Here we are at last! EWS Practice day 1… Yes, the 20th day on tour, but the first official practice day at the BIG event. On the menu today? The Dirty bookends: Stage 7 and Stage 1. You know the rules, these two and these two only today, any other sneaky shit and you can pack your bags and head home early. Both were going to be brand new for me, so it was time to get the Total Recall memory rocking.

It would be remiss of me to ignore the World Cup Cricket fever that’s currently taken over the country, and rightly so too, so today’s update will pay some homage to last nights epic effort from the Black Caps.

First innings – Stage 7 practice

Starting with the final stage? Given the schedule around the other Crankworx events, this was the only window that was available to check out the final stage for Saturday. An early mofo too… With the threat of “Massive gondola queues, so get in early” floating about, I did just that, to find no queue and a shit load of time to spare. Best spent investing those in semi-artisanal Nomad/Scenery shots…

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For reasons that cause great confusion, this shot polls higher than celeb stalking pics, WTF?

Speaking of PRO stalking, my form there was both on target and I got off the mark early on the way up the hill. Thank you GO PRO for providing the stealth technology to capture CG, one cool French motherfucker, and some, er, other French PRO dudes sifting up the road getting amped for their first run:

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“Heeeeeee, it looks Le Rad oui?”

The early shift was surprisingly rammed with PRO’s, drizzled with nervous amateurs cruising around all hoping that we didn’t get in the way. You can see Mr Minnaar, Santa Cruz legend, getting ready to throw down his first lap before I can ask for yet another photo. For those wanting to know, he said the new Fox coil shock strapped to his custom painted Nomad is rad:

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“Lets go boys, that bearded guy that was sniffing around the trailer in Meribel is here…”

Any concerns about 7 being a tail-ender or night watchman were quickly erased… They had mentioned in the briefing that this was a ‘Freshly cut track’, well, that didn’t really do it justice… By freshly cut they actually meant we were the first people riding down it. Result? It got fucking loose… Fucking quickly. Here we are on the way to “Our first crash of the day“, best said rubbing your hands together:

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So, those WTB tires don’t like mud after all…

I would love to show more of the top section of Stage 7, but it was so dark it was hard enough to see, let alone get quality footage off a GO PRO that was freaking out thinking it had been flushed down the toilet. The top section of 7 was an immediate wake up call: This was not for beginners. In fact, if you wanted to clean it, you needed some mofo skills to pay for that bill. What it did do was set the platform for the day:

  • Loose
  • Slippery
  • Off camber
  • Roots
  • Saying cunt a lot

They said it would be beautiful riding through the native bush, I’m not sure the natives agreed after I crushed them on multiple occasions. But, before I started to freak out, I wasn’t the only one destroying native fauna, even the PRO’s were eating some protected species shit. It may not look it here, but this huck between two trees claimed rider after rider, including some huge slams, Justin Leov makes it look easy:

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Not quite Deans Bank, but same general result

All the big names backed up here to have a few runs of this, whereas I had already determined that when I arrive at this point with about 7 hours of extremely hard riding in my body, there was no way I was going to be sending it off a jump-slash-drop that had already claimed a few EWS Top 10 PRO scalps… Keeping it real. So, I got back to doing what I do best on these days, BANG BANG, the double tap ambush:

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“Did I mention I’m wearing Specialized shorts Hannah?”

There goes Iago Garay, heading into the Downhill track section of Stage 7, on his Nomad and actually riding it to its full potential. Mine wasn’t feeling the same, but I was pretty confident that after two rusty runs down the fresh as fuck top section, the bottom half would be fully rad…

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“Diago, diago… Wait, wrong cartoon… Fuck…”

Top half of the bottom half? Runs were flowing freely… Thanks to the downhill crew, it was run in and had a lot more grip in general, plus some massively fast sections and at this point, no trees to look at and guide yourself into like a hellfire missile into a pickup truck. It felt good to open it up a bit down here, given the company I was keeping I wouldn’t exactly say ‘pinning it’, but still an upgrade on the upper part…

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This pitch much more to our liking

… Or so I thought. And then, to the phenomenon that is EWS Practice day. Apparently this year its the first time that stages are having set practice times. The result? 300 or so PRO and amateur riders on the same stage, in a limited time window. Meaning? Well, a LOT of this:

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Town of Springfield: “Fuck, is that guy going fast enough to hit that?”

