Oceania Champs, the Continental Championship for riders from New Zealand, Australia, and much of the South Pacific will take place this Saturday, February 10, at Signal Hill in Dunedin, which sits halfway down the east coast of the South Island. Huge UCI points are on offer so the event, in this beautiful harbour town, is drawing talented elite competitors from both sides of the Tasman and beyond.
MarathonMTB.com got a sneak preview of the course this morning. It’s tough and tricky, with more climbing than we’d normally expect to see at even World Cup level racing, and some interesting features on the descents.
Signal Hill has been built and groomed for many years by Otago riders and the local club and boasts a huge range of trails, from extreme downhill to beginner friendly tracks. There’s plenty of elevation on Signal Hill, so most of the singletrack takes riders either up or down, although there are some gentle gradients cut into the side of the hill. Some trails sit on rocky, exposed slopes, while others meander through uniquely New Zealand rainforest beside babbling creeks and between tree ferns. The Oceania course, about half of it freshly built, takes in all these different types of terrain.
The Oceania course
Like all good XCO courses, the Oceanias track begins with a diabolical climb. The climb takes riders up some steep pinches and into the freshly built singletrack on the rocky, dry, exposed side of the hill.
The trail then turns into the freshly-built singletrack, climbing through a variety of switchbacks and through a few tricky rocks with a couple of line choices. After several minutes of tough climbing, riders emerge at the top and are faced with the first techy downhill feature of the day.
Ok, so the photo doesn’t do it justice, but take our word for it, this is steep and exposed, and that last big rock you see? Well you need to loft the front wheel and drop off it to land safely. There’s a B-line you can see on the right, which is really tricky to get onto, and a much slower C-line that switchbacks down next to the feature, and will cost riders a handful of seconds.
The descent carries on over a medium-sized double with a slower B-line, then into another challenging climb. This one takes riders up an old four-x track, so you can imagine how steep it gets. There are a few lumps for recovery, though, and after a minute or two of hard graft riders are back on a descent, this one a steep set of bermed switchbacks in dark pine forest with the occasional root, rock, or off-camber lump to throw in a challenge or two.
Riders head over the other side of the grassy opening at the feedzone for the second half of the course. This section is a lot different. It climbs gently through a well-loved and well maintained trail called ‘The Big Easy’. Easy it may be, but there are still a few curly A-lines that cut out sections of trail – rooty techy climbs and a slippery creek crossing.
The trail then flattens out in a little rainforest tunnel for about 20 metres, then the fun starts. The first part of the descent is a simple, flowy trail over a couple of little jumps, then it turns into the first major feature, a rooty, off-camber corner into a drop-off (rollable, but steep). There’s a B-line but it’s pretty awful and costs a lot of time. In the dry and with plenty of momentum, the roots are proving rideable for most.
After negotiating this, there’s a jump, some big roots, and the second big slide. This one is long, and super, super steep. There are a range of lines heading into it and, like the rooty feature, a dreadfully slow B-line through sliding, tight corners.
That’s it! Riders head over a few more roots and down a little chute and they’re back in the open, grassy feedzone (or the finish line, if it’s the last lap). So far the weather here has been just perfect, sunny and warm. The consensus is that even a few drops or rain could cause chaos on the course, which is predominantly clay, roots, and slick rocks. We won’t jinx anything by saying we hope it stays dry.
The course is of a standard befitting a Continental Champs. It could have just favoured the best climber, but the descents are long enough and tough enough that the best all-rounder will carry the day.
Tune into the Oceania Champs website for results on Saturday 10 Feb, 2018.