2019 Yeti Trans NZ Enduro presented by Shimano - Days 1 & 2
Days 1 and 2 and of the Yeti Trans NZ presented by Shimano dropped racers straight into a scene out of Narnia. Snow-capped peaks exaggerated the rugged Canterbury High Country where mythical trails in dark beech forests awaited racers to begin their six-day journey.
With 50mm of rain falling overnight, a last-minute decision was made to alter the traditional first day’s course to utilize only trails that could withstand the heavy precipitation and footprint of the event. In Craigieburn, there is no shortage of epic terrain and Megan Rose, founder and ladyboss of the Trans NZ, created a mashup of Days 1 & 2 to give everyone a proper kiwi Haere Mai (welcome).
“We came into it knowing what the weather was going to do, so we created a bunch of plans. But they kept evolving based on the everchanging conditions,” Rose said. “We made the call at 8 a.m. on Day 1 what was going to roll. It ended being a shorter day to keep everyone from freezing. But the whole crew came back smiling and ready for another day of racing.”
Stage 1 down Luge awoke the senses and tactile sensation of suspension moving through slippery roots down twisting singletrack in the native bush.
“It was surprisingly grippy, and once you trusted your tires, it became as fast as you wanted it to be. I said hello to a tree and taco’d my front wheel a bit,” said Jasmin Swanson (Squamish, B.C.) Open Women, who returned to the Trans NZ after racing her first enduro stage race in 2018.
For some, the wet conditions were a rude awakening – learning how to let go of the front brake and stay light over off-camber roots. For others, the first stage sparked the exhilaration that accompanies riding on the brink of control.
“One out of eight people had a smile on their face, and four out of eight people had a look of sheer terror. There was mayhem and carnage out there, but no one got hurt,” said Dave Cohen (Charlotte, VT) lead medic. “Our advice for staying safe out there – be steady, smooth, look ahead and not where the medics are standing.”
Instead of continuing to Cheeseman via Dracophyllum Flat, riders were rerouted to ascend to the base area of Craigieburn Ski Field for Stage 2 along the Edge Track. The plummeting temperatures and snowline created a brief flurry and bout of seasonal confusion at 1,200 meters.
“Stage 2 was everything I had never experienced. I have never ridden in the snow, let alone mud, at high elevations, and with so much exposure,” said Isaiah Minnear (Geraldine, NZL) Open Men. “There were some pretty wild drops in the middle of the stage that led you straight into a loose, slippery runout. I’d love to hit it dry.”
After fingertips regained feeling and the screaming barfies ceased at the bottom of the 9-13 minutes stage, racers rolled through two short stages on Coal Pit Spur to finish at Flock Hill Station. Emerson’s craft beer floated around the spicket while racers tended to bike admin in preparation for the following day – not knowing whether or not they’d be racing on Day 2.
Rose sent locals out on Sunday evening to check on the tracks in contention for Day 2. The reports came back positive. Unless there was an absolute deluge overnight, Rose’s plan was to push racers onto the best two tracks in the area intended for Day 1 – Cheeseman DH aka Cockayne Alley and Cuckoo Creek aka… you’ll have to ask a local.
Day 2 wouldn’t have been possible without Sam Moore and James Hundborg from Forest Lodge opening their doors and firing up the generators for race operations to base out of. Blue skies peaked out of the misty, moody cloud cover and despite the descending snowline from the evening’s, it was game on.
The hour-long 400m climb up the access road of Cheeseman Ski Field got racers warmed up for the most full-on stage thus far, 8-12 minutes of arm-pumping descending.
“That track is wild from top to bottom - from not knowing where you’re going in between the tall grass, to diving into the slick forest, and opening it up on the climbs to get your heart racing, and a ripping fast descent to the finish,” said Jayme Dawson (Gold Coast, AUS) Open Men. “We didn’t do the A Line straight down the hill; they sent us down the B Line. I’d hate to see what the A Line looks like because that was the most technical riding I have done in my whole life.”
Before jumping in vans to make the 525-kilometer trek form Craigieburn to Queenstown, racers rode back up the access road one more time to drop into Stage 2. Originally built by locals, Cuckoo Creek was adopted by DOC (Department of Conservation) a few years prior, granting access to race down the trail.
“Stage 2 was awesome and totally unexpected. At the top, I was like, what is a bombhole? Three corners in, ‘Oh that’s a bombhole’,” said Chloe Quilliam (Isle of Mann, GBR) Open Women. “All of this rain makes me feel right at home, although I can’t say that I ride all that much in the wet. I signed up a week and a half ago after having a few beers with some mates who convinced me to give it a go.”
The results are stacking in after the first two days of racing. Local guest rider, Charlie Murray (Christchurch, NZL) put a significant margin of 2 minutes and 19 seconds into the rest of the Open Men’s field in between an impromptu photo shoots with the media squids and grabbing a pick to do some trail work after the last racer crossed the finish line.
The battle royale will continue in a tight race in Open Men, Open Women and Master Men 40+ contending for all six days. With vans, buses, and trailers loaded to the hilt, the Trans NZ circus picked up and departed the Canterbury High Country to travel through the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Reserve and into Central Otago to base out of for the next four days. The erratic weather forecast will continue to keep everyone on their toes. Snow, rain, shine or heat wave – the Trans NZ will carry on.
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