I would refer to them as Disaster rubberneckers, essentially grouping together at points of doom to apparently ‘pick a line‘, but in reality watch less talented riders eat massive amounts of shit via a dirt massage. If you’ve got slightly questionable mojo, then this is not what you’re looking forward to.

Every time you saw a massive group of people milling about and then all at once they would turn at look at you like a zombie horde watching the next lamb entering the abattoir, you’d invariably slow down, stop and then find yourself part of the mosh pit planted on a 45 degree slope. Unless you were CG of course, in that case you yell something loudly in your cool French accent and then pin the fuck out of whatever everyone was looking at:

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#mancrush

Its scientifically proven that standing around looking at terrain is absolutely one of the worst things you can do if you’re a bit iffy on riding something. If you want to make this worse, then do it with a crowd around you, or even better, stay long enough to watch people crash attempting the approach you would take if you were to ride down the same piece of terrain.

Its a bit like being in the middle of the pitch and taking balls to the head, with the whole crowd watching knowing its only a matter of time until you lose your wickets, or take one in the nuts. You then get stuck in the position of wanting to either A) attempt the terrain or B) quietly slip away and bypass it, either way, you’re now in a traffic jam.

By the third such stop, I have to admit, I now had the shunts… Given this was the DH course, no B lines here, you had to ride it, or fuck off essentially. I could feel my limits suddenly approaching…  Say isn’t there a sign for such situations?

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Found the new sign for my bedroom wall…

All I had to do was get down the rest of the downhill course without getting spooked. Thank fuck they hadn’t included those massive wood ramps/drops you could see in the helmet cam footage of the DH track… Oh… FUCK…

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“The next one is sweet mate, just hold it straight…”

Confessionally, this was the second one, I couldn’t hit the first one and only marginally managed to escape the one in this shot without a major disaster. Two answer two obvious questions:

  1. Yes – Its steeper in person than it looks in this photo
  2. Yes – If you even look at your rear brake lever, even to calm your own nerves, it gets extremely exciting, which is to say, your chances of a wooden body slide increase into the 90% range

After a near miss on high speed ramp #2, I arrived at the bonus third one feeling as tentative as a stray dog walking past a Korean restaurant. To prove my point, standing around looking at something I should have easily been able to ride off validated the hypothesis that I was talking myself into mediocrity… Flow like water? Hmmm, yeah, off a fucking waterfall:

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I would say “Steeper than it looks”, but that looks pretty fucking steep all by itself

Uh huh, don’t I know that I should have been able to ride off there without a second though, and logically I know that I’ve ridden much scarier shit in Whistler, Meribel and any other destination you care to name… But that MIG shouldn’t have fucked up Cougar either, but like him, I had been holding on too tight:

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“Dirty Nomad couldn’t ride that last ramp, so I’m turning in my wings… In disgust”

Yup, by this stage I had somewhat lost the nerve and just wanted to get the fuck down the rest of it in one piece… So I decided to follow CG, which lasted all of 3 seconds, he doubled something, I didn’t and that was all I saw… NLS (Next Level Shit)

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“Where did who go?”

Did someone call for drinks? Oh yeah…

Lunch break

The best way to regroup from a morning of having reality smashed into you strap-on style? Park up on the couch at Bike Culture and let the best mechanics in town/NZ get busy on giving your machine a much needed once over. If you have a Santa Cruz in particular, this is as good as taking it back to their HQ in the US:

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The most successful part of the day

I had my beloved machine handed back to me not only silent, but with the forks feeling like they had melted butter squirted all through their now slippery innards… Seriously, it was feeling like an EWS slaying machine. With that in hand, it was time to pad back up, get back into the middle and try to slay something other my my ego/confidence/self-belief, pick all relevant options.

Second Innings – Stage 1 Practice

So, into the second innings and it was pretty important at this stage to get some runs on the board, so to speak. Good then to keep it all symmetrical and run into the whale of all PRO stalks, full respect to Mr Hill here for riding these climbs on flat pedals, but with what was to come it may actually be the best option available for the weekend…

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“Hi Sam, remember me from the airport… That awkward moment at the ENDURO in Perth and Meribel? Dude?”

