Nelson’s George Bennett demolished the race record as Saturday’s fourth Santa Cruz Coppermine Epic mountain bike race attracted a larger and more competitive field of riders than in previous years. Riders came from throughout the country to test their skills and fitness on some of New Zealand’s best trails in arguably the country’s toughest mountain bike race.
Bennett, who recently turned professional, rode away from the rest of the field to win in an incredible 2hr 3min 15sec, smashing the previous course record by six minutes. He made a break from the talented men’s field—which included last year’s winner Robin Reid, an Olympic time trial representative; Tim Wilding, the 2007 NZ Xterra and 2009 singlespeed champion; and Richard Ussher, arguably the world’s best multisport athlete—only minutes after the start.
Once Bennett attacked the other riders, he wasn’t seen again until the finish line. He was several minutes ahead at the top of Fringed Hill, but a poorly tuned bike almost cost him his lead. Wilding had chased hard all the way down the Maitai Valley, and it almost paid off in the finish loop as Bennett lost his chain. Just as he regained it, Wilding appeared, charging hard for the line. Wilding finished second in 2hr 3min 37sec. Ussher came home for third place in 2hr 7min 49sec.
The women’s race was also hotly contested, with the lead changing only minutes from the finish line when Suzie Wood also had mechanical problems, jamming her chain. Maggie Bichard seized the opportunity and won in 2hr 35min 9sec, leaving Wood to take second place in 2hr 38min 9sec, with Brenda Clapp third in 2hr 45min 10sec.
The winners walked away with $500 from NBS and performance prizes from Macpac.
The course was in an excellent condition, aided by work the Nelson City Council recently completed. The Coppermine loop is widely regarded by recreational cyclists as one of New Zealand’s best rides.
The race has two courses, climbing to Coppermine Saddle through the mineral belt and returning to Nelson down the Maitai Valley. The courses cater for recreational to expert riders.
All riders were glad to cross the finish line, where they were rewarded with liquid refreshments from the Sprig and Fern and a seafood barbecue provided by Solander. Many riders also took up the option of some therapy for sore legs, with a rub-down from Massage Works waiting to greet them.