Raceblog: Chapter 1 – Rotorua (April 2017)

By Tim Butler – “The Adventures of the Non Work Boots”

3 April 2017


First stop: Rotorua – Crankworx 2017

“So this is it, the first leg of the DH mountain bike world circuit.”


My first time out of the country, unless you count Rottnest Island as leaving the country. For the first time in years I’ve ditched the trusty work boots for some hiking boots, which has amazed most people that know me. So I’m writing this to tell you the story of the adventures of the boots.

First stop Rotorua, for the first round of Crankworx. Pat’s first international race and with a new sponsor the Bergamont Hayes Factory team, teamed up with Eddie Masters, Reece Wilson and Morgane Charre.

Glad this is a short flight to start off with as I go stir crazy just going to Cairns. Bit of an eye opener for me, I was a bit out of my comfort zone. I learnt quickly that you had to keep your passport in your pocket all the time instead of putting it in your bag. Pat even need a passport to buy two bottles of water in the airport before we left. Eddie hadn’t given us much information about the trip only Pats plane ticket, we didn’t know if we had accommodation or if anyone was meeting us at the airport. Uncertainty just  adds to the adventure! I had just bought a new water proof jacket so I could probably have survived on a park bench or under a tree.

I survived the plane trip to Auckland… just! Not being a big TV watcher, I can only watch a certain amount movies. I wished that what happens at home happened when on a plane. I fall asleep in seconds on the couch. Maybe the more I travel I’ll relax more.

Landing in Auckland first thing I noticed was how friendly the locals were. Met Jake Newell, a local Central Coast boy, in the departure lounge. His flight got diverted from Wellington because of the weather, this gave me hope that someone was going to be at the airport to pick us up as he is friends with Eddie. The plane got delayed, then we got stuck on the tarmac because of a storm and then the ground crew ran away. We were all set to go then the pilot announced that now the plane was delayed and they had convince the ground crew at Rotorua to work back because they were suppose to knock off at 9:00. the Air Hostess entertained us well though, handing out lollies and biscuits which probably gave us all a sugar rush.

We arrived at Rotorua to find the big grin of Eddie and his mate Brad. Reece was on the same flight as us, so it was good to meet him as well. We had four bikes to squeeze into the vans, as Reece had two because Bernard Kerr accidentally left his DH bike in Queenstown. We headed into town and the boys drop us off at the Grand Hotel. They kept Pat’s bike to put some tasty bits on it.

In the morning we headed up to the track, after we had breakfast at my Aka name sake, Fat Dog Cafe, and picked up our passes and headed into the Event Centre. It was raining quite heavily, so glad I bought a good quality raincoat, it worked a treat. We were going to do a track walk but they were running a school event so we decided to put it off till the next day. There were many familiar faces in the crowd including Dereck and Juddy (UCI commissaries that I have work with at various races), they were very amazed I wasn’t wearing my work boots.

I also caught up with Anne Marie Luduikens, who is one of the greatest people in the Australian Mountain Biking community. She is now Managing the Specialised DH Team and looking after two of the best riders in the world, Louci Brunie and Finn Illes.
It’s always good to catch up and spend some with her.

All the boys decided to go to a local Go-Kart track and cut some lapps in the rain. I opted out and decided to watch and take some pictures. it was still pouring rain and with 17 Karts going round the track it was quite entertaining.

The next morning before Eddie came and picked us up, We met a local barber, who had his pad just near the hotel and ask us to come in for a chat, I thought he might convince Pat into getting a hair cut, it didn’t work, although he did try his best, we sat there and threw the usual Aussie Kiwi banter then asked us for one of Pats jerseys to put above his work station. Eddie came and picked us up in Sernina, the Team van was a beaten up Nissan that had a hole in the muffler and the front windows were chocked up with timber and the single back seat was a lounge chair. We headed to the Brads house who we met a couple nights before, it was at the base of the track and this was where all of the Vanzacs (the wild boys of the MTB seen) were staying. So glad that we weren’t staying there as there was about 12 people staying there in this 2 beddy. Pats practice wasn’t till lunch time, so the UCI Comms wanted my opinion of the track and managed to get Pat and I a lift to the top to do a walk.

