This smell isn’t pleasant at all. Pungent, choking, burning the nostrils. Even if the windows opened it wouldn’t make it any more tolerable. I can’t wait for this van to get to Rotorua, to release me from the stench of flatulent mountain bikers. Hurry up.
There’s commotion outside the window at 7am. Hammering. Chatter. Music. The smell is still present, from a different source but just as bad. Need to get out of the room and suck up some sulpher and boiling mud fumes to cleanse my senses. There’s a couple hundred people outside now, best not get undressed with the curtains open. Roll out of the lobby and onto the start line. That’s the way to race. No need to fight for a good start position, unless you’re hyper competitive, but that’s not the spirit of this thing they call enduro, is it? Where there’s a race there’ll always be competition, it’s the nature of the beast, but isn’t this buzzword racing supposed to be all about the chill, the cameraderie, the social aspect? That’s what it is for most riders here. G'day mate...
Someone says we should be riding up this hill rather than sitting in a bus, our bikes towed behind. I don’t think anyone else is agreeing… I haven’t heard one comment along the lines of “man, you know what this race needs? More climbing”. That’s the way to race… in buses. Different smells in here, I wonder if they fumigate the cabin at the end of every day, like they used to do in airplanes, walk along the aisle with the spray can, smother the body odour with lavender and pot pourri. The banter is good-natured, tales of big crashes, near misses and sick runs. Everyone makes a new friend, even if only for ten minutes.
The forest is alive. Everywhere we go there are riders, starting, finishing, eating and drinking, transitioning between stages, a nod and a smile and a 'hey'. This is the way to race. Five chances to go fast, in any order you like. The shuttle lines get longer as the day goes on, but it never seems like a long wait. Plenty of chatting, only a few queue-jumpers who are quickly and diplomatically taken care of. Chill out dudes, it’s only a bike race.
Roll up to the gate, leaving enough gap after the rider in front so you don’t have to worry about making a dodgy pass… easy. Take your time, go flat out, cruise back to the finish, no need for a sprint here, the pizza and beer will still be waiting. Instant results, the little finger-mounted timing device has done a stellar job of keeping tabs on the stages, and the instant print-out when you roll in is genius. Everywhere you look there are people who look like they're comparing shopping dockets… the real competition is between friends, who beat who, what stage were you faster on? This is the way to race, instant gratification, minimal stress. Put in as much as you like, get out so much more.
Yet, I’m perplexed. For a bunch of tough guys and girls who can ride all day, crash their brains out and bounce back for more, they sure pull up short on the after-race activities. Is there a one beer limit applied? Can’t recall seeing that on the entry form. I thought going home to bed at 8 was the domain of XC racers and triathletes. Seriously, I’ve seen roadies party harder. Racing’s over people, let your hair down, even if you don’t have any. Your legs and heart rate will still be there in the morning, and beer is a certified recovery drink.
The pub is just about empty now, the streets almost devoid of revellers, and hundreds of happy, tired mountain bikers are tucked up in bed. We watch a bit of rugby and cricket on the motel TV, two sports that are better viewed drunk. I drift off thinking about the day gone by, the good times shared with friends, and the future of mountain bike racing. I think I just witnessed it. That’s the way to race.
Thanks to Neil and his team from Dare2Sweat events for putting on such a cool day and a sweet course, the Holiday Inn for the hangover cure breakfasts, Matt and Kris at Wide Open for the beer and pizza, Bryce and Marcello at CycleZone for the last minute derailleur, the shuttle driver for not taking off with my bike half on the trailer, MC Pattle for making presentation a crack-up, Big Si for driving the stink bus, Ryan for sticking it out at the pub and taking a bunch of rad photos, all the Welly crew for the banter and every single one of you for not taking it too seriously. That’s refreshing.