Weekend warriors and local thrashers will rub shoulders with world champions, Olympians and former international stars in this week's inaugural Giant 2W Gravity Enduro mountain bike event in Rotorua.
With online entries closing tomorrow, organisers already have several hundred super-keen riders chasing $45,000 in cash and prizes, ready to tackle 18.4km of timed downhill trails as the curtain is pulled on the 10-day Rotorua Bike Festival.
The gravity enduro format is booming overseas and has piqued the interest of several world-class Kiwi riders, including Olympian Rosara Joseph, fellow cross-country champion Mike Northcott and former world cup downhiller Jenna Makgill.
Makgill is also a two-time winner of the Cycle Courier world championships and admits the enduro enjoyment factor is providing huge motivation to get back on her bike again.
"I'm super-excited as Whakarewarewa is one of my favourite places to ride and has been since I was a grom in my cross-country days," she said.
"It is also the only place I have ridden in the last year since taking up mountain biking again - man, it rocks! The concept is awesome as I like the idea of a few timed areas but how you go about getting there is completely up to you. Plus, you can go out with friends and do it.
"It's a lot more attractive to the average Joe, who just loves to ride yet knows there will be some boys and girls out there faster - I'm big on the idea of participation and getting people involved."
Tokoroa's Northcott has won seven national titles in cross-country and single-speed and has represented New Zealand 14 times, including at the 2006 Commonwealth games in Melbourne.
But the 31-year-old concedes his cross-country career is winding down and he wants something new to start racing without the same pressures of performance.
"I've always enjoyed the going-down part - and hitting the odd jump or two - of riding the most and with the fitness from all the years of cross-country racing, these new gravity enduro events look like way too much fun to pass up," Northcott said.
Top local hopes include rising Rotorua cross-country rider Sam Shaw and Simone McGregor, another experienced Whakarewarewa campaigner.
The Giant 2W Gravity Enduro features four race stages which must be completed in a 5hr window. Unlimited shuttle passes are included in the entry fee to get riders who do not wish to ride up the hills to the start of each stage.
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 15 seconds, heading along off-road trails into the forest to complete the race stages before returning via the same route.
And it's not just Kiwis eager to sample the incredible downhill trails of Rotorua. American professional Brian Buell is just one of several overseas riders starting.
"Downhill has been my main focus until recently, but this year I'll be competing predominantly in enduro events throughout New Zealand and North America," Buell said. "The enduro discipline is really taking off and there is a lot of support behind it in the mountain biking industry, while the events also provide the most riding for your dollar and leave you extremely satisfied at the end of the weekend. I've heard great things about riding in Rotorua and I'm really looking forward to being a part of it."
A strong contingent from Australia will be riding, including four of the Kempsey Macleay Off Road Cyclists (KMORC) club in New South Wales, thanks to a reconnaissance trip two years ago by president Jayson Shelley.
"After enjoying the flows of Rotorua so much, I realised how dumbed-down our tracks had been and how fitness was favoured over skill," Shelley said.
"While many of the New South Wales gravity tracks are still cross-country orientated, the chance to race gravity [in Rotorua] was right up my style."
Event director Neil Gellatly will release the closely guarded course details at the race pack pick-up and late registration, which is at the More FM Bike Expo in the Rotorua Convention Centre on Friday and Saturday, plus Brew Craft Beer Pub on Sunday. Late entries will still be accepted up to 9am on the day.