PHOTOS: Vanessa Blankenagel, Markus Jahn & Amelie Mesecke
OFF THE RECORD…
Last day. You could feel the bittersweet sentiment in the breakfast tent. “Last time we’ll be doing this.” You hear that a lot. Happiness in having made it this far, sadness on account soon these wonderful friendships were going to be stretched across the globe. So lots of fist pumps and hugs.
Last morning in the Land Cruiser, with Vanessa and Susan, too. A grey morning at that. So kind of subdued. We stopped at the Cardona bra fence along the way. But we couldn’t figure out its purpose and we weren’t even sure it offered any aesthetic qualities, being just so much tired and fading cotton. It certainly didn’t make the cut for GS imagery.
Arrowtown lifted the spirits. First came a cool trail down the hillside with mountains in the distance. Then a river crossing that drowned the odd bike. Good coffee (as usual) in the beautiful village – but again that sense of the impending finish. However tough GS Trophies are, no one ever wants them to end.
Then, a change of plan. There was a 70km extreme section coming and the organisers couldn’t afford to lose any photographers in there, what with the grand finale parcour playing out in the afternoon. So I left Vanessa and Susan to go their route – it felt wrong having come all this way together – and armed with Vanessa’s spare camera I jumped in the sweep truck with one of the BMW mechanics, Patrick, and headed for the extreme route.
Patrick drove the dirt trails like he was racing in WRC, which kept me pretty alert what with the dizzying drop-offs on these mountain tracks. Then we got to the high plateau and the trail perpetually dived in and out of a river. On account of Patrick’s speed we got there just as the last teams (UK/France) were splashing their way through – and it wasn’t without incident. Then Patrick took a wrong choice on a river crossing and we bellied out in a mud bog. So we lost contact with the bikes while waiting for the medical 4x4s to catch up and tow us out.
We picked up one of the social media guys along the way – another who had chosen to take the risk of being stranded up on the mountain for the want of great footage. So there were two of us passengers trying to remain calm while Patrick drove us back down the mountain, again in full WRC style.
The parcour had the most incredible backdrop – Queenstown, the lake and the mountains – but the gravelly hard standing itself, littered with traffic cones, felt like a letdown after the grand scenery and natural challenges we’d been through.
Afterwards, it was all back to the ski lodge. For me, barely time to author the last press release (it can be tough, I was certainly struggling to find the words), then a hurry into the final presentation and announcement of the winners. Again, if we’re truthful, it was kind of subdued; but the band that played afterwards were killers and we partied the proverbial wheels off the GS Trophy through to the wee small hours.
GS Trophy number six done. For the first time in a car. And thanks to Vanessa it was great, we had a ball. But if there’s a next time we both said, yes, we’re on a bike (each). You see there really is only one way to experience such adventure. (Yes, on a bike. Please do keep up.)
JB’s BMW REPORT… Coronet Peak, near Queenstown, New Zealand.
After eight days and 2500km the 2020 BMW Motorrad International GS Trophy has reached its conclusion at the ski resort of Coronet Peak near Queenstown. And it’s South Africa who are the champions, having narrowly beaten off the close attentions of Teams France and Italy. This marks South Africa’s third International GS Trophy win on the bounce, having won previously in Thailand in 2016 and Mongolia in 2018.
In the tradition of leaving the best until last, day eight offered some of the most technical riding of this year’s International GS Trophy, featuring a testing ride over the famous Nevis Road – New Zealand’s highest public ‘road’ – which is much more than a road, more an off-road tour de force with a reputed 24 river crossings and countless difficult rocky sections along it’s near 70km length.
Leaving Wanaka at the usual 7:00am the riders first enjoyed a flowing road section in the run through to Cardrona, and while clouds prevented the usual spectacular sunrise it was an unusually warm 18ºC making for a comfortable opening ride. Following the line of the Crown Range, after an hour the riders caught a first sight of the The Remarkables, the 2300m mountain range that towers over the adventure activity capital that is Queenstown. But no sooner had the riders seen the mountains than they were plunged down a steep track that led to the historic gold rush village of Arrowtown.
Only to enter Arrowtown first they had to ford the Arrow River, which was over a metre deep in parts causing several riders to come to a soggy halt before reaching the far bank. Taking an opportunity to empty their boots of water, in leafy Arrowtown the riders enjoyed a coffee break in the cafes among the historic buildings of the village centre.
The break was timely, as from here – after a further road liaison that took the riders along the eastern shores of the the stunning Lake Wakatipu – the riders were cast upon the Nevis Road. First came the dramatic 1300m climb up to the high country of the Nevis Valley. Then came the challenge of the 24 river crossings. With so many rocks and muddy sections the riders needed to employ good trials skills, but still many suffered falls and a few soakings.
Nearing the end of the Road, the riders came to the first test of the day, the Jerrycan Challenge. Here the GS riders needed to ride up a track alongside a stream, two-up carrying two fuel cans. At the top of the trail the pillion dismounted and with the third team member ran the cans down through the stream while the rider returned to the start/finish line where they would be reunited, test completed. The nerves among the leading teams were in evidence here as many an error was made, which would be critical to the outcome of the competition.
After the test, the riders completed their circumnavigation of The Remarkables by regaining the highway and heading up to the Coronet Peak ski resort for the final test, the Parcour. This test carries double points and with the top three teams being so close on points it would prove pivotal to the outcome of the competition. The test called for trials skills combined with aggression to ensure a fast time with the minimum of penalties. All three riders in each team rode the test, in a relay – and again it paid not to drop or stall the bike if the time and penalties were to be kept to a minimum. All this set against the incredible backdrop of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu nearly 900 metres below.
And when the scores were totaled, newcomers to the Int. GS Trophy Team Netherlands had dominated the day, lifting themselves into fourth in the final standings, while despite a nervous start to the day, Team South Africa had done just enough to stay ahead of their nearest rivals France and Italy to score their third GS Trophy win.
Brandon Grimsted, Team South Africa: “With just a five points gap coming into this morning it was very scary start to the day, we were nervous, shaking even and over-thinking everything! So in the jerrycan test we had a few problems but we got back up and carried on. For the final parcour this was one of the scariest events I’ve ever taken part in. But it was awesome, we set a fast time with super clean riding, we felt we’d done all that we could. And it was enough! We’re super-happy to take the win and we know for the GS community at home this is cause for celebration. Our third win, it’s wonderful.
“Equally we had a very fun week, we thoroughly enjoyed it and honestly it was some of the best off-road riding I’ve done. As a team we were already close, but the week of being in each other’s company all the hours of every day has bonded us for life! And the friends we’ve made along the way, from all these different nations – well, it makes the experience complete.”
The GS riders had enjoyed an incredible eight days of adventure riding. New Zealand’s two islands had delivered a vast range of natural wonders; from ocean beaches to the peak of Mt. Cook the riders had seen so much of the terrain, and the flora and fauna that makes this remote country such an intense experience. And along the way they had made so many new friendships among the 22 international teams, proving that through a shared passion it’s possible to unite all men and women of the world under the one emblem – that of the GS!
BMW Motorrad International GS Trophy 2020
1 South Africa 394
2 France 382
3 Italy 380
4 Netherlands 375
5 South Korea 361
6 Latin America 355
7 Brazil 335
8 Russia 316
9 Mexico 295
10 Argentina 278
11 Middle East 268
12 Australia 264
13 USA 254
14 Nordic 246
15 UK 238
16 Thailand 222
17 Japan 218
18 Malaysia 208
19 India 200
20 Int. Female Team I 169
21 North Africa 146
22 Int. Female Team II 118