Day four of the Yeti Trans NZ Enduro 2017 was staged today, in Alexandra, just an hours trip down the road from the base in Queenstown. With a 25km day planned and 800m of descending the numbers might seem small but we were guaranteed the grin factor would be huge!
Riders were in for a treat today in the order of six fast stages put together by the man that had a big hand in building them, Phil Oliver at Altitude Bikes. Different to any other place I have ever been, the riding in Alexandra can be likened to a granite boulder field set in rolling hills rather than a steep mountain setting. The landscape is arid and harsh and it looks as if nothing can grow or thrive at all, even though this area is commonly used for sheep farming. It’s a bare, striking landscape with just the odd evergreen tree dotting the hillside amongst the sparse low lying bush. The memorable thing about the riding in Alex other than the rocks is the smell, completely covering the ground is wild thyme, an interesting smell (and taste) when blowing hard on a race stage.
The dust in Alex produces loose flat corners which when coupled with the need for precision engineering over the rock rollers, it's an interesting mix of contrasts in riding style. Phil and the building team have linked flowing narrow singletrack with the boulders using such ingenuity to make insane rocky trail features that are awesome fun to ride. The trails in Alex are all so different yet if I were to sit here and tell you about each stage it might sound a tad repetitive. It's probably best to let the pictures do the talking. Aside to say, I could ride here for weeks and not get bored. The trail network is so extensive and the trails so demanding and interesting there is much to explore and many rock rollers to be dispatched.
In short, the stages today warmed us all up gently and taught us how to ride in Alexandra. Stage one taught us the meaning of the 'pink dots of life' - whilst on rocks it pays to follow these, ignore them at your peril. Stage two made sure we had listened in lesson one, and stage three saw a few that were tardy with their homework go over the bars, as an off camber to wall ride line of dots met a steep chute into a bottom left hander that resembled a sandpit. I had a taste of rodeo riding and still not sure how I managed to stay upright!
The steep stuff came in stage four with gradient reaching -40%, in a series of rocky (what else?) switchbacks, a real test of speed and control, this stage was the loosest of the day. Stage five saw us master skills in dodging mech biting rocks and pumping to maintain much needed momentum, it drove home the fact that today was all about correct speed choice and safe riding for the win. The day rounded off with a blast down stage six, a trail that I'm sure would never get old, just what I needed to cement Alexandra as one of my favourite places to ride in the world!
Timers were handed in at the pub post racing, Mike Cowlin took a second day's win today in a time of 19:51, stretching ten seconds ahead of Paul van der Ploeg in second place. Third place was taken by Dunedin rider Jake Paddon in a time of 20:12. Worth a mention here is local Alexandra pinner Bradley Harris who, stepping in for a days racing, won overall in a time of 19:40!
Race Director, Megan, also donned her riding kit for the day today and took the win on every stage bar one! For the ladies who are in it for the long haul, the field is starting to see a pattern, Melissa Newell won the day in 24:19, Sarah Rawley pulled in in second place 26 seconds back and I took third place a further 18 seconds back.