Saturday 22nd February 2020
Back in Rotorua for the weekend to race the final race of the Giant 2W Gravity Enduro series for 2019/20. We are travelling with Coach Andy and Jenn again, as well as Rocket kids Xavier and Harry. Learning from our frantic Friday last time, we have travelled up on Thursday night so we can get a good nights rest and a full day of practise in on Friday, with time to rest again before race day. There are quite a few young Rockets and New Plymouth riders doing the 2W and it was great to see so many club jerseys out on course.
All the stages have been released and come Friday morning its time to head out to remind ourselves of some old favourites; Billy T and Hot X, as well as check out some newer tracks like Taniwha Mushroom line and Whaki. Its practise day, so we opted to take the shuttle to the top of Hill road, saving the 40 min climb for race day. Practise went fairly well. I checked out some lines and features and made the decision to 100% commit to the B line and hope that it will be faster than hesitating trying to do something I’m not really confident on. Plus, the dark skies are threatening rain and the forecast has predicted thunderstorms, so the dry dusty conditions of Friday could be very different tomorrow. I had a little slip out on Old Exit and bruised my knees, but some ice and ibuprofen should sort that out. Overall, there is nothing I’m too worried about, I just have to not over think the roots and keep off the brakes and my body low with elbows bent and I should be good.
Saturday morning and its race day! I didn’t sleep very well last night and my legs are feeling pretty sore from yesterday, so not the greatest start to race morning. After a decent breakfast and some yum Nutella and banana on toast I was feeling better, making sure I was drinking plenty of water as the rain didn’t look like it was happening and it was going to be a hot one at 96% humidity.
All kitted up and ready to go, with new goggles bought after the dust-fest of practise yesterday, we headed to the start area and caught up with the other Rocket riders. As we gather near the start line, the temperature drops and the drizzle starts. I quite like riding in drizzle, so this is ok, but I’m not sure how it will affect the trails and if it means the thunderstorms are heading in earlier? We clock out and away we go, ready to settle in to the long climb up Hill road.
Stage B: Billy T – G Rock
There is a massive queue for Billy T, which gives us time to recover from our uphill sprint to beat the shuttle bus and being stuck behind even more riders. The drizzle is a bit heavier higher up and standing around we are getting a bit cold. Eventually we get the the front of the queue. Harry goes first, with me following him and Jenn behind. The roots are a little bit wet and I take the first section a little cautiously, before hitting a rooty section a bit awkwardly and realising that more momentum is better, so I hit the pedals and get up to speed. I feel like I am riding well and getting into it. The first stage is usually my worst, as it takes me a while to warm up and find my flow. Once in the open, the rain feels a bit heavier and I can hear heckling from the road. I keep my head down and keep pedalling. I commit to the easy line, rather than doing the infamous Billy T drop as it doesn’t mess with my head and keeps me rolling.
Keeping speed and pedalling across the fire road ready for the small climb into G rock. The swooping switchbacks can be difficult to maintain momentum on, so I keep off the brakes and pump where I can. I am catching up to Harry, but as soon as the trail points down again he is away. I glimpse another rider behind me and keep pushing on to the end. It was really dry and dusty for practise and only the top layer is damp, so there are still pockets of dust to loose a wheel into. First stage done, now back up Hill road for number 2.
Stage A: Mushroom – River – Whaki
This is the stage I am least confident on. Mushroom line is part of the National Downhill track, Taniwha and and practise its looking pretty rough and blown out. I just need to try and stay off the brakes and keep low. The first section, down Mushroom, I remember my lines from yesterday and it feels fairly smooth, River is fine as I avoid the gap jump and head into Whaki. My hands are starting to get sore from death gripping so hard, but the rain has dampened the dust down and added a layer of grip to the trail. The middle section of Whaki feels smooth again, but a brief pause at the junction with Sidewinder to let a rider past, and I loose my flow and momentum physically and mentally.
