Far out, here we are… From the depths of Spanish/Bird flu and a whole day written off on Tuesday, I somehow managed to drag my green mucus laced chassis out of bed for two days of EWS Practice.
Would I have ridden in this condition anywhere else? Super fuck me silly NO. But, this is the EWS man, pinnacle of the sport and I’m in some of the raddest riding I’ve seen, so I wasn’t about to sit at home and listen to the gang frothing about the stages to then race them blind this weekend.
Its now race day eve, so, given I have limited time and you have limited attention spans, I will cut a deal with you and use a ‘one paragraph and one pic’ approach, sort of… But in short, this will be short. By that I mean DN short, which is actually a massive ramble. Here’s a quick scene setter then and an overall summary of what I found on the two days of practice in Zona Zero:
This place is fucking excellent
I’m not sure how its stayed a relative hidden gem, could just be I’m an uneducated cycling heathen, but it was a masterstroke from the EWS to come here and shower us in trail radness. THANKS team.
The other point of interest is that I have actually enjoyed practice here. Call me as unpatriotic as the NZ Media and gather the lynch mob, but in Rotorua as some may recall, I ended up not only losing the noodle, but overall wasn’t that pumped. The difference here? Aside from the dry conditions, uplift and tsunami of rad trails? Obvious drum roll please: The people
Yes, doing this with a crew is a significant upgrade than rolling solo. So, ignoring the fact that I have never felt more unhealthy heading into a race, with a list of aliments I won’t even begin to gross you out with, what is waiting for us out there in the fantastic ZZ landscape? Brace yourself for a blow by blow, Spanish style.
Ok, so both days are BIG… Day 1 in theory looks bigger, but I suspect that Day 2 will ultimately win the battle of who finger bangs us the hardest. I won’t go on and on about it using the usual cliche references, instead just scope the numbers before we drop in on speed dating with stages 1-4:
- 2,122m of climbing
- 2,127 of rad shredding down
Getting down to business on day 1 then! This is a sweet little number and an instant crowd favourite. Like most of the stages it seems, #1 sets the scene for the ‘Stage of two halves’ scenario. Not very long per se, its fiddly and a little bit flat at the top:
However, this is only to encourage you to blow your beans by pedalling the fuck out of it before it unleashes its little sting in the tail. Much to my delight it ramps up, narrows up and sends you slaloming through the trees so that by the time you hit the finish in the riverbed you’ll be having multiple ENDUROgasims:
Watchpoint – Nothing too freaky, but 1 will attempt to seduce you at the top, wanting to leave you spent for the bottom half… Fine if you’re PRO fit, but if you have T Rex arms and/or Spanish Flu, then perhaps conserve just a little bit. Also, focus on the trail, not the amazing views.
Looks like a big trek up to Stage 2, something so far avoided thanks to the shuttle fleet, but once we’re up there it will be worth it FO SHO. #2 is as long as it is varied, like almost all the stages we face over the weekend, how it starts out probably isn’t how it ends, part of what makes these stages so wickedly golden. The top has plenty of this, not to mention the terraced farm start:
The lower we then get, the more trees pop into the equation. Trees are rad as they want to unfuck the planet from all the shit we are doing to it, but aside from that, it also makes it pretty interesting.
Lots of corners that want to catch me out on 2, plus I think this is one of the longest stages all weekend, so I shall be making sure I leave something for the pedal/vomit in your helmet finish.
Watch point – A nasty little climb with a pinch at the end… Had to dismount like an ass clown in practice, then again my resting pulse was 150 BPM, so hopefully now I’m loaded with enough antibiotics to kill a Spanish mountain donkey I’ll be able to get up it with a smidgen of class. Worth noting some rad high speed corners await after this pinch, so caution if you go into the red massively.
So, I love stage 1 and 2… But I LOVE stage 3, probably because I got epic Instagram love for my pic there, doing my virtual self esteem no harm. Mismatched as fuck:
The biggest issue with Stage 3 is the scenery! It just so happens to be rolling down some into some insane vistas that make you want to cruise and just take in the goodness, which will finger you as there are lots of little snipers waiting to have you should you indulge. A few line choices going as well, Dougie gets after the high line here:
Don’t get all comfortable with the high speed Gnar shredding, there’s pedalling to be done SON. Yes, the last section is going to force the issue and I’m looking forward to some pedal clipping panting as I impersonate a fat wet labrador trying to chase a seagull:
Watch point – OHHHH, absolutely the Z for Zorro the fuck out of me middle section. Essentially a series of loose hairpins down a massive slab like rock face that seems to have benched itself… Quite an extraordinary piece of trail, which means I look like a beginner trying to negotiate it.
