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.
The organisers already have several hundred keen riders chasing $45,000 in cash and prizes, ready to tackle 18.4km of timed downhill trails as the curtain comes down on the 10-day Rotorua Bike Festival.
The gravity enduro format is booming overseas and has piqued the interest of a number of 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 Messenger World Championships and admits the enduro enjoyment factor is providing huge motivation to get back on her bike.
"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," Makgill explained.
"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 has been looking for 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 5-hour window. Unlimited shuttle passes are included in the entry fee to get competitors 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 New Zealanders eager to sample the incredible downhill trails of Rotorua. American professional Brian Buell is just one of a number of overseas riders who have signed on to compete.
"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 members of the Kempsey Macleay Off Road Cyclists (KMORC) club in New South Wales, thanks to a reconnaissance trip two years ago by club 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.
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 today and Brew Craft Beer Pub tomorrow. Late entries will still be accepted up to 9am on the day.
Where: Registration at the Rotorua Convention Centre, riding in the Whakarewarewa Trails