I am trying to keep my weight neutral so I can let bike move beneath me, but I feel like I’m going over the bars and have a bit of a moment, adding to the bruises on my knees from yesterday. I walk the next little steep bit, as another rider passes and I hop back on and try to regain focus. I keep pushing to the end to try and claw back some time, clocking out with quivering hands. Harry made it down in one piece and we have our snacks while we wait for Jenn.
Stage C: Hot X Buns
This is the stage I’ve been waiting for. Not only did I have a bad run on this track in my first 2W, but I’ve also been carrying around a Hot X Bun with me all morning and its getting soggy in my pocket. After a nice cruisy climb up the new trail, we are greeted by yet another massive queue of riders. Perfect time to get some pics for the ‘gram and eat that soggy Hot X Bun! I’m getting a bit sick of queueing, after our last race went so smoothly, but I guess everyone is the same and there is nothing we can do but wait.
Eventually we get to the start at 1:50pm. Race organisers were due to close this stage at 2pm, due to the weather, so we got there just in time. Same order, Harry, Me, Jenn and I am chasing down our little rocket. Back when I used to live in Rotorua, Hot X was on the list of trails to conquer and I’m pretty please with my progress to feel smooth racing down it and taking some of the more advanced lines.
I catch up to Harry just at the climb after the gully drop and yell at him to keep going. He is pretty quick on the downs and gets away from me again. I feel like I am riding well and its good trying to keep Harry in sight, as he has some good line choices. I miss my set up to go right and end up ploughing through the guts of a rooty section, but thankfully the Hail and its extra 170mm/160mm travel barely even notices it. I’m defiantly going quicker than I was in practice and make a few mistakes towards then end as I feel a bit braver. I make it down in one piece and clock out. Harry and I head over to the food tent and Jenn isn’t far behind. We cant stop for long, so stuff our faces and pockets, refill our bottles and set off again to the next queue.
Stage D: Old Exit
The final stage and the final queue of the day… or was it? 45 nervous minutes we waited, inching our way up along Old Exit trail to the start of Stage D. Will we make it back before the cut off time? Will we have time to do the bonus Joker track and be in to win some of the best spot prizes? Finally we can see the start gate. The drizzle has been on and off all day, but doesn’t seem to have dampened any ones spirits. We decide to save time and clock in straight after each other and train down. Harry clocks in, I repeat to myself ‘I am Speed’ for the final time and clock in, I hear Jenn’s beep not far behind me. ‘Just this last trail’. ‘Stay upright and hold it together’.
It was defiantly not my best run of the day and after my little crash in practise the day before I was a bit cautious on the corners. I feel like I relaxed a bit too much in the long queue and am not riding as good as I know I can, missing the smoother lines and faster lines from practise. There are people lined along the track taking photos and heckling, which really puts me off. I brake a bit hard and go nose heavy off a drop, but I somehow save it. I get off and hop over the log after a guy waved or moved or did something and I wasn’t sure if something had happened, so I braked and lost my momentum to clear the log, even though I did it fine in practise. Clocked out and we are done!
Harry is heading up Nursery road and I pedal to catch him up, with Jenn not far behind. Powering up the hill and tucking hard on the way down we do our best sprint finish, coming in with just 5 minutes to spare from our 4hr 45m time allowance. Phew!! Beers for the adults and a Sprite for Harry to wash down our post-race sausages and we are ready for a hot shower. Andy is coming to pick us up in the van, but first we need to rinse the bikes off, and guess what? There is a queue for that too!
Post race, I’m feeling a bit meh about it all. I think I’m improving, but I still have a long way to go before I’ll feel happy with my performance. The confident vibes from round 2 have somehow disappeared over the last few months. But I guess if I want to actually make progress with my mountain biking and eventually go full enduro, stepping up to 6 stage races, I will need to focus on mountain biking and leave the swimming and running for easy cross training days, which is how it started in the first place. So a bit to think on for next season…
Anyway, some silly mistakes and a nervous loss of confidence in the damp conditions saw me finish 8th/11 in my age group and 22nd/40 in the overall 4 stage women, so another solid mid-pack result.