We are all here for the photos I know, especially those of you in the northern hemisphere looking to fuel your riding froth waiting for summer to start. So I won't be offended if you don't read the article, but if you do, thanks. If not then enjoy the photo bangers courtesy of the talented Callum Wood (@cwoodphoto).
So, how good is downhill racing! As fun as modern trail bikes are you really can't beat swinging your leg over a dual crown 200mm travel bike purpose-built to help you focus your attention 100% on a taped out downhill track, finding lines, discussing lines, playing with bike set up, making excuses and ultimately trying to find that perfect run against the clock. During a DH race, the nerves and anxiety make you question why you do it but when you get a solid race run in the bag, giving it everything you have got, it is a feeling that is hard to beat and you can't wait to do it again. I have still to find something else that compares.
It is so important that grassroots racing exists, they help build the local riding community, spark new passion, give focus and act as stepping stones for aspiring racers to hone their craft. Running these events makes it so evident why local bike stores need to exist and why they need to be supported. If you have a local shop that puts the hard yards in to build community through events of any kind be sure to support them in some way, you won't realise how much you miss them until they are gone. All our events go towards raising money for the local Queenstown Mountain Bike Club and this year we raised just over $15000. All the money goes back into trail development and maintenance in the Queenstown area.
As part of the Vertigo Bikes Ride More DH series this year we decided to make the final round not count towards the overall series and created the Wakatipu World Champs, a win it or bin race that gave you the chance to become the coveted "Wakatipu World Champion." We wanted to put that little bit of extra effort in to add to the fun and create some hype leading up to it. To make it seem more like a world champs we needed a few extra key ingredients. We needed to make it a one-run race, we needed split times, we needed custom world champs number boards, we needed to have the dreaded UCI start line beeps, we needed world champion trophies and we needed a race track worthy.
The Skyline MTB crew pulled out all the stops with the track. Cutting in fresh sections of trail and opening up some old pirate lines. The track was short and quite a direct line down the hill. The final chute was one we had used a few years ago and it's a great section of track that is easy for riders and spectators to get to. Which was another important factor, we wanted a crowd to build atmosphere.
On paper and upon first inspection the track seemed quite innocuous. But a long dry spell and a hungry bunch of world champs title hunters practicing the day before saw the track starting to get rough and blown out, like riding in 10 inch deep moon dust in spots. Great fun but very easy to make a mistake. Which on a track that was only a couple minutes long made it hard to know whether to play the safe game or go all out.
The Queenstown riding community is something special. Pros and weekend warriors mix, ride and support each other, we are one big family and everyone is happy to do their bit to help the community in one way or another. We managed to secure the presence of Eddie Masters as official start line banter/heckle commissaire. I am sure he would have rather been racing but seeing as he is currently injured he offered to help out instead, what a legend.
The threat of rain in the forecast soon dissipated and it was clear we were going to be treated to a dry and dusty season finale. Just shy of ninety riders turned up to tackle the world champs track with the youngest racer being 8 years old (the grom talent is real in Queenstown!). The expert field was pretty stacked with lots of NZ's best riders in town and taking part including George Brannigan (taking part in his first Vertigo Bikes race). Always great to have these guys come along and get involved.
Sign on began at 9am with riders rolling in at a steady pace to pick up their custom Wakatipu World Champs number boards which they got to keep as a souvenir from the event. Who doesn't like to collect number boards for their man shed right!
After race briefing riders got practice underway. Riders had three hours of morning practice to get their final lines dialled on the ever-changing track. Fresh berms were getting blown out, corners getting pushed wider and wider and traction getting less and less. The term dirt surfing had never been more apt. The main thing was riders were grinning ear to ear after each run.
Racing got underway at 1.30pm. Eddie Masters had managed to hobble his way to the start line with his moon boot on. He was equipped with a megaphone and was swiftly getting amongst getting riders organised. We had an ipad tied to a tree with some innertube (kiwis love using old innertubes for stuff) with a video of the UCI start beeps that we had screen recorded of youtube. It worked perfectly and added to the atmosphere by making it feel like a proper start line. The nerves of hearing the ten second beep can't be described, but it certainly helps you focus and makes it feel very real.
It was a one-run format, bin it or win it. We had set up split times which cut the track into 4 shorter segments so everyone could get analytical on their run performance or use it to work out who was paying for the beers later. Either way, it was just an extra bit of effort to make the race feel a bit more special.
In the end, it was Finn Hawkesby-Brown that took the fastest time of the day, pipping George Brannigan by just over a second with Boaz Hebblethwaite in third. The racing was super tight on this short and intense track which was awesome to watch and be a part of. The full results are lower down in the article for everyone to check out. If you go to @Vertigo_Bikes_Queenstown on Instagram and to our profile highlights we have a load of videos from the final chute of all the top guys riding, well worth a watch.