Wairoa Gorge and the Dodzy Memorial Enduro was the place to be this weekend, two days of shredding on arguably the best trails in the world. The fact that there was a race thrown in was just the cherry on the cake for the community of riders at the gorge. This was a weekend to remember a man, James Dodds, who is held in great esteem, to pay homage to the trails he helped create and to revel in the pure enjoyment of riding bikes.
The sheer stoke present this weekend was, without being cliché, off the scale! As Wyn Masters noticed too, when in his tribute to Dodzy he said “There wasn’t a moment today when someone didn’t have a smile on their face.” And how could you not, shuttles on tap, 700m of descending per run on hand built trails, where the love, dedication and time spent creating them is overtly apparent as soon as rubber hits the dirt.
Most of the 280 competitors spent Saturday giving the two race stages that were on the map a cursory glance over and then hitting up the rest of the park to see what broke first, body or bike. The other stage (stage one) was to be raced blind, this year, in a tribute to Mark Dunlop who sadly passed away last year. Mark loved racing blind, liking the way this levelled the field and with most of the riders having met Mark’s smiling face at least once, were happy to ride stage one for him.
The sun rose high and bright this morning to welcome riders back to the gorge, with shuttles beginning at 9am sharp, riders didn’t need telling twice to get on the bus! 280 riders made up the field with riders such as Sam Blenkinsopp, Wyn and Ed Masters, Keegan Wright, Kieran Bennett, Jesse Melemed, Phil Atwill, Jamie Nicoll, Joe Nation and Ben Friel all looking for a podium place finish on these hallowed grounds.
The blind stage one (of which we heard some people had high stakes held in guessing correctly) began at over 1000m up at Bipolar, an ‘easy’ grade trail, luring racers in with bermed corners and few roots before switching wildly over fresh cut links between a multitude of trails on the way down the mountain. A real mix, it was a brilliant leveller as even riders with intimate knowledge of the trails would have had to work hard over this stage full of dew laced roots and awkward, yet surprisingly satisfying corners.
Stage one finished about halfway down the hill and a short coast down the fire road took competitors straight into stage two and a fast, dry, dusty trail at odds with the upper part of the mountain. Stage two began on ‘Kurtology’, a trail made for enticing speed, as riders charged from crest to crest, pumping downsides and dodging rocks waiting to slice rubber and ruin days. The sensible rider would also have saved some energy for the traverse across Quattro to the finish, this took some pedalling to maintain momentum. Those speeding through the final turns would have been greeted by hecklers who were back on the trails post lunch to see some action and make some noise.
Lunch and the second shuttle saw riders back at the top of the hill at 1pm and ready to drop into the third and final stage, a savage run from the peak to the river. Dropping into “Jumangji” and being met by Wyn’s crew of master hecklers, most riders would have been relieved to find the wind and sun had dried the roots, the high lines on this trail were there for the taking! A pump fest from start to finish, railing high above the roots with grip for days, it would have seemed a shame to pop out into the sun. Not straying from the fact that this was an enduro race, a fire road pedal ensued, dropping riders over into “Bermed As” and the final trails for the day, “Free Range” and “Kidnapper”. These trails are truly mountain biking perfection with expertly placed features, requiring the rider to be on the ball but also holding the hand of those riding the struggle bus late in the day. Easy to get into a rhythm, cruising from corner to corner, dragging dust and rolling rocks, it could be lapped all day. Turning into the switchbacks of Kidnapper, the crowd would have been visible at the bottom of the gorge, mess up here and for those at the pointy end of the stick there were 200 riders, done for the day, waiting with baited breath, chilli bins full of beers and loaded air horns!
Smashing down to the line and coming in with the fastest time of the day of 25:35 was Sam Blenkinsop, followed by youngster Keegan Wright, and a first timer at the gorge, in a time of 25:54 and in third was Wyn Masters (a man who helped build the trails) just two seconds back with 25:56. In the Pro ladies, the trophy was taken by Harriet Harper in a time of 30:35. Following in her dust was Anka Martin in a time of 32:17 and then Ronja Hill-Wight in 32:35.
Prize giving should also be mentioned here for the sheer banter and good times, it was an all time end to the day for the extended family of people attending this event, we hope Blenki has his wish and this event goes on for the next 20 years. Props to the organisers, marshals and sponsors, thanks for putting on a great show!
Photos – Digby Shaw and Mark Bridgwater