As I write this story I am still smiling, thinking about how much beauty we saw while traveling for almost a month in New Zealand, starting from the island’s south and finishing in the North. It’s amazing how in a few kilometers in this amazing country, the scenery can change so much – from lakes with the most spectacular colours, to the glaciers near the sea, waterfalls, enchanting beaches where it seems like time has stood still, to the incredible pristine forests; we flew down amazing tracks, met old friends and met some great people and above all we got to understand how much Kiwis love their environment and respect the rules, and how they enjoy life in a simple way, without worrying about how they appear to others. This way of life, but especially this free spirited attitude has really left an impression on me!!!

 

But now it’s time to push the button on the first Enduro World Series of Team Life Cycle.

 

 

Our trip ended at North Island, in the incredible surroundings of Rotorua, which is located at the center of the island, and is very famous for the geothermal pools and all that goes with it – there are thermal pools, pools of mud around the city, geysers that erupt every hour, all this surrounded by a very strong sulphurous smell, similar to a bad fart, which pervades the whole city! Luckily at home I have two English bulldogs, which means I have been better prepared for the smell, however after a few days we didn’t even notice it any more!

In addition to the spa, Rotorua is a famous Mecca for mountain bikers, because right next to it, there is the forest of Whakarewarewa, where they have developed a network of tracks that are central to the community of local bikers. It ‘s amazing the work that has been done in this area, the many connections that link an infinite amount of trail, make it unique place! This is a paradise for bikers with service lifts offered by old but functional school buses equipped with bike trailers that can carry up to 50 riders at a time! The only “problem” if we want to call it that, is that you won’t want to stop, you would continue to ride indefinitely, it’s that good! In fact on the first day, we decided to ride with Manu along with Alex and as it was the Sunday before the race, we should have done only a couple of hours. Rather late in the day when we left the forest, the Garmin showed more than 7 hours, it was really fun and we didn’t notice the time passing!

 

Monday and Tuesday were taken as rest since we knew we would have to face three more days of practicing the race stages. The special stages – a total of seven – were all very physical, characterized by a multitude of off camber sections on roots, steep and technical sections and proper downhill tracks, all alternating flat section and steep to keep you alert! Two stages were different, very fast and with big jumps, a style of track which we are not very used to.

The weather was quite variable during the days of practice, often it rained heavily, so the already technical trails become even more tricky as they became slick! The race (in my opinion) was the hardest ever, starting so early in the season and covering almost 65 km of trails on sticky mud and 1,900m in altitude, with a humidity of 99%, was an epic undertaking.

When the morning of the race  came, I made my way up to my first EWS start of the season, which had been set up next to the geysers in Te Puia Maori village. Enrico Guala was already on the microphone and for a moment it felt like I was at home in Italy, although I was aware of the hard day that I would wait! I was happy to be starting the season, even if after the first stage I thought, “whose idea was this?!” Joking aside, the first stage saw so many riders crashing, I think that 90% of the riders had close contact with the ground or trees! I was lucky to only come off twice, much luckier than many!

The first transfers were very tiring with a tight time to achieve, you didn’t have a moment’s peace. There was literally time to finish the stage, force an energy bar in your mouth and go again. Fortunately, after the third special stage we had a chance to visit the feed zone where you could get water, food and a neutral assistance zone meant you could have a look at bike your bike.

From mid-race on the times allowed us to relax a bit, but not to take it easy of course. The race continued pretty well, even though I made many mistakes and I had a few falls, fortunately without serious consequence, and I finished the grueling six hours in the forest to meet the shuttle that would take us to the Skyline gondola, which would carry us right to the heart of the Crankworx event!

There was still the final stage, which shared many parts of the track with the downhill race, with a forest in the initial section that would be an understatement if you called it technical and dark! You almost needed to have headlights! My goal was only to get to the bottom whole and make less mistakes as possible, the track had changed completely from practice, and the fact that we started in reverse order meant that the 500 competitors ahead of me had chewed up the track and left deep channels, sometimes half a metre deep. When I crossed the line I felt such strong emotions seeing crowd, Manu waiting for me with open arms, all the girls took turns high fiving each other, and the kids came up to ask for autographs just as you went out from the finishing pits. I was overcome with incredible emotions at the effort I’d put in on this race – what an amazing feeling!

It was a long hard day, perhaps the hardest race ever, I’m satisfied with my 19th place at such a high level of competition. It was great to share it with 80 girls, even though we had a frenetic pace and there was too little time to relax, but it’s always nice to feel the true spirit of Enduro. Regardless of the finishing position, we have the same thoughts, fears and pleasures!

I’m hoping that in the not too distant future, races will all be over two days – not because there will be the need to lengthen the course or race times, but because the number of women will grow to the point where one day men will race and one day women, that would be great!

 

Manu had a slightly frustrating race because unfortunately be broke a finger in his right hand two weeks before the race so was not able to fight on even terms, as the njury affected his ability to control the bike - even if he wasn’t totally satisfied with his result, I am very proud to have a partner who never throws in the towel, didn’t play safe to protect his hand and fought through to finish 65th!

 

This was such was an intense and exciting journey that taught us so much –  now we’re back in Europe with a real fresh outlook, thanks to all the Kiwis and the great people we met during our adventure!

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