The first Giant 2W Gravity Enduro for the summer of 2016 took place on Saturday, testing over 400 riders in the vast trail network of Rotorua’s Whakarewarewa Forest.
Conditions were close to perfection, described by one competitor as ‘concourse’: dry under the tyres, blue skies overhead, and a cool breeze keeping the temperatures mild. Riders started at the Holiday Inn and made their way to the forest via the surreal landscape of the Whakarewarewa thermal area.
A new feature for this season makes the Giant 2W Gravity Enduro the richest Enduro race series in the world. The “Ray White Ten Grand $lam” puts $10,000 on the line for any person, male or female, who can win a clean sweep in the three-race series in the overall tally for their gender, and two athletes opened their accounts in convincing fashion.
In the male category young local lad Keegan Wright held off Kawerau’s Matt Walker and Rotorua’s Sam Shaw to take the overall title on the day. Wright and Walker are fresh off a season of downhill racing in the international World Cup circuit. Wright, only 18, showed his speed and fitness with a clean sweep of wins in all six stages. His margin over Walker was very narrow, less than 30 seconds after over half an hour of timed sections. Shaw was only another half a minute adrift. Both Walker and Shaw can take some consolation, Walker having just jumped off an international flight was riding a little jetlagged; and Shaw having entered the unassisted class, which involved riding his bike up all the hills he was going to race down, instead of taking the transportation on offer. Walker won his 20-29 age group class, with Shaw second and local cross-country star Carl Jones in third.
For the women it was a similar story, winner Raewyn Morrison had a clear win when the total times were added up, and she managed to win five of the six stages. Morrison has just returned from a successful campaign in the Enduro World Series, where she cracked the top five in the last two rounds. Her great performances at world level validate the tight contest she faced in Rotorua. Second placed overall was Rotorua’s Annika Smail, who took out the fastest time on one stage, and finished only just over 30 seconds off the pace overall. Smail took out her age group title for 30-39, and took the unassisted option too. Another Rotorua local Janine Kavanagh was second in that age group and third overall. Ex-world Downhill champion Vanessa Quin from Tauranga showed she still has what it takes by gaining a third place in the strong 30-39 age group and fourth overall.
Other noteworthy performances came from young Daniel Self and Peter Bethell, placegetters in the Men’s 17-20 category who pushed into the top ten overall, and 40-49 Womens winner Aly Bennett who finished 5th overall.
The next round is in December, and with only one third of the available spaces left it looks like another sell-out event. All eyes will be on Keegan Wright and Raewyn Morrison to see if they can back up their strong outings with more wins.