Reaching for the Sudafed after waking up wasn’t really the best way to start a race requiring lungs and legs and with a cold and wet morning in the Port Hills the conditions were doing their best to convince me that a warm bed and copious amounts comfort and sympathy was the best option to take.
I rattled my dags, lubed my chain and headed to the start of the race. This new in vogue race format was a first for the Port Hills and also for myself, but with people in good form, laughing, joking and piss-taking the pre-race anxiety soon passed.
The race was split into 4 ‘special stages’ i.e. 4 timed stages, all of which most of us had ridden before, so there was no need for track walks etc. The stages were mostly downhill, not downhill as in ‘style’ but more so in altitude drop. We didn’t have a time limit to get to the next stage but we were encouraged to not drive or walk, and as far as I know this was abided by, after all cheaters only cheat themselves.
Despite the weather there was a good turn out with approx 100+ riders on the start line, including local entrants like Trek’s Anton Cooper and Lapierre’s Cam Cole and also a good serving of fast Canterbury riders. The top 5 positions would end up being a tightly fought contest with different riding skills and fitness levels not necessarily making it a clean cut for the podium. We were all put in the same category, with the exception of mens and womens.
We were allowed to seed ourselves, and could leave the start gate at our own leisure with 30sec intervals. The first stage on the track called the ‘Bowenvale Traverse’ is relatively flat, a few short climbs nothing but single track and sprints, no flat off-camber corners, no sniper lines and nothing too technical. I knew the track well, but regardless of my current levels of fitness my lung capacity wasn’t enough to stay consistently fast and even riding at 80% of my limit felt hard, I slipped pedals, blew my hand off the bar and generally had a poor stage. I finished with a time of 6.49 and a position of 53rd, I wasn’t too happy, but still felt okay physically. The stage winner was Anton Cooper with 5.03, but he is a freak of nature.
The second stage was more my type, a well known series of tracks through Victoria Park. Leaving the start ‘gate’ I sprinted into the first line of berms and jumps, but blew by feet off on the landing and over cooked a couple of landings going off course a few times – I think I’d best work on my Bubba Scrub. I came into the clearing not really sure where to go, and the tape was really wide, with a split second of hesitation I committed too late to a big long gravel right hander, I tried to recover but moments later I was on my knees sledging a groove into the stones. I got back up and pulled my knee pad back into position as it wasn’t much use as a shin guard, and then heading through the gum trees on a track called ‘Dazzas’. Post-crash I was finding it hard to find flow and felt like I was forcing the corners, eventually I got through it with what felt like very little style and grace. The final part was down a track called ‘Ponos’. I hadn’t ridden this before but it was a fairly fast traverse style track and I subsequently went off course and had to start from what felt like a standstill. Eventually I found some flow and sprinted into the finish. This time I finished in 25th with a time of 3.51, with the winning time by local pinned rider Joe Nation 3.15.
A long climb to the start of Flying Nun was on the cards next, with a mixture of pushing and riding my lungs took me to the top of a track I knew well. The start was atmospheric with low cloud and a heavy dew on the ground. My run started poorly, almost crashing hard after loosing my wheel on the wrong side of a rut, I took a breather and composed myself and slowed down to find some rhythm. Flying Nun is a fast but pretty cardio intensive, the gradient isn’t steep enough to gain time by laying off the brakes, you have to sprint between sections and commit to some of the blind corners knowing that something will catch you in the event of an over zealous riding style. I came across the line with a time of 4.12, I wasn’t happy, and knew that I could’ve done better, and after all Strava says I am the current KOM. I finished in 32nd, way down from what I thought, I was hoping for a top twenty. But alas I can critique the finer details of my run, but there is only one chance and no one can turn back the clock. Joe Nation won the stage again with a time of 3.35 – the lad is surely going to go to great heights?
One more climb and a fast 4wd track transfer stage took us to the top of the Crocodile Track in Kennedy’s Bush. I knew this track well and also that it depended on large lungs and the ability to pedal and sprint. At this point my cold and mucus coated respiratory system was getting the better of me, but after various counts of piss-taking I was sat on my saddle again. Maybe my bars weren’t straight or my reactions delayed, but the top parts of each stage were distinctly average with a seemingly unconscious desire to ride off the track. I found my flow again and started to feel sharp, I then proceeded to catch the rider in front of me. I dragged my wheels behind his and politely asked him to move off the track but it was to no avail, he wanted to hold his ground. After two or three more turns and a couple of straight sections he eventually parted ways and I could pass. I got back unto speed right in time for a steep hill climb. I knew that I didn’t have the lungs for the climb and ‘sprinted’ up the hill with my bike next to me. I say sprinted, it was more of the classic style ‘Dad run’ that Peter Kay describes with such eloquence.
I felt good on the next section of turns and after 4 stages I felt like I was actually riding my bike and not in some kind of ethereal state, I could lean and move the bike where I wanted. I crossed the line with my lungs on the bars. I finished the stage in 31st with a time of 7.07. Anton Cooper won again with a time of 5.38, a whopping 14 seconds clear of Joe Nation in second with a time of 5.52.
Overall positions in the mens was Joe Nation, Anton Cooper and Cam Cole taking the top three in mens, and Amy Laird, Jo Turnbull and Rose Green in womens. I finished 34th out of 91. Not the position that I wanted, and I know I can do better, but hopefully there will be a next time.
Enduro is 2012’s equivalent of what Freeride was back in the early 2000’s, but hopefully it will be more than riding a DH bike with a rucksack on. This form of riding and event is totally open to all abilities and styles of riding. To compete at the top a huge fitness and riding skill level is needed. You might be able to pin the technical sections, but if you are like me, the last thing on your mind is sprinting. I think that is where it crucial, I was recovering where others were pedalling and sprinting, you can’t solely rely on being able hold off the brakes for a bit longer than most. It can only be a healthy influence on the mountain bike industry – just like DH bikes have in the last few years. Good geometry would not have been developed unless racers, riders and companies had extensive R & D programmes. I think for my next event I would not be ill, but more seriously, looking at tyre pressure, tyre type, suspension set up would be as far as bike stop would go for me. Developing fitness that gains time on the less technical parts of a stage would be the most significant improvement I could make.
I’d like to thank the organisers Gravity Canterbury, the instigators Bikecycle.co.nz, Chris Paassens and Bikecycle for their photographs and everyone else who showed up to do the timing, run the BBQ and all the competitors turning up to make the event something. The future is bright, the future is Enduro….
(ps. None of the top 3 were riding 29ers)
And here is a vid that was made by theperfectline.tv for the event: