EWS Tasmania with Lauren Gregg
26 April, 2017
Words by Lauren Gregg
After spending the week following Rotorua EWS training in Queenstown, New Zealand, I flew north up to Tasmania hoping for some redemption (and less mud) at the second round of the Enduro World Series.
I met up with my teammates at the small airport in Launceston and we trekked across the beautiful countryside to our house in Derby, near the start of the race. Derby is a small Tasmanian town settled for tin mining, with a current population of just over 200 people. Exploring the frontier of the bush and the tiny mining towns in the area felt like going back in time, and right away I knew this was going to be one the most unique destinations I’ve ever been lucky enough to race.
We went on a quick spin and hiked most of the stages in the days leading up to practice, and I was super stoked to race the rocky loose tracks of the Blue Derby trails. Dry loose rocks are way more my style than mud and roots! Practice went well and I loved the fact that the course was a great variety of every type of riding, from fast flow trail to big jumps to full on gnarly rock gardens and drops. My setup was rolling through all the various terrain really smoothly and I felt confident after practice.
The weather was sunny and bright during our track walks and practice, and I was crossing my fingers for a dry race, but dark thunder clouds started rolling in the day before the race and my heart sank a little when we realized we were in for another epic day of brutal conditions.
The rain started coming down hard right as we set off on race day. After an hour-long climb to the top, the Pro Women dropped into Stage 1 during a torrential downpour that made it almost impossible to see the trail. I couldn’t believe we were going to have another super wet day on the course, but I was determined to push through and take what I’d learned from Rotorua to have a better result this time around.
Apart from a few mistakes, Stage 2 and 3 went well. But as we started our climb up to Stage 4, the rockiest stage by far, the rain started to pour down even harder. Again, the wet weather pushed me to the limit and I had a big over the bars crash in one of the rock gardens. The cockpit of the bike took a big hit and I broke my shifter levers and ripped out my dropper post cable! I was so gutted and wasn’t sure if I should try to continue, but I hustled to the top of the next stage to try to sort out my bike. I knew I couldn’t safely drop into Stage 5, the steepest of the stages, with a dropper post stuck in the “up” position, so I was considering what to do when another competitor, in a panic, asked if she could take my rear break. The conditions had taken their toll on her bike as well and she’d lost hers. She assumed I was not going to be able to continue, so she removed my brake only to realize it was internally routed and she couldn’t use it.
I was left at the top of Stage five with a broken dropper post, no shifting, and no rear brake (almost in tears). I wanted so badly to finish this race, but it seemed like the cards were all stacked against me at that point and there’d be no way I could continue. New to the EWS scene, I’d never experienced any situations like this, but all I knew is that I wanted to continue if there was any possible way. The Pro Men got to the top of the stage, and seeing I was in need of some help Yoann Barelli saved the day and offered me some zipties! I realized I’d be able to ziptie my seat down and I feverishly got to work replacing my brake and ziptie-ing my seat. Just as I was running out of time, and with my brake cable still pulled out of the frame and wrapped around my crank, I rolled down Stage 5 and was back on track!
I sorted my brake at the bottom of the stage, but I was already way behind schedule. After already pedaling for 5 hours, I had the most difficult transfer stage in front of me and was stuck in one gear with a seat post now stuck in the down position. I considered if it would be possible to make it to the top of the 1-hour singletrack climb to the next stage, and immediately decided with fierce determination that I was going to make it! I sprinted out of the saddle in a middle gear for one hour straight. It was one of the most physically demanding feats I’ve ever accomplished, but I made it to the top of Stage 6 before my cutoff.
Although I wasn’t able to shift and pedal through the Stage, I’ve never had a bigger smile on my face flying down the trail knowing that I was going to be able to finish the race! I even hucked and smoothly cleared one of the more gnarly rock sections for a crowd of amazing spectators.
After Stage six, I sprinted the short transfer to the top of the final stage and caught up with the rest of the Pro Women. They had all seen me at my lowest moment, with my bike in pieces at the top of Stage 5, and their faces when they saw me victoriously pedal up to the group was truly priceless. They were all so supportive and excited to see that I had made it! It was an awesome feeling rolling through the line, and I had actually made up enough time to drop at my correct start time into Stage 7.
I crossed the final finish line absolutely over the moon to have finished. I had pushed my body to the absolute limit, felt like I had probably been a bit hypothermic all day out in the rain with no jacket, the bike beneath me was in pieces, but I HAD FINISHED! After a facing a nearly hopeless situation, it was the most gratifying finish line I’ve ever crossed in all my years racing. I didn’t care how cold or muddy or tired I was, I was in full celebration mode back at the race village.
I’d learned a lot from Rotorua that allowed me to persevere through the conditions and finish in Tasmania. Both races saw so many racers not make it through, and finding some redemption in Tasmania by crossing the finish line made all the suffering and hardship of the races worth it. Although it would have been great to have better conditions, I know it’s experiences like this one that will make me a better rider and stronger racer in the future and I’m grateful to have been pushed like this and to have learned so much. (I’m also grateful to be sitting on a plane headed towards some better riding weather, as well!)
I’ll be able to take these races with me and hope to smash the North American Enduro tour back home this year! Even if the races are wet, I’ll be ready now.