The Urge 3 Peaks Enduro endurance downhill mountain biking race has attracted some of New Zealand's top rising stars for this weekend's racing in Dunedin, New Zealand. (November 28 and 29, 2015).
Among those planning to line up at the race start on the summit of Flagstaff, overlooking the city, on Saturday morning is 2015 Enduro World Series (EWS) racer Rae Morrison, of Paraparaumu, Kapiti Coast (below). Ranked 9th in the 2015 EWS and first on the NZ MTB Crown for Enduro, Morrison said she was looking forward to racing with her friends.
"This is my third year racing the Urge 3 Peaks Enduro and I'm looking forward to it – it's much more relaxed than the Enduro World Series and it will be my first time in the South Island since coming back from my season in the Northern Hemisphere. It will be a chance to catch-up with old friends, although the riders are very fast and it still has that competitive element."
Race founder Kashi Leuchs, of Bike Otago, said the race, which is ranked as a Silver-level NZ MTB Crown race, was deliberately designed as a bookend to the international season.
"We're not trying to emulate an Enduro World Series event, but we have created an enjoyable mountain biking race that takes in some of Dunedin's best trails and lets riders have a lot of fun," he offers.
Morrison's EWS season concluded with a fifth place in Spain, immediately followed by a fifth in Italy as she continues to find her feet among the world's best enduro athletes.
"Two years ago I had a hip injury, which set me back for a year, but since then I have been trying to step it up and race as much as I can. I'm from a cross-country background, but I was never that good at it and I never enjoyed riding up hills – it was always about the downhills for me. So enduro racing suits me down to the ground."
Morrison said enduro racing was about being "a good all-round rider".
"My fitness can always be improved and my skills as well," she laughs.
She said the Urge 3 Peaks Enduro was very different to the EWS races.
"The tracks are quite different and the people are too – I know most of the riders this weekend," she smiles.
She adds that the EWS is very downhill orientated, while the Urge 3 Peaks Enduro is more pedally and the tracks feature more off-camber sections.
"Obviously there is some steep technical riding on Signal Hill and Mt Cargill's steps are insane and super technical as always. But on the whole it's more balanced between cross-country and downhill riding."
Morrison expected Natalie Jakobs, of Queenstown, to put up her biggest challenge after EWS number 7 Meg Bichard was sidelined after breaking both her wrists in a training crash.
"Natalie is very modest and understated, but she is a very fast rider and then there are a few girls from Nelson who are very fast, come from downhill backgrounds and fly under the radar."
She said Jo Perrott, Amanda Pearce and Deanna Elvines were three she would be keeping tabs on this weekend.
Morrison hasn't had an easy run at the event with a string of crashes in her first attempt followed by a flat tyre at the top of Mt Cargill last year, which cost her more than a minute and knocked her down to third place on the podium.
Among the men, all eyes are on Queenstown-based rider Jimmy Pollard. He finished second last year by 11 seconds and will be looking to take the top step in 2015. Local rider Leighton Kirk and Wellington's Michael Cowlin may have other ideas. Cowlin is coming off a string of wins and will be looking to improve his 10th from last year, while Kirk will be looking to draw on his local knowledge. Local multi-discipline rider Ethan Glover will also have an eye on the top step of the podium and he has the recent form to claim it.
Organised by local bike shop Bike Otago in conjunction with Mountain Biking Otago, the 2015 Urge 3 Peaks Enduro features stages on each of the three tallest peaks surrounding Dunedin's CBD: Flagstaff (668m), Mt Cargill (676m) and Signal Hill (393m) over two days of racing.