Interview: Ali Jamieson talks about his new race project – NZ MTB Rally
– So you just launched the NZ MTB Rally, can you tell us a little about that project?
“Well, I’m both extremely excited and a little nervous about this one. This is a project that I’ve been dreaming about for years, so I feel like there is a lot of pressure to make it as good as it could possibly be. I’ve set the bar really, really high on this one! It’s been about 10 years in the making, we certainly didn’t rush it! The NZ MTB Rally is my personal expression of what we think a proper Kiwi MTB adventure should be in 2024, and it’s certainly had my full attention the past 3 years or so. I just can’t wait to show those who signed up, the very best of the place that I call home for half the year: Te Tauihu – The Top of the South Island of NZ.
When I launched Trans-Savoie back in 2012, the mutli-day enduro format was still quite a new thing. These days, I don’t think I need to explain that one really, since there are so many cool options (I just raced the TransBC myself and it was amazing!)
Everything we’ve done so far in Europe (Enduro2, Trans-Savoie, trailAddiction guided tours) has been heavily uplift biased and I wanted to carry on that theme with the NZ MTB Rally. I recognise that its a long way to come to NZ for most people, and although the trails here are fully world-class, I wanted to create something that would give people the extra motivation to make the effort to come and visit.
Luckily, the use of helicopters, boats and 4×4 shuttles are not so rare as they are elsewhere so at least in concept, it seemed like an obvious thing to incorporate into the event. It’s taken quite some effort to make a workable plan with contingencies for bad weather and other factors, but its all come together pretty nicely in the end.”
– That sounds like an action packed adventure. How many spots are available?
“We’re limited to 80 spots on the all-inclusive package, plus 40 self-supported entries. Those numbers are about finding suitable accommodation in the right places that works well for an MTB group such as this. Plus as you can imagine, using helicopters and 4x4s for shuttling also has its limitations. The self-supported spaces are aimed mostly at NZ-based riders who might, for example, already have their own camper-van setup. Of course the ticket price for this kind of event is going to be high, but we wanted to offer an option that was as least within reach for local riders too, since we’ve had a lot of interest and support from the NZ community too which we very much appreciate.”
– How important is the racing aspect of it all?
“This is a hard one to answer since I think each participant will make their own call on that. From my perspective, all experienced riders are equally welcome. There’s no special preference for Pro riders or Ex-champions. The whole event is designed to be more of a backcountry adventure, than a regular enduro race anyway. That said, it is still definitely a race, and no doubt a fair few people are going to be taking things quite seriously up at the pointy end of the rankings. But I also expect there will be a lot of riders who are simply sign-ing up as a way to enjoy discovering our part of New Zealand amongst a great crew of like-minded people from all over the world.”
– Why did you pick Nelson New Zealand for this? It’s not exactly around the corner for most of us….
“I’m fortunate to have spent a lot of time over the past 25+ years riding all over the world as an MTB guide, organising events, and as a participant in other multi-day races. Everyone has a preference on the type of riding they enjoy most, and for me, it’s definitely the raw, natural trails and big days out that I like best. Personally, I think the greater-Nelson region is certainly holds the best riding anywhere in New Zealand.
Yes, that includes Queenstown and Rotorua and I know, that’s controversial! That’s specifically why I chose to move to Nelson back in 2013 when I could easily have chosen anywhere else. Nelson riding is pretty easy to get to from the town centre but it’s not set-up as a tourist destination like other places. So there’s definitely an element of unlocking the full potential of the area to a whole new audience, through the conduit of this event.
I hope that through media and press coverage of the NZ MTB Rally, a lot more riders will put Nelson on their hit-list as a place to come and visit in future. It’s almost a crime how good we have it down here and yet most people haven’t really heard so much about Nelson…yet! Well, watch this space!
It’s not just about the riding though, Nelson is such a great place to visit even if you are not into riding bikes – it has amazing weather, world-class beaches and marine parks, dozens of craft breweries and wineries… and the best, most active and welcoming community of mountain bikers I’ve ever seen, anywhere, period. I could go on, but suffice to say, I think Nelson is just amazing and I feel confident that anyone who comes to visit is going to feel the same way.”
– In terms of transfers, you use all options known to man from 4×4 jeeps to boats to helicopters. Definitely a trip of a lifetime but this of course raises the question how does all this impact the environment?
“This is an important question on many levels. As it happens, I’m also a Chartered Mechanical Engineer both in NZ and the UK, and I worked at Ford Motor Company for over a decade as an engine development specialist and this included doing a lot of work on exhaust emissions. I’ve done the sums, and in-spite of what you might think, the use of helicopters is not as bad as you might imagine. But given the current climate crisis, we are somewhat concerned that flying around in Helicopters is perhaps not the ideal activity to incorporate into out event. On the face of it, this presents as being in conflict with our genuine love of and desire to protect NZ’s pristine natural environment; the very same which inspired us to create NZ MTB Rally in the first place.
We’ve spent quite some time and effort to consider the wider impact of this event from both an emissions perspective, and for other environmental factors such as wildlife and habitat.
The Department of Conservation in NZ have reviewed our plans in detail, consulted with ancestral landowners on our behalf, and approved the event in all of our preferred locations (on Conservation Land). This is conditional to specific environmental controls that we will be only too glad to implement throughout the event.
Additionally, we’ve worked with EKOS to understand the C02 emmissions-equivalent impact of our event. This includes all helicopter, boat, and vehicle shuttles, plus additional factors including our event accommodation, waste and electricity use.
We are pleased to announce that through their Carbon Credits Program, we’re offsetting 100% of emissions generated by the entire event; and thus have achieved Carbon Friendly Certification.
