The scenic Butchers Flat at the end of Wakamarina Road was the location for the final briefing of the first NZ Enduro. While day one and two’s briefings covered trail risks, day three’s major eyebrow raiser was death by rotor blade and decapitation. Heavy stuff, but nerves about aviation were outweighed by the building excitement of root-laden, switchback-riddled trails which lay ahead. Grins prevailed as the twenty helicopter uplifts began and riders were elevated over the stunning beech-clad hills up to Fosters Hut at 1160 meters overlooking Marlborough’s stunning Wairau Valley.
Stage one began beside the landing zone with a cold start straight down a wide benched trail littered with slippery rock debris. The insertion of a few slight bends and rock and root steps made it all about keeping as much speed as you could allow yourself before the pedalling kicked in with a couple of quick pinching switchbacks––even one of the stage winners conceding it was quicker to get off the bike and run at one stage. The trail then began a descent to a small stream with a handful of steepening narrow switchbacks, a sign of things to come in stage two. A sudden drop in and out of a slimy creek saw the end of the stage. Anne Caro's domination continued into day three with a win in 8.47 while Jerome Clementz took the men's stage win in a scorching 7.21.
The liaison to stage two was the toughest of the weekend with a steep climb/carry through the towering forest. Quick conversations with those familiar with the trail made the trek more bearable, and the anticipation climaxed on arrival at Bob the marshall's plateau, complete with balloons and portable sound system.
Stage two’s trail rolled between trees then off the plateau falling onto a bench that zigzagged its way 900 meters vertically down to Devils Creek hut. The traverses, steep and committing to start with, gradually mellowed off between switchbacks that varied enough in frequency and tightness to keep you on your toes and once again anticipating how much speed could be carried. Outside lines around some corners were swapped for tightly hugging the inside on others. The slope again began to steepen and the final quarter saw the forearms coming into play. Damien Oton's moto-style grip on the brakes must have helped him as he joined Jerome Clementz to ace the stage in 9.50. Local rider Kurt Lancaster showed his lurking potential claiming third just six seconds back. Anne Caro again lead the high caliber women's field in 11.45.
The hut at Devils Creek was a sea of smiles as the tensions of day two's tech had washed away and egos restored. Punctures left a handful rueing the missed opportunity as the event liaised to its final stage.
The day was well and truly heating up during the pedal to stage three and it was all over quickly. A lively, flat and speedy trail with a smattering of rocks and quick stream crossings to keep things interesting, with the defining feature a left-hand bend into a rutted creek slowing one or two people up.
A slick prizegiving down the road on the back lawn of the Trout Hotel saw local couple Anja McDonald and Tristan Rawlence taking first in Open Women and Men categories, while another part-time local Jamie Nicoll showed great consistency to top the loaded Men's Pro field, completing the event in 1:02:16 for first place. Anne Caro Chausson showed her class on the technical terrain and finished the event one minute up on long time rival Tracy Moseley.
You probably already know #crankworxiscoming (cheers Lisa) and the EWS is coming, but just quietly Ian Goldschmidt and his team have kicked things off right here in the top of the south. This is a true international level event––the presence of the world's elite enduro riders, the seamless and relaxed organisation, the amazing scenery and locations we passed through and the trails, the brutal trails, have created something that you should already be forcing to the top of the must-do list. You need to be here next year. And you need to start practising your typing.
Words: Nick Crocker Photos: Caleb Smith