Rotorua Bike Festival ends on a high.
History was made in Rotorua’s Whakarewarewa Forest in the weekend when Australian Jason English won a seventh straight title at the WEMBO World Solo 24 Hour Mountain Bike Championships. The event was the headline event of the 4th annual Rotorua Bike Festival’s second weekend.
English didn’t have it his own way facing a seesaw battle with Cory Wallace from Canada for the whole 24 hours and over nearly 500 kilometres. The result was in doubt till the last hour.
The race started in ideal conditions at midday on Saturday. The trails were in superb condition even after heavy rain earlier in the week.
English spoke to the Festival media partner, the Rotorua Daily Post, after the race.
He described the battle with Wallace as one of the toughest races he’d been a part of. “I knew the whole time Cory was a much stronger rider, I don’t actually know what it came down to between us, probably just a bit of mongrel,” he said.
Wallace held a slight lead during the early hours yesterday, but English caught him up and pushed hard for the win, completing 27 lap, just six minutes faster than Wallace. “I thought I’d wind it up a little bit and get a bit of a gap [during the last few laps]. I was quite surprised that I could and more surprised that I could hold it. So it played out quite well.” Second-placed Wallace said he thought he had English a couple of times during the race, but the seven-time champ was simply “inhuman”.
It was a double for Australia with Liz Smith winning her first women’s world title ahead of Kiwi Nina McVicar.
Smith also spoke with the Daily Post and said she was rapt to win the title.
“I’m stoked, it has been a long time and I tried once before and finished fourth in 2013, so I’m rapt,” she said. “I rode here last year [during the 24 hours of Nduro], and it was an unreal race and an unreal track so I thought I have to come back.”
The Niner Bikes sponsored event was a dream fulfilled for organisers, Tim and Belinda Farmer from Nduro Events.
“Some of the best endurance athletes in the world put on a great show and Rotorua repaid them with magnificent weather,” a tired, but elated Tim Farmer said. Belinda also completed a dream goal of her own, racing in the event. The mother of one completed over 267 kilometres. “She’s my champion,” her husband said.
The event demonstrated the diverse range of events the Festival hosts.
As the WEMBO riders completed their last laps out at Waipa, Frocks on Bikes were taking a leisurely cruise to Ngongotaha on the urban cycleway.
On Saturday, the Sport Bay of Plenty Family Fun Ride had attracted mums, dads and kids to Government Gardens.
Meanwhile, on Mount Ngongotaha, Cycling Rotorua’s inaugural Hill Climb Challenge was all about power and strength.
Numbers over the 10-day festival were around 5500, a 10 percent rise from 2015 and double the debut festival in 2013. “We’re especially pleased about how the festival has introduced so many new people to biking,” said David Crowley, from the Bike Festival Charitable Trust. “Planning has already started for 2017 and dates will be set in the next month or so.”
Women: 1 Liz Smith (Australia) 22 laps in 24:46:51, 2 Nina McVicar (NZ) 21 laps in 24:20:13, 3 Kate Penglase (Australia) 21 laps in 24:52:10.
Men: 1 Jason English (Australia) 27 laps in 23:56:39, 2 Cory Wallace (Canada) 27 laps in 24:00:49, 3 Tobias Lestrell (Australia) 26 laps in 24:01:13.