I arrived in Rotorua ahead of EWS round 1 having been back on my mountain bike for only a week. I’d broken my hand 6 weeks earlier.
My training was geared towards rehab rather than race tuning and had involved plenty of stationary spinning, gym sessions, and a few road and gravel rides. With this in mind I begged a skills tune up session with MTB Skills Clinics’ Chris Mildon to jump start my technical riding.
My first couple of rides highlighted weak grip strength and a general lack of confidence. I hate riding with a risk averse mindset and inevitably I felt slow. The pressure was on to rediscover my mojo and with the help of old riding friends I started to push my pace. There’s nothing like trying to stay on a local pinners wheel for getting yourself back up to speed.
The stoke levels and speed increased and come race day I felt ready to give it a go. It wasn’t going to be easy at 64km and 2000m of climbing.
My new race steed, all ready to go: Fuji Auric kitted out with Fox, Shimano, Crankbrothers, Stages Power Meter and Hutchinson tyres (Sven Martin)
Two days of practice plus the main event make for a solid 3 days on the bike. Day 1 gave us a taster of the conditions to come…mudfest!
A wee downpour during the start of practice day 1. (Sven Martin)
The majority of racers were saving their legs for the big day and opting for one run of each stage and this was also my plan. Friday we practiced 5 stages with no shuttle assist and spent about 5 hours out in the mud. We rode the final 2 stages the next day with the sun out and the prospect of a dry race.
Conditions improved during day 2 of practice (Sven Martin)
Race day arrived and ominous, dark, clouds surrounded the hill. As we made our way to the stages we got our first downpour.
As I dropped into Stage 1, Te Rua, I wasn't sure what to expect. It soon became clear there was little grip to had in a fresh layer of slime! Tricky, narrow and off camber with a couple of heckler mustering points.
Getting low I managed to roll through the double drop which resulted in spectacular crashes for a few. (Check out Jared Graves head butting the tree in the EWS round up video!) (Jamie Nicoll)
This was a wild way to start the day but I puzzled my down and got away without crashing.
Stage 2 Tihi into Billy T was now completely under water and running slow and physical. Full gas for 10 minutes+ I had to pace it to manage the oxygen debt and felt down on power which reflected in my stage result-22nd!
,Muddy chutes in the jungle (Sven Martin)
Stage 3 ‘Hatu Patu’ into ‘Dammit Janet’ is carpeted in native tree roots, with a few awkward uphill pinches. I was going ok dabbing here and there until I gobbed it on some roots. I tried to get back on, struggling to stand in the off camber slime and fell over again. I decided I’d better start running! This didn’t go well either so third time lucky, back on the bike, I managed to stay on track. The double drop into the tight finishing turn was claiming victims all day long and I was chuffed to land out of control but somehow managed to save it. I got some high fives for my sketchy moves!
Hatu Patus’ mass of roots (Sven Martin)
Stage 4 Kungfu Walrus was barely recognisable with blown trail below every off camber section and a gravel road that resembled freshly poured sticky concrete. My problem solving seemed to be improving though and I came away with 10th.
The climb to stage 5 Frankenfurter- Riff Raff- Rocky Horror was a long one and dehydration and fatigue were making themselves felt. A number of the womens’ field failed to make their start time.
The top section was exposed and weather beaten with some decent hucks before becoming tight and narrow in the woods. I managed to stay on my bike and felt I had some flow but in Rocky Horror I got owned by a mud covered boulder and went out the front door. I finished the stage with one brake lever in the air and my saddle at 45 degrees. This could be a good set up as I finished 10th place again!
Disappearing into ruts was a feature of race day (Sven Martin)
With one stage left to run the number of girls still left in the race seemed to have halved. We had a record number of DNFs from mechanicals and missing timing cut offs. It felt like a big achievement to get to this point and I knew my tank was near empty.
In the end I dropped from 10th to 13th place over the last 2 stages, however I am stoked to have made it round the course and stayed injury free. It was great to back racing EWS and share some mad runs with new and old friends.
Now I am fired up to keep building for Tasmania.