| Welcome to the jungle... If you want it you're gonna bleed but it's the price to pay.|
Guns N Roses
These days most people tend to equate New Zealand with the breathtaking, Lord of the Rings backdrops of the South Island. They are stunning, nobody would argue with that, but if you start looking for the heart of mountain biking in New Zealand then that trail takes you some 1,500km further north to the small, highly volcanic town of Rotorua in the centre of the North Island. While it may not have the cinematic sex appeal of endless, golden alps it has something which matters more to real mountain bikers - the biggest and best-established network of trails anywhere in New Zealand. The Whakawera (pronounced Fa-ka-wear-ah) forest on the edge of town is a dense, humid rainforest with hundreds of kilometres of singletrack criss-crossing its floor. Blessed with the topography of God's own pumptrack and the kind of soft, brown dirt daydreams are made of, there is good reason why mountain bikers fell in love with this place. New Zealanders as a race aren't shy of a bit of hard work either, so when it came time to build trails that work ethic has meant a sprawling labyrinth of trails that you could get lost in for days. So when the Enduro World Series made the decision to come to New Zealand, there was only really one destination they could choose.
As the opening race of the season this is shaping up to be one of the most unpredictable races we have ever seen. While it is a shame for racers and fans alike that Jared Graves is injured, having the favourite out of the race makes predicting a winner almost impossible as there are too many riders who are in with a realistic shout of taking the win. Is Clementz back on form after a season on the sidelines? What about last years race winners, Barel, Lau and Oton? What about the dozen or so guys who were oh-so close last year, but were ultimately denied? Or, even more tantalisingly, as a new sport, enduro is still open enough for a complete unknown to come storming out of the bushes as surprise everyone. In the women's field the question at the top is more one of desire than anything else. Both Tracy Moseley and Anne-Caroline Chausson will admit that they would like quieter, lower stress lives - but they are racers through and through and will that all be forgotten come race day? Has Cecile Ravanel made up ground on the two women ahead of her? What about Beerten, Thoma and Courdurier? There are too many questions right now, but fortunately we will have all the answers when the dust settles in a little over 24 hours time...