Despite slippery conditions from overnight rain Joe Nation, of Christchurch, continued to dominate the Emerson's 3 Peaks Enduro that concluded in Dunedin, New Zealand, today, completing seven wins from seven stages.
In a masterful display in challenging conditions, Nation, managed to put more than a minute into his closest rival, Enduro World Series (EWS) pro rider Justin Leov, of Blenheim. Junior rider Ben Friel, of Christchurch, turned heads throughout the event, running easily with the top riders, but was bettered for third by local charger Ethan Glover in two of the final three stages. Queenstown's Jimmy Pollard rounded out the top five overall.
"Having the chance to race against Justin was a bit of a drawcard for me," admits Nation. "He's just so fast so I knew it would be a good opportunity to give him a run."
Nation said he didn't expect to be so close to Leov, let alone beat him.
"I am feeling fit and my training and my bike is going so well at the moment. I suppose if ever there was a time that I could run close to him then this would be it."
Nation said he was confident that he could ride the greasy conditions on Signal Hill for Day 2.
"We had similar conditions last year, so I was pretty confident I could ride the greasy conditions up there and I managed to slide my way down the hill three times and do alright."
He said hitting the right lines was difficult.
"I was just aiming to stay on the main line – nothing too creative, just try to keep momentum going and not bog down anywhere."
Like many of the top riders seeing Ben Friel among the top runners was impressive.
"Ben is flat out," offers Nation. "He's very young to be going that fast. I'd be keeping an eye on him that's for sure."
"It's great to see a Junior coming through and he was right there – he beat me in some stages yesterday – it's awesome and I'm looking forward to see what he can do in the next three to four years," explains Leov.
"If Ben puts in some good work in the next couple of years – and I know he is motivated to do that – then I think he will be one of the leading riders."
Leov, who has been recovering from glandular fever that struck him down earlier this year, said settling for second place was acceptable.
"I felt better and better through the day, but before the last stage I knew I had used most of my energy. I'm not quite in the condition I need to be, but at this time of year I am happy with where I am at," Leov admits. "That last stage was really physical and I was hanging a bit, but I rode it really well – had a good feel of the bike and that was a big part of coming down here."
Leov tied with Nation on the second stage, but couldn't match or better him on any other.
"I'm friends with Joe and I am stoked for him and to see him on such good form here today."
"I was hoping I could reel him in a bit on Signal Hill, but he was just another league this weekend – I still have some work to do this off-season it seems," Leov laughs. "I just don't think I had the horsepower this weekend. This game is all about linking it all together in a run and Joe did that really well."
For 18-year-old Friel, running with the top riders was exactly where he wanted to be. A little research into this Christchurch lad soon reveals he's recently switched to enduro from cross-country racing – where his biggest strength was in his descending and technical capabilities. Earlier this year he finished fourth overall in the Trans BC – a six-day enduro held in Canada. Now he has his eyes on the EWS.
"It has been amazing to race with these top guys," he shares. "Yesterday I managed to stay on my bike, ride consistently all day and that paid off for me. Today, I pushed a little bit harder and tried to find those seconds to stay in the top three overall, but I just hit the ground a few too many times."
Local charger Glover was a little more consistent in the slick Signal Hill conditions and took third place from Friel.
"There were a few corners where the back end was trying to overtake the front," recalls Friel. "It was the same for everyone, a lot of fun, though."
Earning some points for the EWS qualification was important to Friel who hopes to race the two rounds close to home in Rotorua and Tasmania.
"And I'm racing Trans BC again and will try to do the Whistler and Aspen EWS rounds – get a bit of experience and get my name out there – that's the plan this year," he smiles.
Two other Juniors cracked the top 10 overall, with Auckland's Josh Reilly taking seventh and South African Matthew Lombardi in 10th, just 5 seconds ahead of Ben Oliver, of Rangiora.
In the women's overall Renee Wilson, of Christchurch, was in an arm-wrestle with Amanda Pearce, of Nelson, for the lead all weekend. A costly mistake for Pearce in Stage 5 eased the pressure cooker for Wilson, but Pearce wasn't about to give up, taking wins in the final two stages. In the end it wasn't enough to close the gap with Wilson taking the title with a 39-second margin after seven stages. In third, Melanie Blomfield, of Christchurch, was never far off the pace, while Melissa "Mops" Newell, of Wanaka, slotted into fourth ahead of Agata Bulska, of Poland.
"Stage 1 was okay, Stage 2 was a mess and Stage 3 was okay today," Wilson laughs afterward. "It was a bit of a mixed bag. I saw way too much of the ground in Stage 2. Once I had hit the deck a few times I kind of gave into the conditions."
Wilson said it had been a "decent battle" with Amanda.
"We're usually pretty close. She wins some – we're pretty even."
Organised by local bike shop Bike Otago in conjunction with Mountain Biking Otago, the 2016 Emerson's 3 Peaks Enduro features stages on each of the three tallest peaks surrounding Dunedin's CBD: Flagstaff (668m), Mt Cargill (676m) and Signal Hill (393m) over two days of racing. The event is ranked as an Enduro World Series (EWS) Qualifier race for the first time in 2016. Emerson's is a local brewery that has long supported mountain biking and trail building in Otago.
Results 2016 Emerson's 3 Peaks Enduro
1. Joe Nation
2. Justin Leov
3. Ethan Glover
4. Ben Friel
5. Jimmy Pollard
6. Jonas Meier
7. Josh Reilly
8. Leighton Kirk
9. Michael Cowlin
10. Matthew Lombardi
1. Renee Wilson
2. Amanda Pearce
3. Melanie Blomfield
4. Melissa Newell
5. Agata Bulska