The race has been sponsored by Santa Cruz bikes since its inception four years ago and is now run by mtb dream-team Sven and Anka Martin. Oh, and there’s a helicopter too....
Day Two: dominos two and three
Next morning, there was vehicle logistics to sort out with our gracious hosts Hamish and Barb, who had extra-graciously offered to shuttle Thomas’ vehicle around. Once at the staging point, coffees were consumed and cow-shit was walked around before race-shuttle vehicles arrived to take us up to Opiri Saddle. What a stunning view! The views out to Pelorus Sound across some of New Zealand’s pristine bush are pretty wicked. Bob, with the crocheted suit, started us off and it was much like I remembered it from a few years back - mainly long fast straight and wavy sections with just a few tight corners; not too steep, narrow in some spots, and pedaly in other places. About halfway down I realised that I could probably pedal a bit more. So I did and ended up working pretty hard for the last half of the 17-minute stage. Straight out of the van and into a 17-minute sprint down to the sea: firm but fair.
NZ Enduro Genesis and the rock-drop
I cruised along the transition stage, which is a pretty decent hour or so singletrack sidle, then more consistently climbing over some very rooty track. I happened to ride parts of it with Ian Goldschmidt, who’d started the NZ Enduro four years ago. Ian explained: “After running the Coppermine Epic for a long time, I figured New Zealand riders were ready for a wilderness-based Enduro event like this and while it’s not simple to make an event like this work, with DOC’s help, we actually managed to put it all together.” I also took the opportunity to quiz Ian at length about ‘the rock drop’ Sven had warned us about during the briefing. I thought I remembered it from the only time previous I’d ridden the track and thinking “this track is awesome, but I wouldn’t want to race it, because of things like that drop. If you get that wrong you could hurt yourself and you’re a long ways from anywhere”.
After the starter said “you can go whenever you’re ready” I was off, with only that rock-drop in my mind. In no time at all there it was. I rode it and thought “eh, was that it? What was I on about?!” Then the trail got consistently really rocky for ages and I remembered it was all the stuff after the drop that I had actually remembered. I got off a couple of times in the interests of preserving my teeth, but otherwise rode the insanely rooty sections well enough. At least that’s what I thought until fellow Wellingtonian, Jonny Waghorn, flew past me with another rider that I didn’t recognise. Ugh. I know Jonny is faster than me, but it’s never awesome being passed. Still, I rode my own race and kept an OK pace. The trail then got flat and smooth and I raised my seat and pedalled hard out of all the corners in order to save a few seconds. Then pedalled hard around two corners in a row in order to save a couple more seconds. Then I broke my ankle.
I’m on a boat
To break my ankle, first I had to pedal around a grassy flat corner, which was actually a greasy-mossy flat corner, lose both wheels from under me instantaneously, then come down sitting on my foot that happened to be tucked underneath me, probably still pedalling, and ride my foot like a bony sled across the moss at 35kmh for a good few metres. Yes, it hurt. And yes, I got straight back on my bike and tried to stand up on the pedals. “Nope, sit down!”. So I stood up again and promptly sat back down. I rubbed my shin vigorously for 10 seconds as I rolled along thinking “that’ll warm the muscles up” and stood up on the pedals and pumped. That was a big mistake so I sat down again, rolling to the stage’s finish line only a couple of minutes of flat corners away, but I didn’t pedal or save any more seconds around the rest of them. After that, I sat down. My ankle swelled up bigtime. With assistance of Ben, Luke, and Declan, along with other riders I didn’t know, and especially Graeme, the super-medic, I rode out one-footed to the lunch spot. From there, I took a ferry out to Havelock with another busted rider and the rider of a busted bike, pretty disappointed. At least once I got back from hospital around 10:00pm that night, Thomas felt sorry for me and gave me the double bed, while he took the lounge. While it certainly changed my plans to write about the event, luckily I could hand over to fellow Wellingtonian Jono Baddiley to cover the rest for me…
Jono explains the race stages following the lunch-stop of day 2: “The ride up to Stage 5 is not too bad - it’s in regenerating scrub, the heat of the day is getting towards complete, and your stomach is full from the second helping of burger at lunch. Towards the top, the gradient isn’t too steep, and the beech forest was carpeted with rata blossoms. Stage 5 starts about the average width of your average hand-built trail; just enough length to get up to speed, around a corner, and straight into a high-line narrow enough to making clipping your handlebars and tumbling down the steep bank a real possibility. After the 2017 edition encountered heavy rain all day, the trail conditions were all-time. Enough to give me the confidence to feel comfortable, stick the high lines, and generally feel relaxed. Which probably contributed to breaking my little finger.
Fortunately, pinkies aren’t entirely necessary race equipment, so the next stage and a half flew past. Stage 6 is shorter; a reasonably smooth walking track, which begs going faster than the corners it has really allows for. The last one of which, a flat, dusty switchback with minimal warning, leads to a sweeping grassy corner sprint to the finish, where one of Nelson’s finest emergency department doctors (riding the race as a medic) gave me a local anaesthetic, bent my finger back into shape, and told me I would be fine to race day 3 (on looking at the X-Ray, the doctor at Wairau Base Hospital suggested otherwise). So there was nothing left to do but share stories about the day with friends as they came across the finish, grab a cold drink, and catch a water taxi back to Havelock before heading to Blenheim Hospital to spend the early evening with the rest of the Wellington Master 40 ACC racing team.”
