Billed as ‘extreme’ and described as ‘Epic’ in size and nature, the Giant 2W Gravity Enduro in Cardrona lived up to all its word.

On release of the course the total racing distance for the four marked special race stages came to a huge 31.9km with no less than 4415m (14485 feet) of vertical descent – easily higher than dropping from the top of Mt Cook (NZ highest Mtn) to sea level in one day. And pleasingly for all riders the total distance to be liaised on bike and foot (outside of vehicle shuttling) was only 11.4km.

The organiser (Neil Gellatly – Dare 2 Sweat Events) and his trusty helper (Jamie Greenway – President of Bike Wanaka) completed a massive six day exercise setting up the four special race stages and liaison routes course on raw open high backcountry and mountainous terrain in the Cardrona Valley.

Higher res - Rideline track on race stage C - photo Mead Norton

The weather changed from blue sky and temperatures in the low 20’s (degrees C) through the set-up week to a race day dawning well below zero with a solid hoar-frost and dusting of snow amidst thick cloud on the summits.

If the riders had not given the event the prior respect it deserved, the race organisers briefing certainly spelt out the dangers and challenges riders had ahead of them.

Riders rolled out from the Cardrona Hotel shortly after 9am, with an eight hour window to complete the arduous course. And from the moment riders stepped off the buses or out of their private Shuttle vehicles at the top of the old Snow Park car park (to liaise the 300m to the start of Special Race Stage A) the event billing of ‘ Extreme’ was unanimously accepted with the harsh conditions that greeted riders forcing them into survival mode.

Higher res - Unknown rider decending on Race Stage B - photo from Mead Norton

There was no mucking around at the top that’s for sure, with riders adorning more clothing, sign in with the marshal and clock out of the start gate before disappeared within seconds into the airy thick grey cloud. Ahead in the mist lay some sweet flowing trail, followed by backcountry 4WD tracks and some techy sheep trails… oh and did the organiser fail to mention also a two tone grey bull who likes to stand in the middle of the trail, but is actually a big softy.

At the bottom of the 9.4km long (890m drop) Special Race Stage A (described as a warm up, and the easiest of all four stages – one which give a false indication of things to come) riders arrived some full 20min later cold and wide eyed.

Higher res - Jimmy Pollard descnding off Summit of Mt Cardrona on race stage D - Photo Mead Norton

If race stage A was a good intro to the harshness of this event, then Special Race Stage B (5.8km long with 930m drop) would require riders upmost attention, with the organiser warning that this stage required all riders to bring their “A Game”. This stage dropped into the Dirt Park downhill before continuing on an old mtb trail thru private farmland to the valley floor. There was no disputing this as riders emerged at the bottom roughly 10min later with war stories and battle wounds from what they described as “Awesome, wicked, sick”, or simply “dude – Wow!”.

Two stages down and two to go, the event moved across the valley to the Cardrona Alpine Resort side, 400m higher up in the clouds again. Race stages C & D required a longer 1500m liaison from the clock tower at the resort to the summit of Mt. Cardrona. Riders rode, pushed and carried their bikes up through the misty cloud to pop out into blue sky at the summit, looking down on a white blanket below and mountain peaks breaking the cloud in the distance, in what was a surreal picture.

Top of Snow Park - Start Race Stage A & B - photo from Jenna Makgill

Race stage C (an 8.7km & 1285m drop) introduced riders to slabs of rock and a narrow ridge top trail, as well as screaming ski-field straights and rough old farmland 4WD trails, which left riders with arm pump and cramping fingers like some had never had before. Those battered and bruised by earlier race stages were now broken and doubting whether they had it in them for one final descent—the ‘Epic‘ challenge of this event was beginning to tell.

With the remaining 8km race stage D holding the greatest decent of 1310m, rider’s bodies were at their tethers and brains sugar deprived. Perhaps some rider’s minds becoming distracted by the thought of finishing in New Zealand’s best beer garden. Needless to say they had one of the most technically demanding and physically challenging stages ahead of them to combat. Dropping off the summit of Mt. Cardrona, down an old forgotten downhill trail, then into tussock fields with hidden holes and a linkage of flowing farmland tracks & sheep trails.

At the finish line at the Cardrona Hotel riders indulged in some refueling before the tales of the day began to flow, reflecting on what they had just competed in and accomplished— NZ’s biggest Enduro had been riden & conquered and they were one of the inaugural 141 tough buggers who can claim to be part of its making.

The podium winners delivered outstanding performances in tough conditions. Coming out on top in the overall women’s race was Meg Bichard from Nelson just over two minutes faster than fellow Nelsonian Raewyn Morrison in second. In third place was Auckland’s Jenna Makgill with Rosara Joseph (Wellington) rounding out the top 4.

In the men’s race Jimmy Pollard from Queenstown outclassed the field to finish over one minute clear of the Connor Macfarlane (also Queenstown). Third just 10 seconds further back was Matt Scoles (Alexandra), closely followed by Kieran Bennett in forth.

Full Results

Not short on delivering an amazing race, the prize giving gave more still with riders walking away with a share of over $20k in prizes and awards.

So the question beckons, will this “epic” extreme Enduro be back? Organisers have hinted – just maybe, with word of a date change if they get the support of riders and council. With some news hopefully on the horizon, look out for the imminent release of next seasons Giant 2W Gravity Enduro Race dates in the coming month.

Words: Dare 2 Sweat | Pictures: Mead Norton, Jenna Makgill

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