27 Feb 2018

One hundred and thirty racers entered the enchanting realm of the 2018 Yeti Trans NZ presented by Shimano- where adults are transported to a fantasy world to shred on mythical loam, pedal from stage to stage, only to find aid stations magically stocked with Tim-Tams and Turkish Delights in the middle of nowhere, and cold beer waiting at the finish line.

Climbs are rewarded with breathtaking panoramic views and steep descents that dive back into dark native beech forests below the tree line. This is a place most of us dream of.

In this first report, we’ll view Days 1 & 2 from the perspective of the foreigner whose first impressions of New Zealand begin in Craigieburn Forest Park. Sixty-eight percent of the racers travelled across a major ocean or sea to experience the fabled adventures of the Trans NZ.


Jump on board with Shimano Australia rider James ‘Cannonball’ Hall for a blind race run at the Trans NZ Enduro. We’ll be bringing you a full video wrap up soon, following the chaos of the Shimano team as they take on five days of racing across New Zealand’s South Island.


Shimano Australia rider Michael Ronning leads 40+ category after two days.
James Hall the Cannonball!

Paul Van Der Ploeg through the tussock.

“We came and found a paradise for mountain biking,” said Vincent Gondouin (Nouméa, NCL) Master Men 40+. Gondouin and six friends sailed over the Tasman Sea to attend the event. Every year a group of different riders makes the trek from New Caledonia. They bring home stories and inspire a new group to attend the following year.

Karen Forster (Brisbane, AUS) Master Women 40+ entered the Trans NZ for her first enduro race. She attended the event with her husband and wanted to get comfortable being uncomfortable. “This was a wedding anniversary present to ourselves. Since the first 21 years were not hard enough, we thought, let’s do something challenging like an enduro.”

“Today scared me, but in a good way. Stage 1 down Luge was my favourite once I got through the first drop-in. It’s given me a different perspective of what I’m capable riding. My goal is to make it through the week and keep the blood on the inside.”

The first day of racing kept riders on course between 4.5 – 8 hours, making it the longest of the week. For those coming from the Northern Hemisphere, it was a rude awakening over the course of 32 kilometres, 1585 meters of climbing and 1866 meters of descending.

Levi Brown (Housatonic, Mass.) Open Men came to the Trans NZ in 2017, not knowing a soul. The long days on the bike were punishing, but he returned for the second year in a row to measure his progress from the previous year. “I made the decision to ride my bike more over the past year after coming to New Zealand last year,” Brown said. “The trails and scenery in Craigieburn are absurdly mind-blowing. After logging some hours on the trainer this winter, it felt good to be stronger and smoother compared to last year and to ride more of the track on Stage 4. However, my hands were not quite ready for a long day of riding rough trails.”

The wind picked up later in the afternoon creating chaotic conditions on the transition to Stages 3 and 4 and at the top of Stage 5. As racers beeped into the start gate, they battled biblical winds, some being blown off their bikes on the first few turns.

The forecasted storm moved in on Sunday evening with increasing squalls and precipitation throughout the night. Racers woke up to gloomy skies and the prospect of slippery tracks for Day 2. What is historically a light of racing, became an extended mission through mud and trudging up soggy trails. Time splits increased between those who are comfortable in greasy conditions and those who succumb to the kiss of death when they touch their brakes in angst.

“Today was off the chart – it was everything that I had never ridden on a bike,” said Justine Powell (Wollongong, AUS) Master Women 40+. “The first stage was just a mud shoot the whole way down. At the end of Stage 1, I was thinking about pulling out, but I knew I should carry on. Stage 2 was wet, root, muddy with extreme drop-offs on the side. I’m sure in normal conditions, it would feel a lot less insane.”

It wouldn’t be a proper New Zealand experience without sheep. A large herd was relocated out of Flock Hill Station as vans were loaded, creating a delay for half of the field to begin their journey. After racers pummeled their drivetrains in the first two stages, Stage 3 was cancelled due to the same flock overtaking the track. On Stage 4, riders were warned to keep their

“The sheep were a classic New Zealand touch to the day, said Holly Borowski (Fort Collins, Colo.) Open Women. “I really wanted to see experience New Zealand, and so far, the variety – huge mountains, beautiful countryside, and diverse trails – has felt like visiting several countries in one. Coming from Colorado, my favourite has been Day 1, Stage 3 – Cuckoo Creek. We found real loam and there were enough slick roots to keep you out of your element, but momentum could be found out of the corners to keep it fun.”

It wouldn’t be a race without results. After two days, the competition increases between the top contenders in each category.

Open Men

1.     Jonas Meier 44:05

2.     Jerome Clementz 44:09

3.     Charlie Murray 44:59

4.     Paul van der Ploeg 46:00

5.     Brady Stone 46:10

Open Women

1.     Emily Slaco 55:29

2.     Renee Wilson 55:33

3.     Harriet Beaven 59:30

4.     Sarah Rawley 63:09

5.     Alice Hawkins 63:56

 

Master Men 40+

1.     Michael Ronning 49:05

2.     Christian Wingate 49:14

3.     Kashi Leuchs 50:54

4.     John Jacob 51:01

5.     Matt Harrington 51:41

 

Master Women 40+

1.     Anna Hamden-Taylor 66:40

2.     April Bedford 74:10

3.     Elizabeth Clement 75:46

4.     Nicole Goebel 89:31

5.     Robyn Hawkins 96:50

We’ll catch up with the Pros at the end of the week after the final day of racing in Queenstown, NZL to convey the tales of racing at the top. Days 3 & 4 may turn the tides when local knowledge will play a role in line selection, commitment and speed. Racers will find themselves in a completely new backdrop on Day 3, with remarkable views, the longest stage, and even steeper descents.

The Yeti Trans NZ will be posting regular updates on Facebook and Instagram throughout the week, and video recaps on Vimeo. Hashtag your photos #transnzenduro to make their way onto the live stream of the Trans NZ’s Media HQ. For more information email [email protected] or visit www.transnz.com.

All Photos: Shimano Australia / Damian Breach