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.
Get the full race results