It's barely ticked over 5 months since New Zealand was hosting Crankworx Rotorua, but it feels like an eternity ago. A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then, with most social and sporting events globally grinding to a halt due to various lockdowns and distancing requirements. Locally, New Zealand has weathered the coronavirus pandemic reasonably well, and after a two-month period of strict lockdown, it's nearly business as usual here.
Middle Hill MTB Park didn’t open much longer before the pandemic blew through either - three years ago, it was just a glint in the eye of Genevieve 'G' King. Once Morgan 'Morgz' Rigby arrived a year later the shovels really started flying, and by October 2019 the park was up and running to the public. Since then, it has gone from strength to strength as word spread of a mythical bike park on the east coast. Its success is a sign of just how good the park is.
So when the opportunity came to host a race, it was the natural decision to add another notch to the cap and get the planning underway. The winter weather in Clarence is typically mild, giving it an advantage that not many other places have – awesome riding year-round. After a short but intense three weeks of admin, the race was underway on site.
With many of New Zealand’s pro riders jumping at the opportunity to get racing again, the entry list would have passed for a Continental EWS, rather than a local race. Given that many of these riders are heading back overseas to resume the EWS, it may be some time before we see another local race with such a stacked field. The race location and vibe impressed many of the riders:
Clarence, valley of the gods. With 15 degree temps and the sun shining all day it didn't feel like winter!
Usually this shuttle wagon would be busy taking paying customers to the top of the hill. Instead, it spent the day shuttling volunteers and medics around.
The first race in a while meant a good opportunity to catch up with people and see how they got on over the past few months, both for locals and pros alike.
Race briefing was a laid back affair. Go and get after it team.
Stage 1 proved to be a rider favourite, with a tight and slippery upper section feeding out into some high-speed corners and straights.
The feed station was well stocked by Crafty Weka bars, which kept the large contingent of racers fuelled up for Stages 3 and 4.
Eddie Masters and Jimmy Pollard on Stage 4, Wharekiri Ridge. Middle Hill is sandwiched between the Seaward Kaikouras, the Clarence River and the Pacific Ocean, meaning there's a view every way you look.
Charlie Murray and Ed Masters on their way to a first and third respectively, before dropping it into fifth gear on the 3-hour drive back to Christchurch to catch Eddie's 7 pm flight.
Once you strayed from the thin bench, you were destined for the bushes.
The support crew was just as stoked to be there as the riders. Two medics trailed the racing all day, but not even so much as a band-aid was required.
Local tucker from the farm provided by some bloody good kiwis.
Elite Women's Podium, with Rae Morrison in first, Louise Kelly in second, and Melissa Newell in third.
Results can be found on the Gravity Canterbury Facebook page
, and if you want to know more about Middle Hill, get in touch with them here
, or check out the trails on Trailforks below.Middle Hill MTB mountain biking trails