Typical, we wait a whole off season, grafting, preparing and getting excited to put into practice everything we have been working on, eyes set on the first race. Then EWS Rotorua happens. The opening round of the Enduro World Series was everything we didn’t train for, 8 hours of racing, 20kg of added mud and trails which certainly didn’t look like my GoPro footage come race day.
Everyone has experienced a wet race before. I certainly have, being from the UK they are pretty normal and actually make for an exciting race, but Rotorua was something else. All week I had been doing the rain dance and hoping for a slippy race, everyone thought I was mad, and looking back, I was! Lesson learnt, never wish for rain in Rotorua!
I was later to find out practice was almost pointless, the tracks were a little damp and muddy but not a patch on what was to come. Day one of practice on Friday was a fairly big day, I think we did what most racers did and practiced as much of the course as possible, finishing the day with 5 stages “learnt”, 44km ridden and some wet bogging kit to wash. Saturday practice was easy going, with only 2 stages to learn, we spent most of the day resting up and prepping for the race. Little did we know, that Saturday afternoon rest was going to be much needed.
Race day meant an early start to the race day to have enough light hours to get in all the racing, 64km and 2000m climbing! By the time us pro ladies got to the top of stage one we were completely soaked, luckily not cold though, that would have made for some really sour language! The stage was strange, it didn’t feel like the start of a world series race, I couldn’t get pumped or attack it, the off season was over and I was ready to race but couldn't feel hyped. I used this stage to get into the rhythm of the day and test out the grip of which there was none!
The liaisons were comfortable on time for us, but the more caked in mud I got the more concerned I was about getting there on time and being able to clean goggles and gloves ready to race. Small things like that really took its toll on the riders through the day; it’s pretty tiring being wet, muddy and trying to race for 8 hours!
Stage two had developed a few nice deep rutted turns, which I really enjoyed but it took until stage three to realise how crazy this race really was. The trail was unrecognisable in most places, with hub deep muddy ruts running down all the technical parts and then slippery bog throughout the rest of the trail, I actually dragged my bike by its front wheel at one point. The bikes were clogging real bad and the little uphills were impossible to ride, even for the worlds most skilled! There was a fair bit of running, sliding and being engulfed by ruts, it was insane and something I just never expected!
As the day went on, the numbers dropped, riders retired from exhaustion, were late for stages or experienced mechanicals. There were a few points where I was unsure if I would finish, the conditions were really difficult and everything took so much more effort. It was pretty exhausting, I could barely push my bike after stage 3 and carrying it was heavy with all the extra mud. I carried on though, something inside me not letting me quit, to tell you about the rest of the stages would bore you with tales of mud, grinding, sliding and running. Believe me when I say I was happy to cross the finish line and get home for a shower! I managed to pull an 8th place finish which I am pretty happy with. In those conditions I'm stoked to make it into the top 10 again this year and am excited to see where I can improve from here.
There was quite mixed approaches to the race from different riders, I heard some riders berating the organisation of the event, I heard that the wet weather contingency plan was not implemented. However, other riders really enjoyed the challenge and the wild conditions. Katy Winton had a great approach to the race, she recognised the challenge and just got stuck in, not letting the fact that it was super hard work distract her from the fact that we were racing. It was really cool to see her take 5th place and win the last stage - she taught me a thing or two about racing and attitude (thanks Katy!).
The opening EWS race didn’t really let us demonstrate our best racing but it was fun to do something a bit different. It will be a race which I won’t forget anytime soon, there was too many chaotic moments, up and down emotions and rowdy spectators!
Huge thank you to WTB tires for going out of their way to supply me with some extra rubber racing here in NZ. And thank you to everyone involved in the EWS for looking after us over the race, we survived!
Photo credits - Neil Kerr, Bex Baraona and Enduro World Series