White Water Slalom star in new race...
words: Jamie Troughton
He’s more used to blasting down rapids and dodging slalom poles but former New Zealand kayaking star Johann Roozenburg will be chasing a different form of adrenaline next month.
The Rotorua engineer will line up in the inaugural Giant 2W Gravity Enduro on February 17, happy to trade his paddle for pedals in one of the feature events of the 10-day Rotorua Bike Festival.
Roozenburg spent nearly a decade on the world cup canoe slalom circuit, before wrecking his shoulder in Italy 18 months ago. Since moving home to New Zealand, mountain biking has become the 29-year-old’s main passion, fulfilling the competitive void kayaking left.
“I’ve found both sports have a lot in common - you’ve got to be really balanced in both and have good exit speed out of your turns, plus as soon as you go sideways, you start slowing down in a hurry,” Roozenburg said. “Sometimes you’ve got to be a little bit more under control to go fast and other times, you just let it all hang out, although at least in mountain biking, you don’t have to worry about touching the slalom poles and the trees are usually a bit more than a metre apart!”
There are still plenty of spots left in the 2W Enduro field. More than $45,000 worth of prizes will be up for grabs as riders blast down a series of timed downhill trails, cruising to the top of each stage in shuttles or under their own steam.
Roozenburg needed no more incentive than another chance to ride amongst the magnificent Redwoods in the Whakarewarewa Forest with mates, testing himself against the likes of downhill star Justin Leov and Olympian Rosara Joseph.
“I plan to go out and have a great time, cruising between stages, but I’ll definitely be going as fast as I can on the race sections to see where I stack up.
“When you’re out in that bush, you just can’t think of work, kayaking or anything else – it’s just put the hammer down, left, right, breathe, pedal, brake. That’s definitely what it’s all about.”
Race organiser Neil Gellatly, of Dare 2 Sweat Events, is bracing for a deluge of entries in coming weeks as riders of all abilities start fighting off the festive over-indulgence and planning epic event campaigns for the new year.
He’s already seen a flood of entries come in from across the Tasman, where the likes of Queenslander Andy Noble will bring a group of competitive mates across the ditch to do battle with the locals and enjoy the stunning riding terrain.
The 38-year-old has wound down a competitive racing career in recent years but sees the Enduro format as an ideal way to wind back up again.
“I’m really looking forward to riding as a group of mates between segments, encouraging each other, learning from each other and pushing each other,” Noble said. “Some of the guys I am racing and riding with have been Australian national champions and former world cup
competitors – they’re great guys to ride with and learning heaps from them should be a great experience.”
The Enduro format is booming overseas and Noble has no doubt it is set for a big future.
“I still love the technical aspect of downhill but not to the level of huge drops and gaps anymore, plus I hate to climb in anger like you need to in cross country racing. The strategic side of Enduro is great, getting to the start of the next stage with just enough time to not cool down but to have a rest, refuel and get ready to put it all in again. How could you not like the idea of Cruise Up, Hammer Down?”
The Giant 2W Gravity Enduro features two entry options, with a short version over 3hrs comprising two special stages and a longer 5hr version with four stages.
All competitors will start and finish on Eat St in the heart of Rotorua's restaurant district, with riders rolling out in groups of five every 15secs, heading along off-road trails into the forest to complete the race stages before returning via the same route.
Rotorua has staged two world mountain bike championships and numerous Oceania and National events over the last decade, with the inaugural Rotorua Bike Festival aiming to build on those experiences.
The festival will open with the Cateye Moon Ride (6hr, 12hr and 24hr options) on February 8 and will wrap up with the Giant 2W Gravity Enduro on the final day.