Enter Ben Wilde: Ben is another of Wellington’s old-man mountain biking fixtures and Trail Fund spokesperson). Ben describes Stage 8. “The main Wakamarina descent was for me easily one of the best stages of the weekend. Long but less demanding physically than the flatter, more technical stages of Nydia, with zero climbing (always a plus) and with enough going on to keep you on your toes (or over the bars if you don't pay attention). But fun as it was, it was also one of my more conservative runs of the weekend having just seen Barrie winched off the hill before dropping in. Nothing quite like seeing a mate pulled up into the whirlybird to settle things down.”
Although Ben didn’t crash out and did finish the race, I asked Jonty to take us through to the finish line: “Stage 9 is short and relatively inconsequential to the overall standings. I like this stage because it combines high speeds with some technical challenges, which if negotiated well allow you to carry speed into the next section. I'm not such a fan of the previous stage eight down the long Wakamarina descent, I tend to get a bit lost up top, then frustrated by my seeming inability to negotiate at speed the multitude of tight corners on the lower half of the course. Maybe I need to do a skills clinic? Whereas the best descriptor of stage nine would be to that of being fired out of a cannon...”
So there you have it: three days, nine stages, from start to finish, though not all of us finished. Of course, it wasn’t just old-dudes racing. Along with a lot of riders just like us, looking to beat their mates, or at least minimise the extent of their losses, the pros were out there too, clocking up crazy-fast times. In the end, Frenchman Jerome Clementz took the win pretty convincingly, with Sam Shaw and Joe Nation just a second apart for second and third. Canadian Emily Slacco took out the women’s race, with semi-local Harriet Harper and the USA’s Uriell Carlson chasing.
Dave Carlyon: To sum up, at the end of the race me and at least half of the Welly Masters riders were injured and had been to hospital, but would we all do it again? Hell yes! After all it is called an adventure race...
Jono: The thing that is special about the NZ Enduro — apart from the exquisite organisation from Sven and Anna Martin, and the bag full of goodies that we all receive at registration, and the helicopter ride up to stage 7 on day 3 — is the sense of adventure. Sure, it’s racing. Yet it feels more like an afternoon out chasing your friends down the hills. Marlborough is a special part of the country to ride in, and the NZ Enduro rides some of the best trails on offer. I’ve raced it 4 years now, and I can’t wait for 2019.
Barrie: The event itself has a super-relaxed vibe for a start and the tracks are awesome. But I reckon the best races are run by racers, and Sven and Anka definitely know how to race bikes. Everything runs super smooth, the sign-on goodie bag has quickly become the stuff of legend. B-Rad is there to fix your bike for free whether your name is Blogs or Clementz. I can’t say enough about the medical staff and volunteers, they're all awesome, who doesn't love starting a stage with sweet tunes and a disco ball?!
Ben: Overall, what strikes me about the event is the sheer complexity of the logistics and how well it runs despite that. Day two, in particular, has to be tough to make work and yet from the competitor point of view it's seamless, comes with a fancy lunch in the middle, and if you're fast enough down a beer at the end. And when things do go wrong there's a bunch of people around you to figure it out along with two fully qualified ER doctors out there who are slowly getting to know most of the Wellington Masters field on a first vein basis.”
Jonty: In my dotage, these types of multi day wilderness Enduro events are my favoured type of racing. This event in particular being one of, if not, the best. The combination of beautiful scenery, sweet natural techy, rooty and rocky single track, low key relaxed vibe, plenty of good folks from around the country and very well organised. Day two through the Nydia track is always the stand out for me. It is very rare that you get to race your bike in that type of terrain. Slowing down and reading the terrain, so as not to stall or get off your bike results in a fast time, especially on stage 4.
Carl: The guys have summed up nicely the specialness of the NZ Enduro. If you’re thinking about doing the race, then follow the event on Facebook because when entries go up for sale, they sell out immediately. I should add that while some of us old fools did make a bit of a hash of it, don’t be put off by our mistakes! The NZ Enduro is a physical event with some technically challenging riding, but the vast majority of the 140 racers came through unscathed. I’ll see you there next year…
Special mention to Jonny, Jonty, Luke, Leif, Caleb and Ben for being the Wellington masters who didn’t play dominos with us, held it together, and finished the event in one piece (or at least with just some stitches holding the pieces together).
Special thanks to Medic-Graeme, who shepherded me out of stage 2. And also to Ben, Jono Luke, Declan and all the other guys who pushed me when it got too steep for me to ride out from Stage 4.
Special thanks to Barb for driving me to Blenheim hospital and to Dave and Jono for driving me back (they were already at the hospital anyway, but still…)
Special thanks to Jonty and Thomas for driving (not you Jonty) and arranging logistics and relinquishing the double bed once I broke my ankle.
Special thanks to Hamish and Barb for putting me up and running around when I couldn’t.
Special thanks to Sven and Anka for running such a great event.
Words:Carl Patton and Dave Carlyon and Jono Baddiley and Barrie Wallington and Ben Wilde and Jonty Richie
Photography: Boris Beyer, Duncan Philpott, Digby Shaw and Sven Martin