Slick conditions added to the atmosphere at another successful Dodzy Memorial Enduro, won by Sam Blenkinsop for the fourth year in a row.
The event, back for its sixth year, brought the mountain bike community together to celebrate the life of James “Dodzy” Dodds, who was killed in a hunting accident in 2012.
Dodzy was a huge figure in the mountain bike scene, known for his endless enthusiasm and love of racing. He co-owned NZ Trail Solutions, the company which built over 70 kilometres of hand-crafted trails at the Wairoa Gorge near Nelson, where the race is held.
The race uses a selection of the best trails at the 841-hectare private park, which tops out at 1200 metres above sea level. When not being raced, the Nelson Mountain Bike Club runs shuttles at the venue.
As well as a competitive race, the DME is a highlight on the social calendar with a festival-like feel. For many, the racing takes a back seat to catching up with mates and spinning a few yarns.
The popular event sold out in less than two minutes. A stacked field of 280 riders made the start list, with a handful of international racers lining up against some of New Zealand’s top talent.
The race is notorious for long and technical stages which wreak havoc on the bikes and bodies of the unprepared.
Rain came in overnight before both practice and race day, saturating the trails, but cleared during the day for riding.
This year’s course took racers down some of the toothiest trails on the hill, made all the more challenging by the thick layer of slick mud dragged over rocks and roots.
Organisers made a last minute call to take out the gnarliest bits on one of the stages which was causing trouble for most of the field in the slick conditions.
Riders were in a great mood despite the challenging conditions, with plenty of banter and heckling at the top of stages. The lunch break at the bottom was a chance for racers to swap stories of huge moments and near-misses between runs.
Sam Blenkinsop went fastest overall for the fourth year in a row, finishing the brutal course in a time of 31 mins 4 secs and taking out two of the three stages.
Bryn Dickerson came in second, about 40 seconds off the pace, with Brook Macdonald rounding out the top three at his first time at the race.
A stacked women’s field showed up to the event, but the physical course and slick conditions saw several pull out on race day. Trek Factory Racing Enduro rider Katy Winton was right at home in the muddy conditions, taking the win in 38 mins 40 secs. Last year’s winner Harriet Harper had to settle for second, a further 40 seconds back, with birthday girl Mel Blomfield slotting into third.
Winton, in New Zealand to train over the off-season, said the rain on Saturday night thinned out the mud which made the trails more grippy than expected.
“I’ve ridden all over the world and these are some of the best tracks I’ve ever ridden. It's just hand crafted for bikes, you can’t really beat that.”
The most intense racing went down in the hardtail class, which had its biggest ever field chasing after the highly coveted “engorged gorge” award. Notorious hardtail fiend Jake Boylett had a target on his back after winning the class the past two years.
This year saw a change of the guard with Florian de Vries taking the win in 35mins 27secs, ahead of gorge legend Sam “Browser” Knowles and Ben Shayler.
Race organiser Nick Crocker said he was stoked with how the day panned out.
“You sort of wonder at times how its all going to come together when the rain’s coming down and things look impending, there’s a few nervous faces, but we’ve got an amazing crew here that put the race together and the attitudes of all the riders just makes it all go smoothly.”
He said organising the event was an amazing opportunity opportunity to give something back to Dodzy’s memory.
“It’s just something that reminds people of who he was and the cool values that he showed as a person.”
The event was capped off with a tasteful social mixer at East St Cafe in Nelson, which saw racers and the volunteer crew spinning yarns well into the early hours of the morning.