Words // Michael Hayward | Photography // Digby Shaw, Matt Wood, Henry Jaine
It was second time lucky for the Aorere Enduro. The EWS Asia Pacific Continental round, held in Nelson, New Zealand, was planned for February but had to be cancelled because of a huge nearby fire that burned through over 2400 hectares of forest and forced 3000 people to evacuate their homes.
Nelson’s expansive trail network has a reputation for long, steep and root-filled technical tracks through spectacular native bush. Known as New Zealand’s sunshine capital, Nelson lived up to its blue sky reputation for the three days, five-stage event. Almost 200 people lined up, with about two-thirds making the trip from out of town. The race is named after the te reo Māori word for the area, meaning fleeting or flying clouds.
The event was hosted by the Nelson Mountain Bike Club, relying on hard working volunteers and loads of support from the bike-mad local community to make it happen. Race director Hamish Berkett said he was gutted the event had to be cancelled in February just a day before it was due to start, but it was great to get such superb conditions the second time around. He said some rain earlier in the week had left the trails running perfectly, showcasing Nelson mountain biking at its best.
After practising four stages on the first day, riders started day two with a pedal up to practice the Aorere trail, a highlight of Nelson’s trail network due to its length and variety. After lunch, they were shuttled back up the hill to repeat it on the clock. The 4 kilometre trail dropped more than 600 vertical metres, with the fastest racer finishing in about 9 minutes 30 seconds.
The second day of racing was a mix of long and physical technical trails, including the mammoth 5 kilometre Te Ara Koa trail (which means “pathway to happiness” in Māori) that drops about 750 vertical metres through lush native forest, and the Rimu and Mataī trails, a janky technical run that tested the limits of riders’ bike-handling skills.
The race finished on a high note with Smasher, a steep and fast track that dropped through a pine forest and finished with a dusty chute lined by hundreds of screaming fans.
Though racing was tight, there was a relaxed vibe over the three days, and a real community feel due to hordes of fans, army of volunteers and the staunch support from several local businesses.
Shannon Hewetson was the fastest man, finishing the five stages in 34:12.49, ahead of Todd Ballance (34:37.75) and Levi Healey-Furniss (35:02.06).
Hewetson said he came into his own on the longer stages, which he put down to the eight weeks of “pretty hard” training he put in ahead of the race.
He said there was a good range of trails in the race, including the “curveball” of the Rimu and Mataī, which some locals did not often ride.
EWS regular Raewyn Morrison proved too slick for the women’s field, posting a time of 40:02.82.
Morrison said she hadn’t planned to race and had just had a month off, but got FOMO at the last minute.
She said the event had a relaxed vibe but serious racing.
In second place was 15-year-old Rebecca Hufflett in 41:21.93 with Louise Kelly slotting into third in 42:04.82.
Hufflett was only 10 seconds back on Morrison after 11 minutes of racing down the first stage.
She said it was her first EWS-style race and she wanted to find a solid pace she could maintain and not push too hard. RESULTS
1 - Shannon Hewetson - 34:12.49
2 - Todd Ballance - 34:37.75
3 - Levi Healey-Furniss - 35:02.06
4 - Ben Karalus 35:03.12
5 - Loui Harvey 35:05.58Women
1 - Raewyn Morrison - 40:02.82
2 - Rebecca Hufflett - 41:21.93
3 - Louise Kelly - 42:04.82
4 - Amber Werensteyn - 43:11.75
5 - Anja Mcdonald - 44:12.49
Full results are here