Queenstown course ‘short, punchy’

Some pedigree: Warren Bates, left, with his 2009 world champs-winning team in Portugal

A former adventure racing world champ himself, Warren Bates knows a thing or two about gut-busting courses. David Williams asks how the Godzone race director created this year’s course around Queenstown

Queenstowner Warren Bates doesn’t sound sorry when asked if the rubbish summer might batter some teams in the Godzone adventure race.

“I guess there’ll be a few teams quaking in their boots when they look out and they realise that they’re meant to be coming over to do a summer race and they’re actually going to be doing a winter race.”

Some might think seven days of racing in blazing sunshine is nice. Not Bates. The 47-year-old Brit reckons a win is more rewarding in mixed weather.

Selfishly, he’d like a nice sunny start to Saturday’s race – Godzone’s sixth chapter – to get everyone on their way.

“After that we’ll take what we can.”

Bates says he sees Queenstown as short, punchy and adrenalin-filled, whereas somewhere like Fiordland might be longer and wilder.

Queenstown is by far the shortest race in Godzone’s history, he says – more than 100km shorter than last year. But it’s a couple of thousand metres more in vertical ascent.

The course has been gestating for three or four years, while he’s been roaming the hills, valleys and waterways around Queenstown. But even in the last six or seven months, it’s been hard work to tie up the loose ends, like agreements from landowners. Plus there are weather detours to fit in.

How does he set a course when there’s a blank canvas?

There’s a deep breath from Bates – whose team won the 2009 world champs in Portugal. He could talk about it for hours, he says wistfully. It seems much of it comes down to logistics.

When he first started Godzone, the initial idea for the course changed 80 per cent to its final version. This year just 15 per cent has changed.

“The head comes out of the clouds a little bit and you go, well, while that might look spectacular it’s wholly impractical.”

Getting amongst it: Warren Bates on his way to winning Primal Quest in the United States in 2015 PICTURE: KAORIPHOTO.COM

The starting point for this race is to pick four or five iconic ‘must do’ things around Queenstown. Inevitably, there must be three, four or five things to tie them together – while making sure transition areas are big enough to fit 300 bike boxes.

“The danger for any race organiser – I’ve certainly seen this overseas before – is to try and fit 10 or 12 things that you feel you really must do. And the race blows out, so it’s too long or too contrived.”

Other potential pitfalls could be a bike leg so short that the competitors reach it before the support crews.

Competitors should come away feeling they’ve touched every bit of Queenstown, Bates says.

“Every stage offers something slightly different. If you come around Queenstown you want to feel that you get that high mountain rocky ridges, you get the tussock feel, you get native beech, you get rivers, you get lakes.”

Bates also raises the importance of photography, throwing out a new word – he’s thinking about how to “media-ise” views of the course.

“You start realising we have to think about the logistics but we also need to think about how do you share that content on media and social media, etc.”

Bates says the race’s greatest achievement last year was community engagement.

Hundreds lining the streets of small Tasman district towns to cheer athletes. School kids turning out in their pyjamas at 3am to check out the action.

Bates: “Too often in the past, multisport races and adventure races have disappeared off into Narnia, in effect, and they’ve operated in this vacuum in the middle of nowhere. We realise with this media platform, it’s a tremendously powerful tool.”

In a hint of what’s to come, he says every Queenstown community should have a chance to see the athletes.

“Hopefully, a handful of them will come out at the end of it and go, you know what, I might tramp into that backcountry hut next weekend, or I might go up there and have a little look or take the kids up there, or next year you might even have a go at the Coast to Coast.

“Or you might, heaven forbid, even turn up to Godzone one day.”