WORDS BY CHARLIE MURRAY
ALL IMAGES BY SVEN MARTIN
Before the craziness of the Covid-19 pandemic put the kibosh on the racing season, international travel and (briefly) the post-ride pint, Nelson once again hosted the Mammoth Enduro—an event known as a bloody tough day out on a bike. Rapid rider and good guy Charlie Murray reflects on one of the last big NZ races before coronavirus (the country was put in lockdown nine days after the event).
The Lead In
When the news came out that Nelson would hold the first round of the 2021 EWS, there was a buzz in the New Zealand Enduro community. It meant the 2020 Mammoth Enduro shaped up to be a stacked event.
At Crankworx the week prior, Eddie Masters, Mark Scott and Cole Lucas mentioned they were travelling south for the race. My interest was sparked. With a suspicion that Covid may postpone our first Enduro World Series (EWS) races, I was keen to sneak some more racing in.
The dream soon melted into the past as I found myself back in the office. Work had generously given me Crankworx week off and I was obliged to work the full week. Unsure if I was going to make it up to Nelson, I held off entering.
Thursday evening rolled around and I got a message from the boys. ‘Heading out to practice 9 am tomorrow, you coming?’ The ultimate FOMO (fear of missing out) set in. I jumped online and grabbed myself a last-minute entry.
The Main Event
Showing up on the start line on Saturday I didn’t have any expectations—no pressure, nothing to lose and only the clock as a competitor. I was wary of the 8 stages and 2000m of vertical descent that lay ahead, but Nelson had turned on the weather with a bright crisp morning in the Matai Valley.
The long week at Crankworx had taken its toll. Thankfully the mood wasn’t somber for long as I incorrectly loaded my bike onto the trailer. The sight of it hanging on by a thread proved to be the ticket to get the chat rolling. I jumped out, “fixed it”, and off we went. Sure enough, two corners later the thing was trying to jump off again. Fixed by the shuttle driver this time we were away laughing. Before long we arrived at the road end where the short pedal to the first stage (Black Diamond Ridge) began.
The first two stages passed through an old beech forest peppered with ferns. The overnight dew had turned the trail into a minefield of slippery roots. It was the sort of janky riding that doesn’t make sense when you’re doing it, but the feeling at the bottom was electric.
Regrouping at the bottom of Stage 2 (Third House Link) we agreed this was going to be a tough day. Eddie had smashed the first two stages, giving himself a six second lead over Brady Stone who was nipping at his heels. The rest of the field wasn’t far behind with Mark, Cole, Cam Cole (Horse) and myself trying our best to keep up with the two boys in front.
Stage three (Sunshine Ridge) was brutal: not knowing what lay ahead was actually an advantage. I dropped in, pedaling like a cut cat from the gate. Little did I know, the mostly flat stage would continue up, over and around roots the size of an anaconda that had just swallowed a pig. After possibly the hardest seven minutes of my life, I got to the end and collapsed on the ground in massive oxygen debt.
The ‘out of the gate’ approach snagged me the top spot for stage three and gained back some valuable time on the field.
The great thing about the Mammoth Enduro is the unfiltered nature. You get all the pulp, gnarly bits, janky sections, death-defying mid-stage climbs and plenty of steep fire road liaisons. It’s meant to be a tough day out, and this shone through in the first three stages which were demanding to say the least.
After a few minutes recovering on the forest floor with the free-diving hyperventilation technique, I jumped up before an anaconda came looking for lunch. Moments later, the peace of the jungle was disturbed by none other than photographer Sven Martin, heckling from his Santa Cruz e-bike as he burned past me like I was pushing soup uphill with a fork.
Now the damage control began: the other boys were on fire, dropping into the steep Nelson tracks with full commitment, while I was riding blind, gingerly approaching each tricky feature. With my best stages behind me I managed to hold onto top 5 stage finishes for the rest of the day. Brady Stone and Eddie continued to ride away from the field, with Brady slowly cutting down Eddie’s 16 second gap—the local knowledge was proving its value as we got into the proper technical DH stages. The first of these was the steep and narrow stage four (Crankenstein) where Brady narrowed the margin to 13 secs.
Stage five (629) is infamous for providing six minutes of steep, tight corners that drop you down to a beautiful river in the middle of nowhere. Brady showed his class again and outpaced everyone by 10 seconds. At the bottom of the stage Ben Harris, a young shredder on a hardtail, disappeared into the bushes. Moments later he returned with a handful of beers! We found out later he had dropped a cache there at 7am, reminding us how to properly race Enduro.
On the 4WD climb up Sven passed our peloton, this time heckling from the back of ute. It was hard to hear as he roared past like Joe Exotic on his way to Tampa, Florida. Craig Oliver managed to decipher ‘wait for your rider!’. It was like we were in the 2010 Tour de France attack when Andy Schleck dropped his chain. Not wanting to repeat history, Craig and I dropped back to find our missing rider. One corner back, we found the Horse. I think we’d started the climb while he was still doing what race horses do, watering the bushes.
The sixth stage, Mr Chomper was asking for a pedal strike which would result in some pig hunting in the undergrowth. Nonetheless, we arrived at the event village unscathed and shared a tasty pot of pasta that Eddie, Mark and Cole had whipped out of Sven and Anka’s fridge that morning. A few beers appeared from the bushes again, courtesy of Ben. Legend.
With only two stages to go the times had balanced each other out and it was neck and neck for the win. The situation was made funnier as the chat turned from tree scares to pregnancy scares. One of the boys had a story in which a girlfriend had said she was pregnant to get a reaction. One of the young lads then piped up, ‘I had the exact thing the other day! A girl I’d been seeing called me up and said I’d got her pregnant. I wasn’t fully convinced, because we’d only kissed!’.
I think Eddie must’ve been still laughing on the way down as he lost control and crashed, losing valuable seconds.
Brady took the honors when the dust settled with Eddie only just behind him in the overall. Both riders managed to put about a minute into Mark, Cole and myself who found third, fourth and fifth respectively.
Lou Kelly took the honors in the Women’s race with an impressive performance considering the ex-judo champ has just jumped onto two wheels. The crossover showed as she dusted up a tree during a solid crash on stage four. Unphased, she continued on to win the remaining four stages and claim the overall by around four minutes.
Overall, the Mammoth race was a weekend for the books, so good that Brendan Clarke missed his flight to Wellington so he could watch the last of the open men come down the Matai Face. I think the beers and burgers after might’ve also helped swing his decision.
Eddie wanted some memorabilia so initiated the compulsory tattoo for the open men’s winner. I’m looking forward to seeing who’s getting inked next year.
Settling into post-race chilled vibes with the enduro family we munched burgers and drank beers while handfuls of prizes were dished out.
Well played Nelson MTB, we will be back.