"Enduro". It's the buzzword that's taken the world by storm in the last 12 months, even though it's essentially what we've all been doing with our mates for years—cruising uphill and shredding back down. The main difference between what we all do and what we now call 'Enduro' is a stopwatch and, really, not a lot else.
New Zealand's longest running Enduro event, the Triple Crown, went off in Rotorua ('off' as in 'good', not like the smell of the place) on Sunday. Riders from all over the central North Island and as far away as Auckland came out to take part in this iconic event. With entries limited to "54ish" space was limited, entries filled quickly and many missed out on their spot when spaces were opened a month ago. There were a few notable no-shows; Rob Metz opted to remain flying under the radar, and Tom Holland steered clear after a big night out. Both of these guys could have been a threat and would have most likely been mixing it in the top ten, probably higher.
From up and coming XC World Cup racers, multi-sporters, washed up downhillers, current downhill top seeds, to those who simply wanted to give it a go, the field was as varied as the colours and styles of kit being worn, and bikes being ridden. It would seem really that anything goes when it comes to Enduro racing, and rightly so.
This year saw a slight change in format for the Triple Crown, traditionally the stages have been long, with lots of pedalling and 'liaison stages' (transition between timed stages) have been via the Southstar Shuttles. This year things aligned closer to the European style of Enduro, with less pedalling, slightly shorter stages, and only an uplift to the first start line, with riders making their way to the following stages under their own steam (yes, that meant some climbing!)
Stage one from Tihi-o-Tawa to the end of Billy T was a bit sloppy after recent rains and proved difficult to keep the speed up, especially if you fell victim to one of the many slippery roots strewn down Tihi. Once onto the more familiar and less squidgy, Billy T, the throttle was easily held open to the finish line. No one got it easy down this stage, with many overcooking things early in Tihi and taking a spill, while others blew to corners lower down as fatigue set in. Byron Scott took the early lead by 3 seconds over Matt Walker and 7 over Sam Shaw, while the rest of the field was at least 15 seconds back.
A bit of cruisy climbing to stage 2, Hot-X, allowed some speculation about who was going to take the overall win and the chance to heckle each other, or for some it was quiet reflection on what may have gone wrong on run 1. Most people had done a bit of a 'recce' down each track in the days leading up to the event so we all knew basically what to expect down Hot-X. Sam Shaw was hell bent on getting the lead and overcooked things early on, taking a digger over one of the rollers only metres into the track. We've got no idea what he did down the rest of the track, but he took the stage win by 5.5 seconds over Byron!
A longer liaison this time, with multiple ways to get to the third and final stage, although all included a decent climb to get to the start line. The final descent included a variety of trails, from the wide open and bermed Corridor, into the tighter and techier Eastern Spice and finishing with the rougher Old Exit. This time around Sam lit the after-burners, tearing down the open section of Corridor like a BMXer down the first straight, the crowd stood by with jaws on the ground as Sam put on his display of dominance. Byron and Matt Walker both ripped down the top section, with Matt showing his BMX roots but finishing 10 seconds down on Sam, although 4 seconds up on Byron.
Firing out of the bottom of the course the stoke was visible on everyone's faces as they discussed the days shredding and looked forward to the next Triple Crown 12 months away! Results were kept under wraps until prize giving and as everyone flocked to the hot chips, speculation was mounting; who had won?
After some close racing, some mud in the eyes, and some fists full of hot chips the podium was presented. Sam Shaw took win, with Byron Scott roughly 14.5 seconds back, and Matt Walker just shy of 2 seconds behind him.
The other prize of the day went to Sam Shaw (yes, again), taking out the Paddy Avery Hot-X trophy for the fastest time down that trail. Last year Patrick Avery passed away just a few months after winning the Hot-X stage of Triple Crown. Paddy loved the event and was amazing to watch as he tore down the hill with seat at full XC height and a huge grin across his face as he crossed each finish line. As a memorial to Paddy, Murray Avery (Paddy's father) designed and made a trophy that will be awarded to the fastest rider down Hot-X at the Triple Crown from here on, and this year it was Sam's turn.
Once again Triple Crown was pure awesomeness, but these things don't happen by fluke, and a special thanks must go out to Kim McVicker who organised the whole deal, and Dave Hamilton, Dave Rose and John Stulen for the timing. You guys are all legends!
A big shoutout to Bike Culture, Spoke, Ranga, Southstar Shuttles, Zippy's and all the other sponsors for getting behind the event.
See you next year!