EWS Round 1 with Lauren Gregg
03 April, 2017
Wow, what a hell of a race. I left the US in high spirits for my first experience racing internationally. I knew it would be one of the hardest races of my career so far and anticipated some early season issues dusting off the cobwebs and getting back after it so early in the year. I was not prepared mentally or physically, however, for what Rotorua threw at us for the first round of the 2017 Enduro World Series
After a few days wrangling bike bags and flying across the globe, I arrived in Rotorua 10 days before the event. Although it was raining the week before I arrived, I was graced with sunny skies and perfect conditions that week. I spent some amazing days exploring the forest and riding with friends. Although I had been a bit nervous about the tricky roots and steep gnarly tracks in Rotorua that I had read about, I was feeling really good that week and was stoked to race the trails. After they released the course on Sunday, all riding on the tracks was stopped until practice.
Then we started to hear the weather reports rolling in. All the competitors who braved the Rotorua EWS in 2015 told me they were still reeling from the wet, almost unridable conditions that day. Hearing the horror stories of the 2015 race made me a bit nervous, but we all crossed our fingers that the rain would hold off this year.
At the Riders Meeting on Friday night, the race organizers assured us that very little rain was predicted. They made a contingency plan to cut out one of the seven stages if there was rain, but they had faith in their forecast and told us we would be racing the full course. Based on this prediction, I decided to run Vigilantes front and rear, rather than my Warden mud spikes.
Practice on Friday was rainy and wet, but I was surprised at how well my tires responded on the roots, and the mud was no problem. Saturday practice saw a brief break in the weather and the tracks were running perfectly. I felt really good on Saturday and I crossed my fingers that conditions would remain the same for race day.
Unfortunately, they did not. On Sunday morning, race day, the rain started to come down about 30 minutes into our hour and a half climb up to the start of the first stage. On the start line, I was prepared for the tracks to run similarly to the wet and muddy trails during practice on Friday, but once I hit the course I realized I was in for something totally different. I hit greasy mud like I’ve never ridden before. The rain mixed with a couple hundred riders dropping in before the Pro ladies made for a track that this California girl, with no experience in the mud, simply did not know how to ride. I got to the bottom of the first stage, which took me about twice as long as it should of, discouraged and demoralized.
At first I wanted to drop out of the race. But then I realized, even if my result was already shot, if I wanted to get anything out of the day I needed to keep going and use it as a learning experience. After losing time on the Stage and in a mental battle at the bottom, I started sprinting up to the second start to try to make my tight transition time.
On my way up, I also made a decision to stay positive and do everything that I could to try to have a fun day on the bike, regardless of the conditions. I lost lots of time on that first stage and at the bottom, which put me behind schedule and made my tight transitions even tighter, but I dropped into each stage and did the best I could fighting my way through the mud.
Tensions were high out on the course. I knew my result was shot, though, and I at least was able to offer a little comic relief and positivity for the spectators. We all had a good time as I struggled my way through the mud, picking up momentum and starting to find a groove until suddenly and inevitably ending up lodged deep in the mud. My goal to have a good time was achieved by simply making sure to laugh, rather than cry, when the situation got comically demoralizing. This was not the day to learn how to ride in the mud, and my stages were disasters, but the spectators did mention that I was the only rider with a smile on my face at the finish lines. The kiwi fans were awesome and they did a great job keeping me in high spirits. Hands were slapped, laughs were had.
After being behind schedule right off the bat and sprinting to the tops of the transfers with no real time to eat or drink I started to bonk on the fifth transfer stage, 5 hours into the grueling ride. I finally had to stop at a water station to refuel, and I knew I was in trouble with the way my body was feeling. This early in the season, this was one of my biggest days on the bike already, and fighting the mud made it especially exhausting. I pedalled as hard as my body would let me, I made it all the way to the very top of the mountain to Stage 5, but I just missed my cutoff by minutes. I asked if there was any way I could continue, but my race was over. I was a gutted, but under an umbrella and fighting off the cold wind and rain I was able to cheer off the Pro Men as they dropped into Stage 5.
Myself and another competitor who had also missed her start time were then at the highest point on the mountain, and a local course marshall pointed us down another track he recommended as his favorite trail on the mountain. It did not disappoint! We screamed down a 15 minute flow trail in perfect condition (it’s amazing what a difference 300 riders will make), with amazing wide open New Zealand views up top before ducking back into the forest for some amazing jumps and berms. Our consolation prize was one of the most fun rides of my trip for sure.
I learned a lot from this race, both about how I need to practice in the mud and more varied conditions, as well as about how to control my mental game and stay positive on race day. I know that I need to stay calmer on courses that are uncomfortable- I think that would have helped a lot. I learned that I need to focus more on nutrition and hydration, even if the conditions are distracting. I’m excited to use this experience to make myself a better rider and racer. I’m grateful to have competed in an event that so many riders that I look up to called the most mentally and physically challenging race of their lives. It certainly was the hardest race of my life! After the race, I learned that conditions were much more challenging than they had been 2 years ago and many riders and organizers considered this the most challenging EWS race to date. Hearing how much everyone struggled on course and seeing how many Pros also were not able to make it through to the end helped me not get too discouraged about my result.
Now, moving forward on to Tasmania for some redemption in the second round of the Enduro World Series. Let’s cross our fingers for no rain!