The storm of the century hit New Zealand’s West Coast, but racers showed up and had a blast during the Vertigo Bikes Super D Enduro at Queenstown Bike Festival. The spirit of enduro lives!
It was Good Friday but the weather was anything but good. The worst storm in living memory was savaging New Zealand’s West Coast with lashing rain and gales lifting roofs and flattening trees.
But on the other side of the Southern Alps it was cycles, not cyclones, making headlines as Queenstown Bike Festival 2014 moved into its final weekend.
The wind and rain didn’t stop nearly one hundred hardcore mountain bikers heading up to Coronet Peak ski field for the Torpedo7.com Coronet Enduro, a five-stage, 13.75 km race starting near the 1649m summit and ending on the valley floor some five hours later.
Three days before the race, the festival team had ventured deep into the backcountry to assess a line along an old miners track. This would form part of Stage 3. Very few riders know this area and even the most avid locals had rarely thought to investigate it judging by the clearing required.
Most other trails were in great shape thanks to the awesome year-round work of Queenstown Mountain Bike Club. The course took in some sharp climbs and technical descents that would have made the comp a real test in good weather. As it was, things turned out to be super testing and a lot of fun!
After the riders’ briefing (“The tracks are slippery!”) there was some hard peddling uphill to reach the start of Stage 1, the original x-c trail on Coronet Peak.
Each transition gave riders a chance to wipe the mud from their eyes and reapply their race face before dropping into the mysterious gloom beyond.
Stage 2 was the longest of the day – a gut-busting 5.75km with 760m of descent and 117m climbing. It followed the Rude Rock trail (named after a particularly masculine-shaped feature) to the legendary Skippers Canyon and saw eventual men’s open winner, Joe Nation of Christchurch record the second of his three stage wins.
It was also where Nelson’s Meg Bichard stamped her mark on the women’s race, taking nearly a minute out of her nearest competitor – an awesome achievement in the conditions.
For most of the field it was tough going but, despite the odd bail, the attrition rate was low with only eight riders withdrawing before the finish.
Stage 3 and 4 – Greengates Saddle pack track and Zoot – were short, sharp and speedy, followed by Deer Lane that descended 526m over 2.5km to the finish line across private land giving everyone another chance to try something new.
The final results showed just how close and exciting enduro racing can be. Only 61 seconds separated the top three men with 62 seconds between the top three women.
In the open men’s category there was even a dead heat for second between Tom Skillicorn (Queenstown) and James Hampton (Christchurch) who both came home in a total time of 32.17.
The women’s race was equally competitive with Harriet Harper from Christchurch following Meg Bichard home in 37.00 with Wellington’s Rosara Joseph third in 37.34. Harriet was unlucky not to take top prize after winning every stage except the notorious Rude Rock to Skippers.
Niall Renwich took the master men 40+ win ahead of Jason Blackmore and Andrew Ballantyne. Junior U19 winners were Georgia Petrie and Ben Karalus and a special shout out to the tandem team of Jackson and Rose Green whose double-handedly beat several solo riders.
Event manager, Megan Rose who designed and built the course with her crew before heading back to Canada said it was all smiles at the finish.
“Everyone was pumped especially about stages three and five. If it was sunny and bluebird it might have looked perfect but today was one of those days that will live long in the memory. Conditions were variable to say the least but everyone was in it together and enjoyed sharing their experiences afterwards in the bar,” she said.
Finishers gathered at Cavells Café and Bar down by Shotover River for prize giving courtesy of Torpedo7.com and a traditional sausage sizzle. Everyone was muddy and tired but glowing with contentment at the end on a day of low cloud and high spirits in the adventure capital of the world. For all race results and other info, check the Queenstown Bike Festival website.
Words: Sam White Photos: Jo Boyd | riverleapphotography.com Callum Wood | Moore