Steep, technical and exposed – that’s how the first trail of the day is supposed to be. A lot of rocks, boulders and blocked sections are to be expected – in addition to the slippery terrain. The course marshal at the start of the first special stage boiled it down to this: “Well, no point in talking about it, just try not to crash – that wouldn’t be good!” Well, I guess I consider myself warned, and I am a little nervous.

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TransNZ Day 4

We are in Alexandra, a small town in central Otago. This area of New Zealand is one of the furthest from the ocean. The climate here is different from the rest of South Island – hot and dry. No wonder that the dry and barren hills around Alexandra resemble a desert. This is where we will let off steam today, on about 30 kilometers of single track through the sandy and rocky hills of what seems like almost a different world in the heart of the usually ever so green New Zealand.


But back to the start and the track marshal’s advice: Crashing is not an option! Bearing this in mind, I start the race and the first turn makes me realize why. The course takes us over rock slabs, drops and impossible to describe rock constellations – most of the time peppered with tricky switchbacks behind or even in the sections themselves. But what really makes this difficult are the high-speed sections throughout. It is almost impossible to judge how much momentum you can take into the next section, into which you enter totally blind most of the time. I realize quite often that it is really not all that much.

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Nevertheless, I found a good flow. Despite their head start, I start to catch up to the other riders – one by one. Their cheers show me that I seem to be riding a pretty decent speed. But then, a drop, a rock garden, a moment of not paying full attention and I don’t have enough strength to conceal the mistake – a split second later I find myself next to my bike on the ground. Nothing more than a few scratches – and only a few seconds later I am back in my flow – on the bike, of course. After 06:54 minutes, I cross the finish line. If it continues like that, today might be the day…


I have a hard time on the transition sections, a real hard time. My legs are tired and the oppressive heat (it’s just about 30° C) takes its toll on me. For the first time, I push my bike for most of the uphills and quickly fall back to the end of the convoy. Luke, who is one place ahead of me in the overall standings, keeps me company. The two of us motivate each other, push each other and exchange tips. I start ahead of him at the timed stages. Luke follows. At the finish, I try to judge by the distance between us whether Luke caught up or not. Hard to tell, I have to wait and see. Stage 3 and 4 present themselves with many beautiful trail sections, fast turns, and quite a few flying tricks – but they are still torturing me with lengthy pedaling sections, most of the time immediately followed by a technical section, requiring maximum attention, focus, and strength. At times, I miss the ideal line – as it becomes more and more difficult to maintain full concentration.

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The legs hurt, the head buzzes and sweat is dripping from my forehead. After being one the few riders able to pedal the challenging uphill trails of the liaison stages during the last days, today is a day where I pretty much exclusively push my bike uphill. I have nothing left!

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Then, finally, Luke and I reach the last stage. Our “internal duel” approaches its culmination. Track marshals from previous stages have already gathered at the start of this last one, and photographers are here. All of them are waiting for us – today’s last but not least – to finally get going so that the volunteers themselves can also enjoy their last downhill. The locals at the start estimate about ten minutes of riding time – ten more minutes of full concentration and full physical exertion. Okay – let’s do it! Luke dashes out first – I wait a few minutes until my legs feel at least halfway decent.


The first uphill comes after only 100 meters: steep and sandy. Lactate shoots into my muscles, my legs are burning and my heart is pumping. Then, finally, into the downhill. The trail is fast, very fast indeed – and the slippery terrain makes turns unpredictable. I try to remain in my flow. Surprisingly, I manage very well – fun conquering the physical suffering. The trail leads into a gravel road, with no finish visible for far and wide. Now, it is time to pedal, pedal out all that’s left in my legs. After what felt like an eternity, I reach the finish – finally. Luke is sprawled out on the ground next to his bike. What a day.

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The time chips have a surprise in store for us. We finished two of the five timed stages in exactly the same time. Stage 4 and 5 are mine by a razor-thin lead. But Luke compensates on Stage 3, and so much so that he is 4 seconds and one spot ahead of me after 26 minutes of overall race time. This is what race competition is all about – it’s wicked!

Photos: Maxi Dickerhoff, Trans NZ

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