The track started in a grassy paddock, with the schools race the day before there was already massive ruts forming in the corners. At the end of this section there was a massive double over a dam. During practice Loic Bruni decided to see how deep this was by falling into it.
The track then headed over a timber bridge into a heavily wooded section with very slippery soil. The Group B riders were practicing so timing when you walked down the track without slipping over was quite tricky. In one section there was a big double that most of the riders were going around, so we head down the track that way, but as I was in the middle the jump, Dave McMillian, one of the Vanzacs, came down and jumped over the top of me.

The track got steeper and more slippery making me happy I have retired from the sport. After this steep section it went across a few more timber bridges down a man made rock garden that hates tyres, into a hip jump, over a massive double, down another bridge that dropped steeply into a right hander, over another bridge into the finale run down the hill. This was a rough rutted almost straight down run down to a massive step up to the finish.

Pat went up for his practice runs and I stayed down the bottom twiddling my thumbs. I ended up sitting in the Comms tent so I could be close to a radio and feel more at home at a race, I had a great chat to Dave the race Director about the joys and fun of running big events.

I caught up with Jack Moir, a good mate and riding partner from home who was also practicing . The boys were loving the track, except for the Rock garden that kept eating tyres and rims. Pat was very comfortable on the new Bergamont Straitline, but he said the track was so slippery. After practice we went back to camp, cleaned the bikes and headed back to our hotel.

Pat had an early practice the next morning we arrived at 8am, with no rain over night the track was starting to dry out.

While Pat went up for his practice I hung around the bottom again, bored, I decided to give the crew a hand setting up dual Style Course. Then went up the track to take some footage of the team and Jack. I can tell you now I’m not a photographer. Jack threw me out because he was wearing a different kit, Eddie came down and the camera had turned itself off, Pat came down and I thought I had him but when I looked up to see if it was him I moved the camera so I miss half of him. I decided to stay there for the next run. Reece came down and I got him only reliseing that Pat was right behind him so I missed him again. Admitting defeat I headed back down the hill to sulk, wishing Matt Staggs was here to take the Photos for me like usual. But all was not lost, I met a bloke on the hill taking photos and he took my email address to send me photos. Pats Practice finished at 12 and the Wipoff wasn’t till 7;30, so we all decided to head up the hill to do some Heckling and Vanzac filming at the steepest part of the track. It was very entertaining.

The Wipoff is very nerve racking for a parent, just seeing the massive drop into was heart stopping. Pat was able to follow Remi Morton into the jump and styled it up beautifully. Only being new to the seen, Pat wasn’t pick for the finales, but had a ball anyway, quite an experience.

Race Day;

   They changed the schedule for racing due to the chance of bad weather coming in on Sunday, so they only got one and half hours of practice in the morning straight into racing, Pat was keen to change a few lines, so he headed up early to try them out, he went up for a second run, I thought he was pushing it for time and then he flatted, by the time he reached the bottom it was the time for him to get up to the top. Luckily Eddie had stopped by to have a chat and they were able to swap out rear wheels. Eddie didn’t have to go up till later, so he had time to repair the flat and head up for his run.

I really appreciate why I do the starts at races now, it is very nerve racking waiting for your child to come down the hill, Luckily Sally Moir, Jacks mum, was there so we both sat and stressed together. With no timing boards at the bottom and terrible commentary, we didn’t have any idea how any of the riders were going. Pat came into view and a sense of relief came over me. As usual he looked extremely smooth, the bike seemed to be working really well though the rough stuff. With only three riders to come down the commentator decide to take her jumper off and that was it, till Finn Illes came down, and won it, no one knew who came second or any other place, very irritating. Pat was really happy with his run, but had a off in the steep section costing a bit of time.