Is it possible to love stage 4 more than 3? Ah… YES. Not everyone’s favourite, but I loved it and was gutted to only ride it once. Ok, so parental guidance needed at the start, as it doesn’t fuck about or try to buy you a drink, it just gets straight into tugging at the zipper with this little arrangement after some gnar descending:
So, to start with, you’re either fighting up little pitches, or being hurled down these rad ridges:
But what makes 4 so cool? Captain obvious at work here, but its the VARIETY. Always the hallmark of a banger trail, lower down you’ll find yourself running down mini canyons, which are probably called gullies:
Watch point – 3 little pinch climbs will hurt, and then when you’re not blowing out your ass 4 is just straight flat out as fuck. An awesome stage to finish day 1 on! I was frothing after 4 and actually felt like a rad cunt, so watch as I ride it with too much confidence on race day and end up looking like Beaker from the muppets.
A word on the Trannies for day 1 – Yes, its that time of the week, the transitions are out there waiting for us and no one is keen to blow them. I’ve helped out the gang by telling all my Rotorua horror stories “Yeah man, it was like an XC race eh, could hardly take my hands off the bar to eat all day“, in an attempt to provide motivation for everyone to make their start times. Looks like a 7 hour day in total on the cards. Fart Noise.
With Day 1 in the bank we will awaken to more of the excellent and massive action on Day 2 here in the ZZ. I’m typing so fast to get this out and make it relevant that my fingers are cramping, so again, fuck the puns and straight into the math please:
- 1,631m of climbing
- 1,607 of rad shredding down
And now, swipe right for HOT radness and Spanish Gnar in another post overly reliant on innuendo.
Day 2 does not fuck about at all… Stage 5 is your classic knife fight in a telephone box with a dwarf, you never get comfortable and its over very quickly. Dropping in it seems normal, but then BOOM, you’re on a loose ridgeline spine thing all the way down, here’s a shot of the ‘wide’ part:
Finishes in a riverbed as well just for something different… Its eyes up on this one and you don’t really want to put a wheel wrong, otherwise you’ll be fishing you and the bike up from a cavern somewhere.
Watch point – Ahhhhh… Basically all of it? Yeah, its short, sharp and vicious, basically like a shark attack. I did watch some PRO footage though, and they seemed to just jump across all the parts that made a nugget come out for me, so perhaps its not that bad.
After the fast & furious 5, Stage Sex is back to being a bit more of a test of your pacing. Its flooded with excellent corners like this:
But in case you get sick of all that fast and flowy goodness, it is more than happy to shuffle its hips and tighten up on you… Follow that race tape:
No free ride though, pedal motherfucker, do you speak it?! Lower down you’re going to need to stick that reverb up a bit, or even better, get up and dance on the pedals. Watch for footage of me slumped in my seat then looking like I’m about to fill my Met Parachute with Hawaiian pizza:
Watch point – Hmmmm… A couple of corners at the top, but nothing really to make you freak out on #6, it will just be a question of how much time you can make up on the pedal sections, its going to leave you well smashed by the end. Just happens to be an all round excellent trail to ride.
Man, I LOVED 7! These stages all feel like my favourite, but I had a blast down here with Doug, even though it was a mofo to get to, we charged in and felt pinned. Its rowdy at the start:
Flattening in the middle with a cunty little climb, the treat is really at the end where it goes mental down into the trees. Holy fuck, this was one of the best sections all day Fo Sho. It has a tone of flow, steep and perfect soil. It was full gas down here:
Watch point – Blowing ones ENDURO load on the climb in the middle a distinct possibility, which is tricky as the lower section is massive and requires some gas in the tank to really enjoy it. Measure that dosage.
This sums up #8 quite well… The FENCE:
Ok, I won’t be that lazy – 8 is simple simon, pedal like a bandit at the top, then drop into a World Cup DH course at the bottom. Pretty much like a World Cup weekend really? Its going to be a tough one to finish the weekend on, no question.
Watch point – Well, clearly the fence right? A little pinch climb near the top kills momentum and then you have to work hard across the ridge, but once you see the caution signs, a nice touch, its all about letting it go and staying off the brakes.
A word on the Trannies – I’m shitting myself about the big, fat and hairy trannies from end of stage 6 to get to 7 and then from 7 to 8. Fuck, they are going to hurt. We only rode part of them and it felt like Trans Provence and the never ending liaison all over again. At the end of the hard weekend it will take some focus to make sure you don’t hear the sound of the zipper coming down… And the conflicting part? They’re quite beautiful as well…
Right, I’m about to coma out and get ready to race – Today has been a self induced panic melt down given I broke the rules I tell everyone and changed everything on my bike before race day. Nice one. After the week that’s been, the race is actually going to feel rather relaxing. To reinforce just how awesome all these stages are, For once I can genuinely say this:
I can’t wait to race this thing!
Massive Dirty Thanks to the Basque MTB crew and our riding gang for an amazing two days of practice, which was so cool that it didn’t even feel like race practice, it was just a bunch of good cunts out loving mountain biking on awesome trails. Embrace it.