Monday, April 02, 2012

Super Dooper Super D; whippets strike back!

Ollie on course
Photo Caleb Smith

Another weekend down and another epic event, this time the always fiercely anticipated Queenstown Super D Enduro. This event pitted a gaggle of XC, DH and trail riders against one another on some of the finest trails anywhere. Fuelled by some gondola assisted ascent the stage was set for lap after lap of grin inducing descent.

Thanks to Mel I arrived in Queenstown in time for a cheeky jump and pump around Gorge Road, an amazing jump park only 2 minutes from town which seems to be sprouting new lines quicker than gramp's nasal hairs. While my jumping skills are far from mad, I'll comfortably clear the easy line which starts with some mellow table tops and ends with some steeper lipped (almost) doubles. After a rushed build-up to the Super D the sensation of floating through the air put my mind at ease and I rolled into town safe in the knowledge that tomorrow would hold six hours of a similar stoke.

Dossing on a couch at a swish Hallenstein Street penthouse arranged by Michi, I got up and rolled to the Skyline Gondola base. A few laps of the fanatically mountainous Outside Sports pump track made for an awesome warm-up, and this pump’r has really raised the stakes with berms and rollers of Yao Ming proportions.

I lined up for the Gondola with the rider I was set to start, in my case all-round pinner and champion of the recent Lyttelton Urban Downhill Nick.  Before I knew it we were at the top and off. All anxiety pushed aside in the haze of the short sprint to the start of Vertigo. Fast wide open corners led on to some tight twisties before some drops preceding the gnarly steepness of the Thing-a-majig trail.

Having not ridden the course I was a bit of a mess on this first lap, searching for the fastest line often meant trying new parts of the track which often ended in a tight awkward direction change and some seriously body English to get back on line.

With Nick hot on my El Chucho’s tail, our pace into a skinny section left us with no choice but to blast along the wooden structure. This turned out quite well as by the time we'd rolled off the finishing huck we'd passed about four people who had taken the dirt line. Stoked.

Next it was Gravity Dropper up, Talas down and a handful of gears grabbed to reduce the mellow Fernhill climb to somewhere between a grind and a spin. I loved this part of the course as the slippery rocks and roots made for a great technical challenge. We then dropped onto Hammy's, the quintessential Skyline trail that blends monster berms with smooth table tops, making for a giggle inducing run.

Hooking a berm on Hammies
Photo Caleb Smith
Hussing down Hammies I’d caught up homebuilding wizard and all round shredder Ritchie who is renowned for his yellow-themed steez. While his whips and X-ups were a blast to follow (and my woots served to wholeheartedly encourage them) my race brain had clearly taken over and I put in burst of pedalling, braking late and throwing it into a berm as I passed Mr Steezy.
Ritchie showing his trademark steez
Photo Caleb Smith

One thing I'd neglected during testing was dialling in the tire pressures on the lighter WTB tires I'd chosen to run, and this ballsy pass could easily have cost me the my race. The tire let out a but clench belch as pushed deep into the high speed turn. That I didn't burp and roll the tire off the rim was a sheer miracle, and rest assured the spine shrivelling sensation caused me to tone back the rowdiness a notch and ease into the ride. That was at least until I could get some more inflation!

Fortunately the gondola queue provided an ideal opportunity for re-inflation, especially as there was a bit of traffic at this early stage.

From chilly morning to balmy mid afternoon (and steamy gondola rides in between) I was rocking a Ground Effect Zip tie on top and some Juggernauts downstairs, augmented with a pair of the staggeringly comfortable Exocets. The test of a good clothing is if you notice it and I can safely say I didn't for the duration of the 6 hours of shredding. With leg vents open I never felt clammy nor cool, pretty good given the cool start and midday sun.

Gondolas were also great for single serving riding buddies as I came to call them. All were super friendly and keen to share their stoke and favourite parts of the track. From the super suave locals who seemed to ride the track as if they were telekinetically connected to the golden dirt, to the oxes who hauled their downhill rigs around the course, the latter becoming notably quieter as the race progressed. I'd chew through half an Em's oat explosion bar every lap, washed down with water the constant carbs kept me peaking for the next run.

The bottom section of the course was just as sweet as the top, with a freshly cut off camber section through the trees leading on to a pinch, followed by some slick tight singletrack through a clearing. Course designers had done well by including this section, paying homage to the climbing trail we'd used last year, while unleashing a tight and twisty trail that demanded balance and poise on the bike.

Back on to Vertigo and some sweeping turns led on to some super fun table top jumps. I'd never ridden them cleanly before but lined them up and threw in a few pedals on the first lap, landing smoothly with a stoke that encouraged me to hit another double, a table and a floaty step down onto the final sidle to the finish line. I'd never ridden jumps with such confidence so and the trail builders have done an awesome job making this jumping thrill safe an accessible.

By the end of the race I was even throwing in a few cheeky X-ups, totally lame compared with the monster whips the downhill boys were laying down, but pushing the limits for this cross country whippet.

Matt Scoles whips it good.
Photo Caleb Smith
While there was no doubt it was a race, for the entire time I was completely removed from my solo competitors, their pace and my position. A recent GPS malfunction meant I was without even the time of day, and relied upon my gondola buddies to fill me in on the progress of the day. I'd heard some of the rowdy crew in the pits yelling I was in first, but another gondola chum had said a pinner dude called Rupert was smashing the course so I dismissed it, putting my head down and grinding out the climbs till I was sure the six hours was up.

As it was, I ended up finishing second, 1:37 down on a buddy and fellow XC whippet Ethan Glover. He'd put in a storming run from the back of the starting grid to post a stellar end to an awesome season.

Solo podium. Yea boi! Ethan, Ollie and Rupert.
Photo Caleb Smith

I was absolutely stoked to finish up in second, to be able to launch parts of the course that left me scrubbing and sucking the previous year. Some of this credit must go to the new El Chucho 69er, with the big Fox 34 up front and dialled angles, it was a dream to ride. I felt nowhere near the limits of its capability on the course, and it rode in a flattering way that made boosting the jumps a joy.

The Super D was a fitting send off to a month or so on the big bike and now I turn back to the less adrenaline inducing but just as exciting prospect of racing the Tour Divide. Rigid forks and sky high seat will make for a drastic change from the plushness and downhill confidence of the El Chucho, but the time has come to ride the El Commandante in earnest.
Rest assured I’ll be back at Queenstown Super D ready to shred when the opportunity next presents itself!