PHOTOS: Vanessa Blankenagel, Markus Jahn & Amelie Mesecke
OFF THE RECORD…
There’s a lot of preparation that goes into a GS Trophy. For the BMW staff it’s years, for contractors like me (JB) here, there are still many days prior, writing press releases and such. And once on site, we typically have around three days to get everything finalised and operational, ready for the start.
I didn’t have the best start, turning up with a crocked knee (MCL/ACL refurb’ pending). The knee was causing blood flow issues, too, so I spent the first afternoon in A&E with a suspected thrombosis. Nearly out before I even got started.
These were early days of the Coronavirus, but it was still serious enough to see the unfortunate Team China sadly excluded. Two of the three photographers arrived with bad infections, too (such are the perils of long haul flights), and were each bedridden for two days but thankfully recovered in time for the start.
The day before the start is the big one. All the competitors arrive and there’s much administration to do, everyone being registered, checks done on licences, travel insurance etc. Then there’s the final kit-up with Leatt and SENA. And photo and videos to be shot of the teams and individuals. It’s work, but the energy is high and there were so many laughs along the way. And the Maori cultural experience at the end of the day was far from a cringe, instead another great laugh that put everyone in the mood for what was to come over the next eight days.
For this GS Trophy, what with the crocked knee, I was for the first time not following the event on a bike, instead I had a share of a car with photographer Vanessa Blankenagel. Seeing as she had to be right in the centre of the action each day it meant I was involved as ever, only I was hopping and limping from the car to each ‘special’. Equally because we had a 4×4 we could go everywhere the bikes would go – only typically slower. So we’d often leave ahead of the start to get a jump on the riders. We could also stop wherever we needed for coffee – which was as often as we could manage. Kiwis do good coffee…
JB’s BMW REPORT… Napier Beach, New Zealand.
The 2020 BMW Motorrad International GS Trophy enjoyed a spectacular opening stage today as the competitors set off from the thermal springs and Maori homelands in Rotorua to travel through native forest, up onto pastoral high country before descending to Hawke’s Bay for a first camp on the trails, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
The GS Trophy riders were up before dawn, striking camp ahead of a 5:30am breakfast call in preparation for the 7am start – that breakfast being very important with no less than 11 hours of riding ahead. After passing by the first volcano of the tour, the 821m cone of Putauaki (Mt. Edgecumbe), the route took the riders into the native forests of the Huiarau Ranges, where gravel roads followed the river valleys upstream, each turn revealing new natural highlights of the stunning beech forest, which is peppered with native exotics like ponga, toi (mountain cabbage tree) and fuscia. Beautiful to see, sweet to smell.
After two hours the riders reached the banks of Miniha Stream, a tributary to the Whakatane River, where the arrival of the BMW F 850 GS motorcycles startled a family of Kuni Kuni pigs grazing on the grasses. When the engines quietened the riders could appreciate the sounds of the forest: cicada buzzing their incessant ‘zid-zid’ while bell birds, tui and fantails added their myriad song.
It was here the riders faced their first test in the 2020 Int. GS Trophy – River Crossing. For each team the three riders needed to ride a trials course that crossed and recrossed the stream before exiting up a steep bank – all three needing to complete the course before a four minute cut-off. The stones and boulders rattled the GS bikes as well as the nerves of the riders, particularly as footing and falls attracted additional penalties – a daunting prospect on this opening day. Falls did indeed come, but so did some spectacular rides, the French notably smooth, fast and efficient.
After the River Crossing the riders regained the gravel tracks, working their way up to the beautiful Lake Waikaremoana and the impressive Mokau waterfall. Here the GS Trophy riders faced the second test of the day, ‘SENA Challenge’ were one rider was effectively blindfolded and would be guided by instructions from his teammate – via his SENA 50R mesh intercom bluetooth headset – around a slalom course. A simple act of faith, and a fun test, but it also highlighted the benefits the riders have been enjoying for the first time in the GS Trophy of being able to communicate in real time with their marshals and each other.
The course changed in character immediately after Lake Waikearemoana as the forest gave way to the high country grazing lands that eventually lead down to Hawke’s Bay. This region is typified by steep valleys, high cliffs and tenacious sheep! Riding both highway and gravel this made for a most sinuous trail that allowed the riders to enjoy the F 850 GS’s agility and punchy 95 horsepower.
The finish came at a camp ground just outside the seaport of Napier, a beautiful city famed for its Art Deco buildings – those buildings being so prominent on account this city was levelled and rebuilt after an earthquake in 1931. The riders could have been mistaken for having survived a seismic event of their own such was their powder-white appearance after enduring Metzeler-created dust trails for most of the day!.
Nikki van der Spek, International Female Team 1:
“It’s been a lot of fun today. The country is amazing, it is so beautiful and it’s different all the time. The off-road is mostly gravel, not so hard to ride but you have to be careful of the loose gravel. The tarmac is like a race track, corner after corner – a lot of fun! The first test wasn’t easy, my bike fell down and so did that of the second rider so we timed-out. The SENA Challenge revealed that we have a language barrier in our team; we are Dutch, French and Colombian – so three different languages! We’ll have to work on that.”
Sunao Ueda, Team Japan:
“The route today was very good, beautiful if dusty in the gravel. But a great experience and when our marshal took us to the highest point in the ranges the view was huge – magnificent! The tests were good, too, although I laid my bike down in the stream, so not so good for us. What I really enjoyed with the company of Team Italy. With the Sena intercoms we were talking – and laughing – all the way, this is a very nice feature of this GS Trophy.”
BMW Motorrad International GS Trophy 2020
Day One overall standings:
1 South Korea 65 points
2 Italy 53
3 USA 50
4 Russia 42
5 France 41
6 South Africa 35
7 Argentina 32
8 Middle East 32
9 Netherlands 30
10 Latin America 28
11 UK 27
12 Nordic 24
13 India 21
14 Mexico 21
15 Thailand 18
16 Brazil 17
17 Japan 16
18 Malaysia 15
19 North Africa 15
20 Australia 10
21 Int. Female Team II 9
22 Int. Female Team I 8