Monday, January 25, 2010

A long way down at the Big not So Easy.

Saturday the 23rd of January dawned with eager anticipation. The day's challenge was Highland event's 'Big Not So Easy', the euphemistically named cousin of the 'Big Easy'. Both events shared the same much hyped 1500m, 30km descent from the Pisa Ridge to Albert Town in the Valley below, with the former tagging on a 25km climb and decent to the towering Mt Pisa.
Filled to the brim with bikes and bodies, the Volkswagon Emu (rally edition) lurched skyward up Snow Park access road in Wanaka's Cardrona Valley. Spilling out at the top, Tristan, Anja and Ollie lined up for the start just as an eerie mist began to clear. A solid field of pinners was present, with Tony Hogg, Mark Williams and Canadian Rocky Mountain Pro Colin all amping to sample the offered downhill delights.

From the gun it was evident that the aggressive surges typical of a normal singletrack race would be absent as a tight possie of riders wound their way around the benched curves of the XC skiing course. Before long the track pointed towards Mt Pisa, and as if in agreement with the gentlemanly pace set off the line, the climb never got steeper than a middle ring grunt.
By the summit of Pisa at 1900m (reputably the highest point of any MTB race in NZ), a trio remained, with Hogg, Williams and Ollie gappping the rest with a display of steady but powerful ascent.

The smooth and soft dirt of the climbs gave way to rutted gnarl on the descent, and it took a while for nerves to loosen and blood to pump to brake on the rut ridden and twisting descent down to Luggate Creek. The wallpaper for this early descent was a picture perfect vista across the valley, bordered by celestial blue at the top, the aforementioned eerie mist at the bottom, and a smattering of Central Otago's iconic rocky outcrops thrown in for good measure.
Pushing through streams, bogs and a thickening mist the trio began the climb out from the creek topping out at about 1400m and rejoining to field who had started an hour later to tackle the Big Easy.

From this point on, madness ensued as the riders ducked, dived and dodged their way around the clumps of riders that echoed the trail side tussocks. An early victim of the melee was Hogg, who no doubt lost out in the lottery that was two-rut roulette. Committing to one rut early would net you a smooth line past one rider, but a pace deflating block around the next corner.
Attempting to avoid the inevitable block as Mark sped ahead, Ollie performed several daring rut to rut hops, managing to wrestle his Ventana back on line and around a Big Easy rider, narrowly avoiding a freeride-style huck to the valley floor below.

In a haze of arm pump the pair descended through the clouds. Quick glances were cast to the valley floor below only where a respite in nuggetiness allowed it. Hooting and hollering all the way, it was neck and neck when Mark and Ollie hit a lethal combination of knee high grass and fist sized rocks that they had been warned about in the briefing. Striking any of the hidden rocks would end a riders chance at the inaugural title, their dreams deflated in a hiss of air and tire goo.
It was Ollie who emerged from the bottom of the descent alone, Mark's 29er tire falling victim to the insidious slash of this endemic central otago reptile. Gutted.

Not content with the gap, and wary of the furious finish Hogg was renowned for, Ollie pinned it to the line, shredding through a sparsely marked combination of ploughed fields, sand bars, river boulders and even 150m stretch of the river itself! A final sealed stretch to the Albert Town Tavern and a sprint for the line and it was done. 1000m climbing and an amazing 2200m of descent over 55km. Organised shuttle buses and a delicious lunch were the icing on the cake. An epic event and surely on worthy of inclusion on any rider's must dos. With prize many dished out based on the number of rider's entered in each grade, winners (Hogg, Ollie and Anja included) were handsomely rewarded.

Mountain Pedaler out...

No comments: