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The EWS Season That Was

06 November 2019

Words: Mops Newell

Fresh off the plane and back in her home town of Wanaka, Mops Newell reflects on her 2019 EWS season. Shifting allegiance from Masters (Mops was crowned EWS World Masters Champ in 2018) to Women’s Elite was a step up but still a sweet, fun ride - just with a few more (big) bumps.

Mops, safety back in Wanaka.

A few stats:
  • Competed in 7 out of the 8 EWS races. Finished every race (many don't).
  • I was the oldest elite women... and the tallest.
  • I would have finished second in Masters.
  • 7 stitches, 1 dislocated thumb, 1 blown elbow bursar, a lot of crashes and lost skin (never to be found).
  • 8 countries, over 100 hours of flying.
  • 4 months on the road.
Round 1 - Rotorua, NZ
  • 19th
  • +4:21:42 (32:08:94 winning time)
  • 12.5% off the pace

Roto was the first race of the season and I was fizzing! Only a few hours of travel and plenty of support on course. I crashed three times! Was hoping for a top 15 finish and fell short by 1:20. All in all I was happy with my first race, I rode well and had a huge amount of fun amongst awesome people. One of the greatest aspects of EWS is catching up with fellow riders, managers and support staff. There were plenty of coffee dates and yarns. My previous race in Roto was two years back and was my very first EWS, a race I will never forget but wish I could - wet, really wet, like wet and muddy, like you could ride your bike muddy. This year's EWS was the total opposite - dry, fast and all fun. Although while I was having all the fun, 16 year old Bradley Harris was not. He was racing the EWS100 and had a huge crash landing him in hospital. Now the reason I mention Bradders is:

  1. He is a future champ in the making and
  2. He was staying with me.

So, I get to the bottom of stage 2 and friend/medic Perryn was there and told me she had put him on a backboard and sent him to A&E and that we needed to get in touch with his folks. This is not ideal. I gave Bradders' Dad's number to Perryn and told her he'd be all good with it (not always the case when parents get a call from the medics, but Steve is a great NZer and knows that shit sometimes happens). I carried on racing and by the time I got home Bradders had found his way home too and was doing ok. Phew. 

Race stead ready for action.

Martha Gill, Bex Baraona (3rd), Chloe Taylor, Abi Lawton.

Round 2 - Derby, Tasmania
  • 22nd
  • +3:44:53 (27:55:66 winning time)
  • 11% off the pace

Derby is an amazing place in the middle of nowhere (like a lot of our race venues). I had a great race the last time I was in Derby in 2017 - finishing 12th in Elite Women. This time the competition was much stronger. I had a huge amount of fun along with one major mishap that landed me five stitches in my shin, not ideal but I finished.

Derby has many large rock features and fast open flowing trail that really builds confidence. This was a two day race. We practised and raced the first stage on the same day. This is a new format and one that I don't particularly like - too much faff between practice and racing.

The second day was way better, with the standard EWS format and great fun on offer. Man did I embrace the day, even with a hole in my shin. My crash was a situation where I simply got the timing wrong through a fast rock section and went out the front door. I quickly got back on the bike knowing my shoulder was sore from taking the brunt of the hit. It wasn't until I got to the bottom that I thought "shivers my shin is sore". I pulled down my sock and eeeek, I could see the bone! I pulled my sock back up and found some medics. I instructed them that when I pull my sock down it will need a quick clean and something to knit it back together so I could crack on. They looked at me bewildered. I pulled my sock down and "Oh!, yes that's the bone". They sorted me super quick and got me back on the bike to make the liaison. Post race I was able to get it stitched then and there, saving me a two hour drive to the hospital. Chuffed.

In stitches.

Race mode.

Round 3 - Maderia, Portugal (didn't race due to financial restrictions).
Round 4 - Canazei, Italy
  • 36th
  • +10:36:02 (40:56:04 winning time)
  • 25% off the pace

Yet again an another amazing location, high in the Dolomites. But I couldn't find my flow or fizz in Canazei. I was having fun but was not riding fast - like a fish on a bicycle. The night before the race I had no rear wheel after breaking mine during training. I called in a favour and from the Trek factory team to sort me out (chur), but due to the time restraints I opted to not install my Cushcore. Massive mistake. On the final stage I hit a hole at high speed and blew my tyre off the rim. I was absolutely gutted, but it is what it is. A costly mistake on the longest stage of the day. Yet again, I was happy to actually finish, and not finish last. I can't wait to return to Canazei next year for some redemption.

Kiwis Sam Shaw, Charlie Murray, Me, Brooke Thompson, Rae Morrison, and Katy Winton (our token kiwi).

Pedro Burns, Me and Tyler West (Trek team mechanic and all round amazing human).

There's always a bit of horsing around.

Round 5 - Les Orres, France
  • 32nd
  • +8:56:99 (48:54:26 winning time)
  • 18% off the pace

Les Orres is (yet another) smashing spot - with high speed, high risk alpine riding. Not only did I have a massive crash during practice but so did good friend and top Elite rider Ella Connolly. I put on my Aunty Mops hat, opted to suspend practice, and looked after her until she was carted away in a helicopter with a suspected broken leg, that turned out to be a broken elbow, lol. By the time I had seen Ella on her way, the stage was closed which meant 'if' I dropped in I could be disqualified. Thankfully logic prevailed and the officials let me finish practice.

The race was tough. The state of my elbow didn't help, so I wasn't able to push as hard as I would have liked. In practice I knew I had to find my race pace - unfortunately, I crashed hard, really hard, bursting my bursar in my left elbow. Initially I thought it was broken. Feck it hurt.

Two days of practice and two days of racing left me battered. I wanted a lot from Les Orres, especially after the disappointment of Canazei and believing I was capable of more. But wanting and getting are two very different things. I wrapped it up, pulled up my socks and soldiered on.

Playing Aunty Mops while Ella waits for her heli ride.

Between the tape.

Views, not bad. 

Round 6 - Whistler, Canada
  • 25th
  • +9:17:84 (1:01:59:71 winning time)
  • 14.5% off the pace

Whistler is the mecca of mountain biking, just being there makes you a better rider. Big jumps, big drops and steep, technical riding. Add some rain and you have an epic environment. I had a good race. A few too many crashes, but I felt good on the bike. My elbow was healing nicely and my headspace was on point.

My first crash of the day was a silly one. I took a moment to breathe and reset on a mellow section. Then BOOM, the very next second I'm running up the track to pull my bike out of the bushes, no bueno.

One of the highlights was the final stage. Well when I say highlights I mean 'sobering moments'. Racing had been put on hold due to one of the Masters Men breaking his leg. Once we were able drop, it was all go. This final stage was so sick, so many features that could catch you out - wooden bridges (long and slicker than oil on an ice rink) and one specific rock feature that got the better of me. It was a right hand entry into a high set up left hand exit. I didn't get quite high enough, but was fully committed with my eye on the prize. As I exited the left hander my back wheel let go. No biggie, BUT on the outside of the corner was the guy with the broken leg. My back wheel went under the tape and contacted him. He screamed, and I screamed "sorry", before racing on.

Ines Thoma's b'day ride up Lord of the Squirrels.

Rae Morrison, Leone Picton and I scoping lines.

New shoes from Ines Thoma after mine fell apart - EWS love.

Round 7 - Northstar, USA
  • 30th
  • +06:03:11 (30:37:62 winning time)
  • 19% off the pace

After a two day drive from Whistler to Northstar I was feeling flat, tired and had picked up a head cold to boot. Northstar - aka the 'appliance store' - was hard to relate to. Think, altitude, dust (so much dust) and horrible rocks - like someone dropped a microwave, some toasters, an oven, and perhaps a fridge-freezer on the track. Now I like rocks, they're fun, but not this variety - mostly due to the flat terrain. Without the benefit of speed-as-your-friend these rocks caught you, slowed you down and well, sucked the life out of you. It's not often I struggle this much with a course, but Northstar broke me mentally. I persevered and struggled through the day.

Jenna Makgill wasn't so lucky. She was having a blinder, sitting in 6th overall in her 2nd ever EWS. But on stage 4 of 6 she hit a massive G-Out (hole) and broke her wrist. The craziest thing is she didn't even crash, it was such a big hit that the compression transferred to her wrist to cause the break.

So, so brutal. But there was more brutalness (I know, it's not a word) the next day when I took Jenna back to her hometown Vancouver - a 16 hour drive, in one hit. Jenna went directly to hospital. Me and my head cold crashed.

No EWS wrap up is complete without an X-ray - Here's Jenna Makgill's bung wrist.

Round 8 - Zermatt, Switzerland
  • 24th
  • +09:25:43 (43:56:57 winning time)
  • 20% off the pace

Rocks. Big rocks, little rocks, loose rocks and more rocks. This was an amazing race. Altitude, views, snow and the omnipresent 'Toblerone' Matterhorn. There were intense pedallie bits, followed by fast knife-edge lines. If you veered off course the heli would be on its way. Now I know this probably sounds a bit dramatic but it's no joke. There were some seriously scary sections.

Tight corners were the hardest aspect of the course. We were predominately riding on walking tracks. Generally it was a foot out, or even dismount, to get around them. 

I loved every aspect of this race, A fantastic finish to the season. Mountains upon mountains with views to blow your mind. The other mind blowing experience on offer in Zermatt is the cost. Jeepers. As the last hurrah for the series, many of us sent it to the small hours of the morning. The hangover required some McDonalds to ease the self-inflicted pain. My order was a big mac combo and 20 chicken nuggets. The excitement of this greasy fix had me feeling pretty bloody good, and then I saw the price... N$62. Gad. I needed it, I wanted it, and I paid it.

Later that day we organised an EWS boys vs girls soccer match. What a laugh. We played for over two hours, hungover, lacking any kind of football talent, but given the competitive nature of the teams, it felt like a World Cup final with more fun then you can throw a stick at. While ALN is the 3rd fastest women in the world (on a bike), her soccer skills are yet to be uncovered, but she is fierce to compensate. Cole Lucas was named 'Break Through Rider of the Year' by EWS but there was no way he was going to make a break through in this match. Just making a connection with the ball was a miracle. We were universally lacking talent. No contracts were forthcoming, just a another feed of really expensive McDonald's to finish us off.

Racing on the moon.

Anita and Caro Gherig gifted me some new rims after having numerous rim troubles this season.

On course photographers catch every angle.

Girls EWS Soccer Team - Bex Baraone, ALN, Chloe Taylor, Ella Connolly, Martha Gill.

As I sit on the plane, Wanaka bound, I have my sponsors and supporters to thank. It takes a small village to do what I do, and without their unwavering support I'd be nothing. Already, I'm excited about the 2019/20 season...

Game face.