Just as predicted, the opening round of the Enduro World Series in Rotorua was full of surprises. Not only did the weather throw a wrench in the mix, a whole host of new names emerged at the top of the pack when the mud started flying. Nearly all of the usual EWS suspects struggled while some new blood had everyone doing a double take at the result sheets by the end of each stage. Other than Cecile Ravanel's predicted dominance in the women's race, absolutely nothing about the racing in Rotorua was what we were expecting.
Luckily the biblical rains held off (for the most part), but the rain that did fall was enough to turn the race on its head right from the get go. While most of the unseeded riders came down on a semi-dry track on stage one, the top 20 riders were not so fortunate. The skies opened up for almost an hour, creating a mess of slick mud and deep ruts for the top riders; A fate that was avoided by the earlier starters who would go on to fill the majority of the top 10 by day's end.
Some of the riders caught out in the rain on Stage 1 never recovered, while other's would persevere and not let the slow start bog them down. Most notably Sam Hill, who was only one of three top seeded riders to crack the top 10 today. The rest of those top spots were filled by newcomers and a few World Cup DH riders, both current and recently retired. Take Josh Bryceland for example, who claimed to get "a bar drag in on the second turn and was buzzing for the rest of the day" en route to an 8th place finish. And of course, you can't ignore the podium made up of the Master's brothers and Matt Walker, all of who make strong showings each weekend on the WC circuit.
For the women, it was the Cecile Ravanel show once again but the usual challengers were nowhere to be seen. Isabeau Courdurier crashed and rode the day injured, while Anneke Beerten battled fatigue to finish 10th. In their place, Ines Thoma would push through a week of adversity marked by illness and the passing of her Team Manager to take a career-best 2nd. Anita Gehrig would close out the podium with newcomer Camille Balanche just two seconds behind. And in perhaps what could be a foreshadowing of things to come, Katy Winton took her first ever stage win en route to a top five in the overall.
So now the stage is set, the pecking order has been rewritten and we get a short week off before heading to Tasmania where the second round in the series will pick up where Rotorua left off.
Early morning at the TFR house getting ready for what will be a long day.
The Gehrig twins take a few to relax before the start.
Iago fuels up before he heads out for the day.
It's going to be a long day out there. "Look at all of my sh%t Randy." Marco Osborne is well prepared.
Matt Walker knows the trails here as well as anyone and used the home field advantage to help land himself a spot on the all Kiwi podium.
How dark was it in the woods today? Vaea Verbeeck is in there somewhere.
Cecile dominated once again, winning six of seven stages today.
Jack Moir was another of the DH riders who started early in the day and landed themselves inside the top 10.
3rd for Anita Gehrig.
Wyn Masters came out and rode hard today. The wild Kiwi had what it took to walk away with the win.
Anneke Beerten took a hard fought 10th today. Rotorua dished out heaps of punishment for many a top five rider.
Sam Hill proving that the move to Enduro was a good one.
Jesse Melamed drops into the slippery woods on Stage 1.
Rae Morrison lost time once the rain began to fall and would end the day in 11th.
Isabeau Courdurier had a crash and injury on Stage 2 and would struggle through the day just to make it to the bottom of each stage.
Mark Scott loved the mud on his way to 10th.
Jose Borges pulled out a 9th today in the slick.
Lewis Buchanan had plate number 38 for the season opener, he finished in 19th.
Katy Winton had her best day to date with a stage win and fifth overall. Perhaps today was a bit like the Scottish sunshine Winton is used to.
Cecile was quick to get out of the roots and avoid Jurassic Consumption
Ines Thoma pushed through a lot of adversity today to take a career-best 2nd.
Adrian Dailly started the day with the lead but a huge crash in the middle of the day pushed him back to 7th.
As an Irishman, Greg Callaghan knows a thing or two about how to ride mud and roots.
Mud in and on everything.
It's been a long hard day, and it's only half over. Graves and Hill pedal back up for another slippery run.
Mud. There was plenty of it. It caused problems on the tracks and in the pits.
Damion Oton speeding through the jungle.
It wasn't Casey Brown's day today. After getting a bad chest cold this week Brown rode as hard as she could, but a bad Stage 5 crash put her out of the race.
Casey Brown and Miranda Miller weren't loving the loose conditions today but enjoyed racing together and yarning on the ups.
Bike cleaning any way you can in the remote woods.
Not Richie Rude's best day, but still having lots of fun. He turned his day around by grabbing a win in Stage 6 but would land 20th in the overall.
Richie had a few disastrous stages early in the day as the rain poured down for the last few starters on stages 1 and 2.
This trail would be the undoing of more than a few racers today with the mud giving lots of people nightmares.
Claire Hassenfratz had her best finish in 6th.
Camille Balanche came out of nowhere to take 4th in the pro women's race.
Not a day Jared Graves will want to relive anytime soon.
Sam Hill was not going slow today. Where others struggled, Sam excelled. Hill finished fourth.
The last time the EWS came to Rotorua Jerome Clementz went home with gold. Today he had to settle for 11th.
After battling with his brother all day, Wyn Masters would finally live up to his namesake to take the top spot the podium.
Katy Winton won her first EWS stage today and would come 5th overall to kick off the season.
On the gas. Eddie had a dropper post freeze up on Stage 5, crashed on six, and got back on it to finish 2nd.
Eddie Masters happy, but smoked.
It's rare to see Sam Blenkinsop tired, but today left the super fit Kiwi more than worn out.
What a day for Ines Thoma.
Even a broken dropper post and a plethora of crashes on the final two stages couldn't keep Eddie Masters from the podium.
Matt Walker in the middle of the Master's sandwich on the podium.
The fastest men and women to kick off the 2017 Enduro Word Series Season.
We've lost another great one. Canyon pays their respects to Flo Goral.
Top teams to start 2017.