Round 2 of the 2016-17 Giant 2W Gravity Enduro series was set to be an epic day of racing. Continuing on as New Zealand’s largest Enduro event, another 450+ hungry racers lined up, eager for a shot at more than just bragging rights.
The single day event was also the 3rd and final opportunity for Oceania’s 6-stage pedal powered racers to gain enough Enduro World Series points qualify for a spot on the 2017 World Tour stage. This golden ticket was enough to attract hopeful riders from multiple countries to make the trip to ride the famous Rotorua hero dirt. Another special announcement at the end of the day was who the recipient of the first Under 23 Local Enduro Scholarship which was surely going to change the future of one lucky rider.
The seemingly stacked mens field was to be hotly contested on the day. The local favourite had to be last year’s series winner and winner of round 1, Keegan Wright. However the EWS veteran Justin Leov, and Wyn Masters were looking sharp to de-throne the younger Wright. The former XC crowd of locals Sam Shaw and Carl Jones, along with the Australian XC crusher, Paul Van Der Ploeg were bringing next-level fitness game to the table, making the entire field hurt to keep up. Another dark horse, and recent King of the Hill at the 3 Peaks Enduro in Dunedin, was Bergamont Factory Team rider Joe Nation.
On the women’s side, event sponsor and Mountain Bike Coach Annika Smail was looking to keep her winning streak going. Hot on her wheels was a group of local pinners Vanessa Quin, Katie O’neill, and EWS hopeful Cati Pearson. All of these women had been hitting the trails hard and have equal shot at standing on the top step.
Mother nature was up to her usual tricks in the days leading up to the race. Early in the week, the trails were dry and dusty, and just as the trail map was released, the rain clouds opened the flood gates and gave the forest a good dosing of quality H2O. Due to the excessive moisture, trail amendments had to be made the morning of the race, and added a bit of blind racing to spice things up.
Justin Leov – “I was really stoked to get to the bottom and find out I took the win on the Downhill (Taniwha Nat. DH) stage as I didn’t get the win on any stage last round. The tracks were a bit more slippery this round, it was pretty wild!”
With EWS qualifier points only awarded to 6 stage racers who chose the non-shuttled option, the 1355m descent, 14.9km of timed stages was destined to be close. The Giant 2W Gravity Enduro has a unique format, allowing racers the option to re-ride stages if they choose to do so, as long as it is completed within the race time limit. Some of the top riders chose this option, with rumours of one piling up over 70km of pedalling on the day!
This round also saw the inaugural Southstar Youth Enduro Championship. With the growing number of under 19 entrants in both the boy’s and girl’s fields, a Championship was created for the younger generations. The idea was spawned to encourage fun competition and inspire the younger generation to have something to aim for.
As the riders started coming through the finish line and the tickets started printing out, it was anyone’s guess who was going to be on top for the day. But with only 1:31 seconds separating the top 10, and only 32 seconds between the podium steps, Joe Nation came out on top with his 2nd EWS Qualifier win of the month!
Jo Nation on flying in the night before the race with no practice runs – “Yeah, Naaa, I’m pretty surprised! I heard there was a few pedally stages, so I thought I’d go hammer those and hopefully get a bit of advantage, and basically do damage control on the more technical stages…. It paid off!”
For the Women, Annika Smail proved too tough to beat again, with over 1 minute of a time cushion to Vanessa Quin. Catie Pearson edged out Katie O’neill by only 3 seconds to take 3rd. Combined with her results at the 3 Peaks Enduro the previous week, Catie also earned herself an EWS Qualifying spot.
The big surprise of the day was when Keegan Wright was presented with the U23 Local Enduro Scholarship of $25,000 NZD. This was put together by the event organizers and local silent donors to help with the costs of competing overseas and give the recipient the opportunity to race on the world stage. One of these will be given out each of the remaining rounds of this season.
Keegan Wright on receiving the $25,000 NZD U23 Enduro Scholarship – “I’m in shock at the moment, It’s amazing! Thanks to Neil and Kat (Gellatly) for organizing it, it’s going to make racing the next few seasons so much easier! I’m sure after a few sleeps it will hit me just what was given to me!”
Men 6 Stage
1. Joseph Nation
2. Keegan Wright
3. Wyn Masters
4. Samuel Shaw
5. Carl Jones
Women 6 Stage
1. Annika Smail
2. Vanessa Quin
3. Cati Pearson
4. Katie O’neill
5. Renee Wilson
Men 4 Stage
1. Matt Berry
2. Connor Hamilton
3. Tom Prier
4. Sam Robbie
5. Cameron Beck
Women 4 Stage
1. Janine Kavanagh
2. Jenna Hastings
3. Abby Rickard
4. Julia Stevens
5. Phoebe Young
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Words: Jason Beacham – 208 Media Photos: Giant 2w Gravity Enduro – Photographer – Jason Beacham