I stayed with Sally while the Pros to did their race runs, I managed to get a start list from the Comms earlier in the day so we were able to keep track of the riders coming down.
Sally went into the ancisous mum mode, like I had earlier, when she knew Jack was on course. He came into sight and flew down the track over the step up and took the fastest time so far at a 2:55, by nearly 5 seconds. With some of the best riders in the world still come it was quite exciting. Sally and I were looking at the list and getting all excited about how he could make top 10. the list got smaller and smaller, then we realised that he could podium, only Loic and Troy Brosnan to come down, Loic looked fast but slid out just before the massive step up and put off course and had to take the B line, which ruined his run. By this stage Sally was over the moon a second place was looking good. Troy came into sight, he too looking fast, and as usual super smooth, crossed the finish line and we all waited for the time as there was no timing boards. The call came through, 3:01. Jack had won! how good was that, so glad I was there to witness it.

I’ve known Jack since he was a kid at school, he used to help me coach the little kids. To watch his riding improve from not being able to keep up to me, to me having to buy an Ebike to keep up with him, to winning the Crankworx DH was incredible. Couldn’t have gone to a nicer Kid.

Still not knowing the results from the Juniors, I managed to pull some strings to get a copy of the results, which ended up being gold, cause they were the only copy around because the internet crashed so no one could get results.

   Pat came sixth with only a second and a half off third, he was quite chuffed by that considering he had a crash. A great result for his first international race.

After the race finished so early we were a bit lost, we watched the freaks practice the Slope Style for a while then Pat and I headed up to the top of the Gondola for a loush run. Good fun but there was a big line up so we only did one run.

The slope style was underway when we arrived back at the Event Centre. man those blokes are amazing!  just riding those jumps on a hard tail without doing the tricks is absolutely incredible. Good to watch but really dragged out, problem when they film things for TV.

The next day we got to sleep in, well I got up and when for a walk around Sulphur Bay, which was a great test for my Sulphur intolerance. I did get a bit headachy but not as bad as I thought, it was really interesting to see water and steam bubbling up though the rocks and water.

We went back to Brads house to clean and pack up Pats bike ready for the trip home. Then the boys decided to head to Cols, who got locked up the night before for getting a coward punched in the head by a random person. The place was on the lake was complete with a beautiful Ski boat and Jetty. My daughter Jess will be so jealous when she see photos, being a avid Skiier herself.

The boys decided they were too hungover to go skiing so we headed out in the boat to some hot pools, After Des and Jake did a few Lake jumps off the ramp coming off the balcony of the house the boys decided to watch the Air Downhill on the computer, even though we had passes to the event and could even watch it on the big screen, it was funny. There were multiple pools all at a different temperature. and the top one was the hottest, and I mean hot, talk about opening the pours of your skin up.. gees! I went twodown and  it was still bloody hot.

We decided to head back into town only then realising that we came in three cars and two of them were staying there. We squeezed 8 blokes into Serina, and I got to drive. On the way into town a Police car pulled out in front of me, I so glad the boys faffed a bit getting in because if I was 2 second ahead a recon I would have been caught.

We headed out to tea with everyone at the Cobb and Co restaurant, the Newly crowned King of Crankworx, Matt Walker, joined us. I learnt a new thing that night, if you are with a group and your sick of people being on their phones you call a “Phone Pile” and everyone piles their phones on top of each other and no one is allowed to touch them.

Pat and I had bets on what time Eddie would show up to pick us up to go to the airport, he told us 8, Pat said 8:15 and I guessed 8:30. He threw us both out arriving at ten too. We packed the van, tied one of Pats race Jerseys on the door nob of our favourite Barbers and headed to the airport.

We flew into Sydney, I spent most my time writing this because I’m a really slow typer, caught the train to Morisset. Ive decided that the train is the easiest way to get to the airport even with a coffin of a gear bag and a bike bag, specially in peak hour.

It was an awesome trip, meeting and hanging out some great people! after the way this week has gone I think the rest of the year is going to be fun. The group reminded me of my mates and what we used to get up to when we were younger. Reece and Eddie are laid back and I think Pat is going fit in well with the team and learn a lot from these two riders.

Next stop Lourdes in France last weekend of April, for the first World Cup Round.


Photos: Tim Butler