If there’s one thing learnt from the first ENDURO races, its crucial to get off to a good start and build from there. As such, getting a dirty perv at stage 1 was going to be critical for the weekend. Especially when its going to take about 70 minutes to ride to the start of the stage once we’re let go from the race village… Yay.

Stage one is a bit of a combo of the ‘Tuhoto Ariki’ and ‘Kataore’ trails, or if you’re local, just call it ‘Cutties’. Suspect this has something to do with the fact that everyone cuts the fuck out of the corners turning it into a maze line wise. True to the intel I had, the top is actually a bit of a grovel before you get into some real elevation, make no mistake, there is some serious pedalling to be put in before getting to the DH:

DM2 - Rotorua EWS

This is more like it

Unlike Stage 7 practice, instead of a mob of disaster loving EWS riders milling about to signal impending doom, stage 1 had a much different canary in the muddy cave: Photographers…

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“Not fast enough for a photo bro…”

At one stage I called out to Annika that I was loving the top section and that it was pretty cool… Wet and slippery yes, but the trail still let you get stuck into it like an all you can eat buffet of loose shit. After the morning session, I was queuing up with two plates to get my fill:

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Sending, not stalling… consider this a boundary

Eventually though, I was run out… I knew Stage 1 had a major bite coming further down, but figured that being back on natural trail sans those cunty wood ramps and it would be all good. Well, there was other wood waiting…

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‘That’ music seems to have started again

From this point onwards, a new technique was deployed with alarming regularity:

The human Tripod

This involves the worse possible approach of having one leg clipped out, mainly as you can’t get your pedal to accept a clogged up cleat, in the vain hope that it may allow you to navigate the evil terrain with a slight chance of survival… It didn’t always work:

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We got a Dirty Nomad down… We got a Dirty Nomad DOWN

I was dropping faster than Black Hawks over a Mogadishu Market… I won’t lie, whilst I didn’t have an RPG in my back wheel, this terrain was fucking hard. I think about half way down Cutties I seemed to be short on talent and stuck in that cycle of doom of losing it on a slippery section, having the back wheel come around and then getting caught in a tripod slide that was about as graceful as Anne-Nicole Smith sitting on your head, disturbing…

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Sort of aiming for that rut… Trying to turn right… trying to correct that slide… trying to not lose the front on the roots

After eating shit on one particular corner, resulting in another ‘regroup’ session, I did get to witness several PRO’s come down and replicate my fate, so that wasn’t too bad, but on the whole, these guys are simply amazing to watch. The way that they can ride terrain that is unrideable to most of us in the wet, they manage to dance down making it look like they’re glued to the ground. Fuck me if I didn’t have ‘riding envy’ all day. The only hard corner I did manage to nail? The one with three photographers on it, clearly they wanted blood:

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Fresh meat for the grinder…

Undoing any coolness, this was such a motherfucker of a corner I actually said out loud, and, rather loudly: “Look where you want to go you cunt“, in an attempt to force myself to look through the exit and survive it, avoiding another fern visit.

As Dok once said on the TP Tour; “Restarts are a total cunt“, never a truer word spoken… Stage 1 is all about the slip, slide and stall, with an attempt at yet another restart. Your pedals hate your cleats and your nerves hate the next section. Here is the best shot I could find that shows the hTripod in action, yes, that angle is for real:

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“Come and do ENDURO they said… Not as bad as Downhill they said… Not as hard as XC they said…”

So, confessionally today was a wake up call. Yes, the locals said they don’t really bother riding down Stage 1 if its been wet, but we won’t be allowed such luxury. I turned up knowing that from a times and speed perspective I would be under the pump and not challenging even the top 15, but it never occurred to me that I would struggle to even get through stages with question marks on riding some sections… At this stage EWS stands for ‘Eating Wet Shit’ for me, so its time to get things in order and back on track.

I don’t think any of the photos from today can do the terrain justice, I would much rather bring people here and let them see it for themselves. Its harder than anything I have ridden in a long time… Annoyingly this section even looks a bit tame:

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“The jungle, it came alive and took him…”

I’m not complaining; I’m at the EWS, not at work and getting to sort of ride/slide my bike every day. But I do want to be able to ride it properly. Yes, I would happily trade times and rankings for being able to ride this stuff how I know I can ride it, so that’s the aim for practice tomorrow… On to stages 2 and 6, I know 6 is going to be an eye opener, but after today, it can’t be any harder right?

Stay tuned to find out…

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