On a course that suited his riding style, Frenchman Jerome Clementz used technical precision to win the Crankworx Rotorua Giant Toa Enduro, while Anne Caroline Chausson dominated the women's field.
Dubbed the race of champions, as it included 14 cycling world champions from a range of disciplines, round one of the Enduro World Series (EWS) mountain bike event was held in Rotorua yesterday.
Enduro is a popular discipline of mountain biking which combines aspects of downhill and cross country racing.
Each rider completed a series of trails in the Whakarewarewa Forest and on Mt Ngongotaha with their combined time giving them their final score.
It proved a challenging race, even for the best, with a carpet of slippery, unforgiving roots left in the wake of heavy rainfall.
"I managed to carry speed on all the stages and finish with the win, so it was a good surprise. I'm stoked and ready to party," said Clementz. "It's always good to start the series with a win. It's good for the confidence and for the points. I did what I wanted to do today."
With EWS world champion Jared Graves sidelined by a shoulder injury, Clementz held the lead consistently by riding smart, not pushing too hard and staying on his bike, ahead of rival Fabien BAREL (FRA).
Among the bigger stories of the day, New Zealand downhill rider Wyn Masters turned in an impressive third place finish in his first EWS race, a stunning result for a racer from outside the discipline.
"I think everyone had their issues somewhere out there today. It was pretty tough, so I'm happy and stoked to be on the podium," said Masters. "Stage one was my nemisis, but I still got second on that stage. It's the most physical because it's slow mud at the top and steep rooty corners on the way down, and it's full on - there's no way you can lose focus."
New Zealand riders had a strong presence in the race with three riders in the top 10, including Masters, fourth place finisher Justin Leov and Matt Walker in seventh.
For the women, Chausson (France) said it was a long day and a hard race, which simply challenged riders to stay on the bike.
"I had some good runs. I had some not so good runs. I made some mistakes, but no big crash. I'm really really happy. It's the first race of the season, so it's better to start the season with a win, I'm stoked," she said.
Tracey Moseley, 2014 Enduro World Series winner, was constantly on Chausson's tail. Describing it as a tough day to ride everything clean, she noted the crowd was a big factor in pulling the riders through, cheering at every stage of the carnage.
"To be fair, we've been scattered all around the forest and the crowd has found every awkward, horrible bit to go and cheer at - they got themselves into the most isolated spots and were loving it," she said.
Moseley finished second during the event.
Curtis Keene (USA) was among those to suffer the effects of the trail conditions, hitting his head and having to pull out. Alex Cure (FRA) had an amazing stage one, but a catastrophic mechanical in stage two, and Dan Atherton (GBR) was also forced to pull out.
The Giant Toa Enduro launched from Te Puia's Pohutu geyser, which exploded 30m into the air as the men's pro-division riders dropped in, a Maori haka warrior dance, having seen them off. Round two of the EWS will be held in Ireland on May 24.
1. Jerome CLEMENTZ (FRA) 35:20.46
2. Fabien BAREL (FRA) 35:33.19
3. Wyn MASTERS (NZL) 35:35.67
4. Justin LEOV (NZL) 35:36.70
5. Florian NICOLAI (FRA) 35:44.13
1. Anne Caroline CHAUSSON (FRA) 41:20.94
2. Tracy MOSELEY (GBR) 41:35.23
3. Cecile RAVANEL (FRA) 42:39.78
4. Anneke BEERTEN (NED) 44:45.68
5. Meggie BICHARD (GBR/NZL) 45:30.43