Actually since we did this work, we’ve learned that many of our suppliers in NZ are also independently certified and also carbon-offsetting, so we’ve actually double-compensated in some cases (certainly not a bad thing!).
EKOS helped us to calculate a total C02 impact of 77 kg per participant, with about 39 kg coming from our use of Helicopters. To put that 77 kg figure into perspective, that’s roughly 2/3 of the emissions of a one-way economy flight from Auckland to Nelson, or of driving 450km in a medium-sized car as a single passenger.
Buying carbon credits is not the full and final answer, and we fully acknowledge that. In future editions, we aim to adapt the event to greatly reduce our carbon footprint by adapting the event to eventually be quite different to what it’s going to be in the 1st edition. Watch this space.”
– What do you have in mind for accommodation? Is it possible for couples to share a bed?
“Maybe at 45 I’m finally starting to get a bit “soft”, but the idea of spending a week in a tent no longer really appeals to me. So I figure, a lot of others are probably of a similar perspective. On the other hand, this event is definitely supposed to be “a proper kiwi backcountry adventure” and let me tell you, these Kiwi’s know how to rough it and still have a good time. So booking out regular hotels all week was not going to fit with the style of the event either. In the end, we’ve found the perfect compromise – outdoor pursuit / Boy-Scout style basecamps with dormitory-style roomings, but maximum 4 per room.
For the first edition we are not aiming to accommodate any special room requests (expect that people signing up together as a group, shall be roomed together). So any couples will need to be happy to share their sleeping space – although let’s remember that with the action-packed itinerary we have planned for you, there’ll be little time for anything else other than passing out as your head touches the pillow!”
– So the scenery is epic, the transportation is definitely unique, how techy are the trails you have planned for the riders?
“Ah, the million dollar question! 25+ years of guiding experience has told me this: “How hard is it?” is not an easy question to answer. What’s easy for one, will be child’s play for the next, and it depends on your own personal strengths and weaknesses. Steepness & exposure are relative to what you’re used to, and let’s not get into on how morning moisture on beech roots mixes things up a bit. I believe that no matter how skilled you are, no-one really enjoys to be repeatedly pushed way outside their comfort zone and made to feel like they’ve forgotten how to ride a bike. We’re certainly not here to do that at the NZ MTB Rally. We’ve carefully selected our stages to be fairly challenging for mere mortals, but still enjoyable for everyone from keen weekend warriors, to full-on EWS pros.
Grading is especially inconsistent on backcountry trails that were not originally ‘purpose built’ for MTB. These trails are our bread & butter. You can expect some exposure or narrow trails at times, and if it’s wet, plenty of slippery roots to keep you honest. As well as that, we’ve also got a whole heap of off-the brakes, fast & flowy stuff, too.
Just to add that compared to other mutli-day enduros, we will max out on the shuttles & uplifts. Which means less time spent grinding up fire-road in granny gear. But, that only means more time and distance to throw in some more downs, not an excuse for an early excuse dash to the bar.
All that said, if you want me to put a number on it, no problem. The entire course averages at about 45% Grade 4 (Blue), 45% Grade 5 (Single Black Diamond). 10% Grade 6 (Double Black Diamond). If we’re unlucky and its wet, the terrain here gets pretty slippy because we have lots of roots, so that will increase the technical level for anyone not used to riding in those conditions.”
– What do you need to have in store for completing this adventure and what bike would work out there?
“The NZ MTB Rally is designed for adventurous, experienced amateur riders with a strong intermediate skill level as a minimum. Alpine or backcountry experience; even skiing, hiking and tramping – will be a particular bonus and can go a long way to make up for your ability to pop a manual or flick an euro-style ‘endo’ in a switchback. Don’t forget, everything is raced ‘blind’ and on-sight.
As for bike? Well, as long as it still pedals then there’s no such thing as too big, really. A 160mm or 170mm enduro rig with strong wheels, big brakes, and heavy tyres is going to be perfect. But that said, a well built trail-bike could equally do the job just as well. Heck, one of my local pals here regularly shreds these trails on his steel hardtail (but he’s also a total nut-job, so you can’t really use that as a yardstick).”
– Can you hit us with some dates, prices and whats included for all of this?
“Dates are set for 9 to 16 March 2024 which is early Autumn in NZ. It’s past the hottest, driest season but should be perfect long, sunny days. Due to the long journey for most people travelling into Nelson, we’re offering an extra night’s accommodation and food at Base Camp 1 on the 8th March – to reduce the risk of delayed or misplaced bikes during airport transfers not actually making it to the start line in time. And also to allow people to chill out, meet the team, enjoy the vibe and hospitality and recover from any jet lag before hitting the trails full-on.
Being frank, an event with this level of awesome was never going to be viable for a knock-down price. But we’ve worked hard on our costs to make the entry price accessible to as many people as possible. We’ve paid extra attention to the things that we know really matter the most (great food, the best trails, a decent night’s sleep…).
The all-inclusive package is $3600 NZD ($2250 USD / $3300 AUD / €2020 EUR) and the Self-Supported is $2250 NZD. I’m pretty happy with those prices, since you only need to make a quick comparison to similar week-long enduro events (ones with tents, and without helicopters or boat-rides) to realise we’re highly competitive.
Thinking ahead, If I make it to year two of the NZ MTB Rally (without having a stress-induced heart attack), the entry price is probably going to require a significant hike over year 1 in order to be sustainable in the long term. So if price is a concern, then I’d urge anyone reading to pull out all the stops and grab an entry for 2024 if you can, rather than shelve it to 2025.”