Yeti Trans New Zealand | Day 1 – What a way to start an enduro!
Day one of the Yeti Trans New Zealand has to be one of the wettest days I have raced, ever! Considering we are in Craigieburn, in the South Island in New Zealand and I come from the UK, not usually thought of as a dry place, that’s no mean feat! Day one of this multi day enduro was the most fun I have had on my bike and that’s not just the most fun I have had in the rain, it’s the most fun – period.
After a three month drought in this area of New Zealand, the weather gods decided to make amends to this just to coincide with the start of the Yeti Trans NZ. The race began, today, Saturday 7th March and prior to the race the weather had already made itself heard. As riders from all over the world were arriving in Christchurch it was pouring with rain and cold. A distant cry from the 25 degrees plus the area had seen during the previous week. Nothing could dampen the spirits of over 100 riders and the crew as they gathered together for a first night dinner and race briefing, the sun even made an appearance to brighten the occasion further. Race organiser, Megan Rose, briefed us letting us know what was in store for the first day racing.
Condensed down the briefing equated to – a fun day on the bike, nothing too technical, but beware of the edges! Oh, and the weather will play a part for sure! Anticipation filled the air the prior to five days of riding. This was going to be one amazing week, filled with the best riding the South Island has to offer with one hundred other like-minded mountain bikers. With the race element thrown in, it makes for an exciting week in anyone’s books, certainly in mine!
I think I can speak for most riders when I say I had a restless night’s sleep, my thoughts and dreams consumed by the radar picture of the weather front making its way towards us. A weather front so big and bad that another race due to run consecutively with ours had cancelled! Due to the amount of rain due to fall Megan altered to route slightly making what would be a cold, hard day shorter and also being sympathetic to some trails that had recently been worked on which wouldn’t appreciate 100 racers Minions and Magic Mary’s rolling over them in the mud! Soon after waking on the morning of day one it began raining and it didn’t let up, torrential rain and a reported 3 degrees in temperature at the top of stage four, it was set to be an interesting day to say the least. A sense of foreboding covered the camp as riders readied themselves for the day.
Rain pounded down, pouring off gazebos, rushing out of drainpipes with oppressive clouds shrouding the mountains above us. Just to fill you in, the area of Craigieburn and Castle Hill is striking. It is stark and intimidating with bare hill faces and large scree fields more commonly used for skiing in the winter. It is a landscape of vast proportions, immensely beautiful and glorious bathed in sunshine, our photography probably won’t show this today, you’ll have to take my word for it! The photos, despite the rain, will undoubtedly show the Craigieburn trails as they always are entertaining, weaving through native forest, a gradual descent to each creek producing ear splitting grins!
At this stage in the day, as we all loaded bikes onto trailers taking us to the race start and the first climb of the day there was the feeling that the day could go either way. Riding in the rain could be awesome fun, riding tracks so saturated they are grippy or it could be a massive muddy slog, at this point who knew? The first climb of the day was a short one on single track taking us up to Helicopter Hill at an exposed 1262m above sea level. After a short huddle together amongst the tussocks of grass the first stage descended swiftly, thankfully, off this peak down into the cover of the forest and onto a trail commonly known to bikers as ‘The Luge’. This trail is one of the most rewarding and enjoyable tracks I have ever ridden and is an absolute blast to race down. It was wet, in fact there was a small stream running a groove down the middle but it was a hoot! The trail is root ridden, enough to keep you on your toes but nothing to scare, it was a game of who dares hold the highest line and ‘fingers crossed’ moments to see if hops and jumps over the roots paid off of if you paid in consequences.
A short climb on from the end of stage one, stage two was soon upon us on the ‘Dracophyllum Flat Track’. This trail usually forms part of a long trail traversing the mountains surrounding Craigieburn and Castle Hill, of which ‘The Luge’ is also a part. Many Kiwi bikers can be seen here every weekend taking on this 40km loop, having experienced it I can say with clarity that this is one of the best rides that New Zealand has to offer. Stage two had many of the same features as Stage one, mainly speaking – a stream down the middle and plenty of tree roots. This stage had slightly less gradient than stage one and more pedalling was needed to keep the speed up. There were some sneaky switchbacks near the end of the trail though which I am sure caught some riders out as they were keen on keeping the speed they had just created!
By then end of stage two there could not have been a single rider who was not completely drenched, spirits were high though, the trails made sure of that! I was glad of a decent Mudhugger mudguard and Sealskinz waterproof socks making sure I was as warm and as has good vision as humanly possible! Plenty of jealous Kiwis looked on with comments such as “we don’t usually ride in the rain!” By this point I had settled into a good place in the group I was cycling with and we had managed to self-seed ourselves pretty well. I was loving riding my Juliana Roubion, she’s my long term test bike for ENDURO Magazine and I have set this bike up to be made for races like this. I felt I was pedalling efficiently to the top of the trail, enjoying the weight of the bike, or lack of it, and feeling confident in the geometry to push on down the steeper sections when in the stages.
A longer transition look us up over the hill, a liaison punctuating the ‘Dracophyllum Flat Track’ meaning we weren’t subjected to racing uphill (result)! The final part of this track took us down to the lunch stop, feed station and a well-deserved shuttle back down the road towards stages 4 and 5. The rain, although ever present was easing off slightly now and I could detect brightening in the air. I changed into fresh gloves and jersey before heading out on the 45 minute climb to the top of a trail called ‘The Edge’. This is just as it says on this tin – the edge of scree slopes with a lot of exposure, deemed too dangerous to race down. The stage started about halfway down this trail, after the gnarliest and most exposed parts were behind us. By now the rain had just about stopped, in fact I did see glimpses of sunlight through the trees as I made my way down the hardest stage of the day.
This trail still had plenty of track far too close to the edge for my liking, I rode cautiously unsure of what exactly lay around each corner with the consequences far too high if mistakes were to be made, it was a long way down! Without the rain, the trails were quickly becoming rutted and sloppy. I was about the tenth rider down the trail and I found myself feeling increasingly sorry for the riders coming down behind me – the conditions would be so much worse. A short freewheel down the fire road saw us at the final stage of the day, a short, sweet switchback track to the main road opposite our base at Flock Hill Lodge. With the sun now out in full force this track was to become slicker and slicker as riders raced down to the line.
After both my bike and I had been hosed down it was a pretty good feeling to sit in the warmth of the sun with a beer from the ‘honesty bar’ and watch the rest of the riders roll back down to the finish line and hand their timing chips in.
You’ll be pleased to know that after the trepidation of the morning the day unfolded whilst we rode amazing trails, yes they were wet and sometimes it was a bit like swimming but there was grip and it was incredibly fun. It was satisfying riding in grim weather as we had and getting out the other side relatively unscathed. From the looks on the other competitors faces I knew they felt the same, I think every rider finished the day and all this with only one injury I have head of where fingers met a tree unexpectedly! This was an awesome way to start and enduro, amazing trails, great atmosphere and grit and determination in the bucket load from both competitors and volunteers (thanks guys).
Click here for the full results
With the results in for the women it’s Kiwi, Raewyn Morrison out in front with a time of 26 minutes 8 seconds, followed by Amy Pryse-Phillips then yours truly in third. For the men Canadian Stu Dickson was the fastest man on the hill with a time over the five stages of 22:43, Deon Baker lies second with a time of 22:50 and in third after day one is Zac Williams in 23:24. Tomorrow we are off to Mount Hutt, a completely different kettle of fish. The weather gods promise showers and sun, this mixed with the clay base of the land we will be riding on will no doubt produce another exciting day!
Words:Rachael Gurney Photos:Yeti Trans NZ