The Yeti Trans NZ Enduro 2017 kicked off today with 6 stages over a 33km course with 1,500m of climbing and 1,600m of descending some of the best trails Craigieburn has to offer.
Waking up this morning the competitors of the Yeti Trans NZ Enduro 2017 rose to clouds slung low over the Craigieburn Valley. En route to a hearty breakfasts coats were worn and rain gently pattered down, riders wondered whether it had broken the canopy or not, the big question, are those roots dry? There are plenty of racers here that are returning for a second or even third year running, there will be those that remembered the deluge of day one in 2015 and hoping not see a repeat of that today.
A quick bus ride took riders up the road and to the beginning of the climb to stage one. Aside from this small nod towards a shuttle, today would be totally self-powered, all of those 1,500m of climbing would be felt by each and every competitor. Fingers were uncrossed as the roots on the trails were found to be of a moist to damp condition, prime for some front wheel slipping tyre action.
For those that know the area, stage one took in the whole of the 'Luge', a trail that when ridden can easily emulate for the rider what it feels like to be the ball in a pinball machine, ricocheted from wall to wall over and over again in a bouncing, barely controlled ride to the finish line. With the roots doing their best to take prisoners, it paid to stay off the ground and on the momentum today. The fastest pinball of the day was Nate Hills taking the win on stage one in 5:36 just 2 seconds up on his nearest rival.
A short fire road climb took the field to stage two and the trail 'Dracophyllum Flat Track', a flat out stage where the locals rumour that some huge speeds have been clocked! Not without it's pedalling efforts, this trail needed a fair few cranks to keep things going at top speed. Here Australian Paul van der Ploeg held the brakes open the widest. The Open Ladies began to set its pace for the day with Melissa Newell taking the first stage, stage two saw Melissa and Sarah Rawley finish on the same second.
Passing the feed station so early in the day was a welcomed treat as the sky still threatened rain. Grabbing, sweets and cakes riders began the winch to stage three 'Cuckoo Creek'. Bets placed that this was the favourite trail for 90% of the field would have been bets well made. 'Cuckoo Creek' is a sublime piece of loamy singletrack, full to the brim with roots, bomb holes and perfect supportive corners just waiting for tyres to slam into them. The rain had dampened the trail just enough to make it in a supreme condition, loam at its best. To be the marshal at the end of this stage would have been an awesome job, smiles all round, the stoke would have been infectious! King and queen of the loam were Melissa Newell and Nate Hills.
The climb up to stage four took racers past stage three at the half way point of the slog to the top, there's no beating round the bush, it was a punishing climb. The silver cloud to the overcast weather shone here, as the conditions meant riders didn't shed their own body weight in sweat on the climb. Getting to stage four though meant you were up at another of the best stages of the day, 'Cheeseman DH or Cockayne Alley'. Beginning in the tussock grass and catching a weather window with panoramic views, riders dropped in to a fast race to the tree line. As previously warned, "once you are in the tree's, the going gets steep", most were on the brakes and ready, not only steep but greasy too, as riders slid their way down the section of trail with an average 34% gradient. A fast finish saw riders take the fingers of the brakes and plunge into the creek, as always the timer is on the opposite side! Best sliders were our writer, Rachael Gurney and Canadian William Cadham.
Stages five and six split "Hogs Back Track" into two, with the mid trail climb acting as a liaison (yes, for gravity biased event organisers!) Predominantly out in the open the stage began dry and dusty, seemingly untouched by the rain. Pinch climbs followed, too many to count and too many to care to remember! Hogs Back take two was a straight line shoot out for the line, drop in with a 'he who dares, wins' attitude and if you tucked your elbows in for the trees you'd have probably come out on top.
Finishing with a beer and a sandwich at the finish line, the winners of the day were named. Paul van Der Ploeg took day one win in a time of 27:50, William Cadham and Mike Cowlin took second, both in a time of 28:12. In the ladies field American Sarah Rawley went fastest with a time of 35:23, one second back was Melissa Newell and coming in in 35:59 was Rachael Gurney.
Tomorrow riders will tackle four more stages at Craigieburn before heading off on the long drive to Queenstown. The weather is set to be banging, so a sunrise start at 6:30am will be sweet!