N-Duro Winter Series Race 1 report

By Elliot Pearce

The N-Duro winter races are one of those constants that I always look forward to.  Big loops winding through the famous Redwoods and a good turnout from the North  Island racers means that it is great way to measure yourself over the winter time. That, and this year  was the first year that I didn’t have the Secondary School winter races to keep me motivated meant that the anticipation for this race was especially high. I felt in good form, as evidenced by my many sprint victories in the Friday morning staff rides, but when in comes down to it racing is always the best test of form.

I had decided to do the 45km race, so I was a tad disappointed when the word came out that it was ‘only’ 42km, however, when the course came out I was a tad relieved as there was definitely no let up in this track.  With 5 hill climbs and about 1500 metres of climbing there was no hiding at all.  On the bright side, with 1500m of climbing comes 1500m of descent, so it wasn’t all bad.

The day of the race came and after emerging from our incredibly warm motel we realized that it was cold as expected so leg warmers and thermals went on.  As always I left it till the last minute to get changed and warm up so I sat cold through the briefing and my only warm up ended up being the sprint back to the ute to get a full water bottle.  After my ‘warm up’ I went back to the start line to find myself at the back and off to the side of the group.

The countdown finished and we took off, starting at the back I knew that I needed to get way further up the front so that I didn’t get held up through the first track that we went into less than a kilometer from the start.  I stood up and gave it everything up the first hill, making it into about the top 20.

Going through ‘Genesis’ I felt good, hitting all my hot lines from Oceania champs several months before.  I managed a few passes  as others made mistakes, and when I came out of the first trail and onto the road I saw a group of about five about 100m in front, so I made an effort up the first big climb to catch them and it paid off as I caught them walking up the last hill before ‘Doctors Orders’ – a new trail that was pretty much a rut that headed down a hill.  It was good fun, hauling straight down the middle  if a rain rut, but I was a bit cautious of following the rider in front too close so I backed off a bit.

Down the bottom we had about 40m of hike a bike then onto the road and up direct road where I sat with Brett and Josh, two under 19 riders that I had set as my benchmark for the race.  We saw Garth Weinberg  (Former Single speed World Champ and Rotorua local) up ahead but somehow he pulled away from us.  We headed up for a while then down ‘Sidewinder’, a tricky little trail that took us to the bottom of hill road, another decent climb, then kept going up ‘Frontal lobotomy’ and to the much anticipated downhill of ‘Billy T’.

I was in the middle of our three person train as we flowed, pedaled, jumped and cornered our way down ‘Billy T’, making sure to leave enough of a gap in front so that there were no surprises. The speed of ‘Billy T’ means that although it isn’t very technically difficult, you do have to be on your game to carry speed and pick the right lines, which is why it is one of the better trails in the forest, in my humble opinion.  Down the bottom we caught up to Whakatane rider Brad Jones who jumped  on the back of our merry gang.  Straight out of ‘Billy T’ we headed into ‘G Rock’,  another trail with lots of well worn lines and some tight corners that I made sure to pedal out of to keep up with Brett in front of me.  Then just as I was getting into it it was over, and another one of those dreaded arrows pointed us up ‘Chestnut link’, an awkward uphill that seemed to take a lot of energy to keep going, but the pressure of the other riders around me made me dig in a little bit deeper than planned to match the pace of the others.  I just hoped that it was as tough for them as it was for me.

Out the top of ‘Chestnut link’ at we headed up the hill and over to the legendary ‘Split Endz’ for our next dose of sweet Rotorua goodness, and being a bit flatter we had to work a bit harder to carry speed.

Speed was no problem however, on ‘Pondy DH’, a flat out, wide open downhill that points you almost straight down.  There was a thin film of slop on the surface from the melted frost of that morning, and it was quite a nervous descent as we hopped over ruts and jumped the water bars.  Heading into ‘Pondy New’ we eased up a little as we had our first up hill in almost 15 minutes.  Josh yelled out that Brad had crashed on the fast section that we had only just left.  I hoped he was alright, as in our rush we left him behind.  Turned out he was fine, but his front wheel now resembled the letter U so it must have been a pretty awesome looking crash.

Through ‘Pondy New’ and ‘Roller Coaster’ the pace continued at a medium intensity as we headed up through ‘Chop Suey’, then as we headed up the shuttle road I passed Kim Wright, a young Jafakid who was doing the 30k.  As I pulled up behind him I gave him some strong words of encouragement as there was another junior rider not far ahead.

The pace was pretty tough up that hill, and after the turnoff to corners the road was steep and unrelenting. Coming up to the entrance to ‘Corners’ I felt our speed increase as everyone tried to ‘just end up’ on the front.  I was doing the same but as the entrance came into sight I put a few solid cranks in the big ring and pushed my way into the trail first, hoping that I could pull a decent gap on them.

Through the endless switchbacks I noticed my lead gradually growing and while not huge, it was definitely a gap that I had worked to create so I figured that Brett would be up for a bit of work if he wanted to close it. Coming out of ‘Corners’ I popped up the other side of the road and over some jumps that the Downhillers have built. A bit silly when I had just put a solid effort to gap Brett and Josh but at the end of the day its gotta be fun.

Now down the road for a hundred metres or so into the ‘Chinese menu’, a series of trails that takes you off road from the shuttle pickup to the big intersection at the end of ‘Hot X Buns’, and I knew that I was gonna have to keep my wits about me to hold my lead, as every now and then I saw Brett where I was only seconds earlier.

Focusing on carrying my speed and not making mistakes at this crucial point in the race I gradually extended my lead as I went up the hill and was feeling pretty good heading into Dragons Tail and down through ‘Be Rude Not To’, trying to ride smoothly and efficiently, knowing that it only takes one mistake to negate all the effort up until now.

Popping out of  ‘Be Rude Not To’ and into ‘Lion trail’ I started overtaking the slower riders from the shorter courses, trying to be polite while not spending too much time waiting to pass. Up ‘Lion Trail’ I caught up with a single-speeder that overtook me earlier in the race, so that gave me a bit of a boost as I powered up the road and into ‘Soakhole/Turkish Delight’, a little network of trails that really takes it out of you at the end of a race, with lots of punchy climbs and not as much flow as we are normally spoiled with at the Redwoods. Knowing the end was near I pushed a bit harder, hoping that there was another 42k rider close ahead to catch. After what felt like far too long I came out onto the road and was directed straight back into ‘Grinder’, which is a trail I always enjoy as it is pretty tight and techy and a real handful to ride flat out.

I made it out in one piece and went for it up the road, constantly checking behind me for any traces of my competition, of which thankfully there were none. Into club trail at the top for a few  minutes then out and into the ‘Rat Track’ that we knew now, having raced it for Oceanias. Then I went all guns blazing into Exit trail, an old goodie that had been smoothed up a bit by the local mtb club and was even better than normal. Putting on a bit of a show around the final few corners where people were watching I jumped into the finish area and crossed the finish line in 9th overall and 2nd Junior. Pretty happy with that considering in years previous I have usually been 20th-30th overall, so a solid step up and something I am hoping to improve further for the next races.

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