Probably one of the best days riding in the world, the trails of Coronet Peak are insanely good! The Yeti Trans NZ Enduro and it's entourage of racers and volunteers set up camp in Queenstown last night and prepared for a long day in the saddle on day three of racing. With 2,200m of descending and 1,400m of climbing over a 35km course the numbers were big but tipped in the right side on the descent scales!
A relatively lazy start saw us getting on the shuttles to Coronet Peak from the town at 9am, we quickly climbed out of the darkness of the valley of Queenstown and into the sunlight. The views on the bus ride set the tone for the day with wall to wall panoramic views, it was like driving through a fairy tale. Easy to be complacent where the scenery was concerned today, each climb and each descent was stunning every which way you turned, it paid to take time out of racing and get those iPhone bangers in the bag!
The bus ride terminated at the end of the tar sealed road today, from here on in, it was pedal power only until the shuttle up to the final stage. Gone were the shady, dappled beech forests and roots of Craigieburn, here was open, tussock covered rocky terrain. Stage one 'Coronet Peak' was both the climb and the descent meaning all 130 riders needed to make the one hour long transition before racing could begin. This is both awesome and nerve wracking at the same time, brilliant fun as the race turned on the party atmosphere, cheering was loud at the top of the mountain, but as so often happens when a number of bikers get together, the banter bus was jam packed and swaying under the sheer volume of heckling! Self seeding was the order of the day, so us girls do what girls do best - form a gang and push in line, the lady train was on!
Setting off the start line, I was the most nervous I have been dropping into a race run for some time, a mixture of a technical line to master under the watchful eyes of a hawk like crowd and the wait at the top making me feel like I had butterflies on speed in my stomach. The Coronet Peak descent is a series of sweeping corners from top to bottom, slowing down too much for each corner saw me stall a number of times, here was a trail to pump and flow, pedalling was inefficient and slow.
A short liaison took us to the renowned Queenstown classic 'Rude Rock' (stage two) where the girls stuck to the lady train. I'm sure I wasn't the only one trying as hard as I could to make time on the girl in front of me, catching sight on the open hillside was like Redbull to the legs. Stage two actually combined 'Rude Rock' and 'Skippers Pack Track' into one marathon of a trail that just kept on giving. Flowing turns, fadeaway jumps and rocky outcrops to reel you back in, made for a real mix on track. It was tempting to break concentration and get a eyeful of the view but to do so at these speeds might have been game ending. In terms of giving the trail also hit us right in the teeth with two savage climbs right at the end, one of which involved heaving your bike over a stile whilst breathing out of your behind, it's possibly the hardest thing to do ever, try it, you'll see......
What comes down, must also go back up (or whatever that saying is), so up we went, all 400m and an hour of climbing in the baking sun out of Skippers Canyon, into which we had just raced. At the top we were met by stage 4 'Zoot Track' a super fast 1km of trail with multiple line options, a real feeling of commitment needed with eyes firmly on the trail. Hold it wide open and you'd have been flying over jumps and rocks as soon as you noticed them on the horizon. Dispatched in circa two minutes, it was soon time to load up on a shuttle back to the Coronet Peak base station.
The butterflies began their merry dance again as I made my way to stage four and 'Slip Saddle'. Strava told me this trail has a -30% gradient and experience of racing two years ago told me I'd be rag dolling down the hill before long. As with all trails 'Slip Saddle' winds down through tussock and grasses, a dark slither of damp earth on the open hillside. Rain a few days ago had left hero dirt in abundance meaning speed in the steeps was more adjustable than could have been expected, just dig in and brake straight. The curve ball on this stage came in about halfway down in the form of high sided ruts as the trail snaked through tall rocks. A careful run here without ditching the bike or taking a foot off would have been a faster one. I managed to get down without a dab, something I'll consider winning for the day!
A cruisey ride out to Arrowtown saw us gather at the river with a beer in one hand and a sandwich in the other, day three dispatched in fine style! Today's movers and shakers in the men's field see Mike Cowlin go fastets in a time of 26:27, with Queenstown pinner Pete Robinson just two seconds back. Rounding out third spot was Czech rider, Milan Mysik in a time of 27:02.
In the ladies field times are still tight and it's anybody's game with the top 6 ladies all mixing up places on each stages, no one is dominant here. Today Queenstown resident, Eva Dethlefsen went fastest in a time of 32:54, awesome considering it's her second year of racing! Second today was Melissa Newell and I slotted into third place.
Tomorrow it's 'thyme' to go over to Alexandra where we look forward to learning to trust the dotted lines, get our eyes up out of the dust and roll on the rocks!