One of the tightest but most dedicated fields of this year’s Queenstown Bike Festival took to the skies today for its last event, the awe-inspiring R&R Sport Mega Avalanche.
The race took fifty thrill-seeking mountain bikers from the main ridge on the Remarkables range high above Lake Wakatipu, down long stretches of high alpine terrain, tussocks and singletrack to the valley floor some 1,400 metres below.
Most opted for the helicopter ride up to the start, though some hardcore types made their own way by driving to the top of the ski field access road then pushing their bikes up to the start.
In just a quarter of an hour the leaders blasted through the finish line. Sean McCarroll from Queenstown took the men’s title in 15:01. Joe Nation from Christchurch who won the Coronet Enduro on Good Friday finished second, five seconds after, with Tauranga’s Hayden Lee third a further ten seconds behind.
First woman home was Meg Bichard from Nelson in 19:06, doubling up her win at Friday’s Enduro, followed by Anja McDonald just over a minute later and Leigh Halkett third in 24:40.
First and only tandem home was piloted by Jackson Green and powered by wife Rose on the back seat. The Greens, from Christchurch, said their homemade frame coped well with the rugged terrain. Its X-Fusion suspension system helped support an extra rider as Rose is four months pregnant.
All riders were grateful for leaving the cloud behind a hundred metres or so after the start line and by the end the stark relief of the Remarkables’ epic ridgeline against blue sky matched the palpable feeling of elation amongst the riders at the finish.
Sean McCarroll said he’d do it all again in a second and revealed he still managed to win despite running wide out of one corner and hitting a bush.
“Three of us took off, Kelly [McGarry] was leading, Conor [Macfarlane] was second and I was third down the first straight. About a quarter of the way down I got Kelly and then Conor after that,” he said.
“I was halfway down and thought I had it but one guy passed me again so I put the power down and did some crazy moves, hitting a bush and coming to a dead stop. One guy passed me through the last section so I was off the brakes and committed – first or nothing!”
Sean thanked Schwalbe Tyres, Zerode Bikes, Fox Suspension and his mum and dad for the win.
Meg Bichard said she had to focus all the way to the finish line.
“I’m absolutely knackered! The first bit was a bit rough and scary over some nose-divey drops but I managed to hold on. Then through the tussock I was a bit lucky and fluked a line that worked then just seemed to hold it all the way down, just one little off but nothing major,” she said
Queenstown Bike Festival Director Geoff Hunt said the Mega Avalanche was a suitably epic finale to this year’s event.
“They don’t come much bigger or more dramatic. These riders experienced more in a few minutes than most riders do in a whole season! Creating the course and pulling it down again has been an adventure in itself. The dedication of the festival crew has been amazing, not only today but for the entire festival. We’ll all enjoy the party at Winnies tonight,” he said.