Yeti Trans New Zealand | Day 4 – A Day in the Desert
Day four of the Yeti Trans New Zealand Enduro was staged in Alexandra, about an hour and a half drive from Queenstown. Alexandra is like no other place in New Zealand, it is desert like, dusty, rocky, barren and hot. Boy, it was hot, by the end of five stages we felt like we had been cooked, roasted and hung out to dry!
Alexandra or Alex to the locals is in an area of New Zealand called Otago. Otago is most commonly known for its vineyards and fruit growing and for its severe temperatures! It’s pretty hot and dry in Alex with the lowest rainfall of the whole country. It sees about 12 inches of rain a year apparently, sounds like a mountain bikers dream! After a parched summer with temperatures hitting 40 degrees Alex will then see a freezing cold and frosty winter. The heat in Alex mean that this is dusty trail riding nearly all summer long. Aside from the dust this area is super rocky. Not loose rock though, these are granite boulder fields set in rolling hills rather than a steep mountain setting. The landscape is arid and harsh, it looks as if nothing can grow or thrive at all, even though this area is commonly used for sheep farming. Alex is striking in a different way to the areas we have seen for far in New Zealand. It’s a bare landscape with just the odd trees dotting the hillside and sparse low lying bush.
The memorable thing about the riding in Alex other than the rocks is the smell. Completely covering the ground you ride on is wild thyme, last time we rode there our tyres and car smelled of the stuff for at least a week! Breathing hard racing down a stage, you can taste the thyme after a while! The trails in Alex are incredible! The rocks and dust produce an interesting mix of loose flat corners and the need for precision engineering over the rock rollers.
The trails are all built on private land where Phil from the local bike shop, Altitude Bikes, has an agreement with the local landowners giving him permission to get out there with a spade! Phil and other locals have created some of the most fun and exciting trails. They have linked flowing narrow singletrack and used the boulder fields with such ingenuity to make insane rocky trail features that are awesome fun to ride! Rolling in towards a rock section off the dusty single track they will most likely be a pink arrow and some dots pointing out the best and sometimes only route down. At your peril ignore the dots, you will most likely find yourself hucking to flat on a rock bed and avoiding the rollable line. These sections can be steep, have steps or off camber but always super grippy.
This makes for brilliant riding and these trails are great enduro stages. There is plenty of pedalling, usually followed by a flat out straight or a sweet corner to reward you for your efforts. In this heat they will be considerable efforts as well! After that straight, where you are as close to you own personal Mach 10 as you dare, rocks will loom from the horizon and grab your attention. You need to be on the ball and reading the trail quickly to make the right decisions, remember take a tyre 20cm from that dotted line and your day may well be over unceremoniously early!
The special thing about Alex is that as the shrubs are so low lying you can literally see for miles and miles. That certainly has its benefits when racing blind, I found myself looking out for the stage end from near to a kilometre away – that was a painful stage where I seemed to be mashing the cranks non-stop! I won’t go into each stage piece by piece as the landscape was so similar you may get a bit tired of hearing rock this, dust that but that no way means that Alex was boring or repetitive. Day four was another long day in the saddle, we covered 20 miles and climbed over 1100m in 25 degrees plus heat, with no place to hide from the sun in New Zealand’s desert.
A day in Alex with its technical climbs made a difference to the fire road slog which has become somewhat synonymous with enduro races. The course was carefully devised with the conditions in mind, over the day we passed the feed station three times for much needed replenishment of water and snacks. The volunteers and marshals found creative ways to keep riders cool on course – see if you can guess by the photos!
The five stages took a majority of racers about 4 and a half hours to complete, the beer at the Monteith’s bar post-race did not come quickly enough! As we all piled into the beer garden, filling it with thousands of pounds worth of bikes, everyone was satisfied with a great days riding over this awesome terrain. Alex gained one hundred more fans today I’m sure. This place is one of the best days riding on the South Island, you must go if you are in New Zealand, go to Altitude Bikes and ask a local to show you round.
Results for the day were a little bit skewed today as there were a few locals razzing round with timing chips attached to their arms! Needless to say they were pretty rapid and up there with the fast boy and girls in each category. The need to know information is that the fastest man on the hill (or rock) today was Deon Baker, he went out all guns blazing intent to make up some of the two minutes lost yesterday. Second fastest was Zac Williams and in third place Stu Dickson. Things have been mixed up at the top! What this does to the collective times no-one knows yet. For the female category it stays as Raewyn Morrison, Amy Pryse-Phillips and then me, Raewyn is out front by a considerable margin and I think she could clean up with a win on every stage over the 5 days!
The last day of the enduro is now upon us, it will be spent in and around Queenstown and the Skyline gondola. After an immense effort today I hope that we get on that gondola!
Words: Rachel Gurney Photos: Yeti Trans NZ