Spectacular action highlighted the second Dirtmasters Downhill in the Queenstown Bike Park as part of the Queenstown Bike Festival yesterday (April 8). 112 competitors took on the challenge with top honours going to current world number three downhiller Sam Blenkinsop of Wanganui, in a time of 3 minutes 30 seconds.
Blenkinsop was the fastest qualifier and the top seed and a good crowd gathered at the Brecon Street steps to watch him put in the quickest run of the day ousting second fastest rider, Justin Leov of Christchurch, who clocked 3.31, from the "hot seat."
"This is the second race I've competed in since breaking my ankle at the start of the year." says Blenkinsop, "I had a pretty horrible time in the first round of the World Cup two weeks ago, I wasn't ready. But I came here simply to ride and have fun, and just ended up winning."
"It was great to be with all the top New Zealand riders, the course was good, and the best thing was to jump in the Skyline Gondola and then ride. Queenstown would be perfect to hold a World Cup event".
Festival co-ordinator Geoff Hunt predicts the Dirtmasters will grow into a major event on the national calendar.
"We are certainly looking at different options. This was the second time we've been running it and the huge interest it has created amongst both spectators and riders bodes well for the future."
"This is a developing sport and judging by the numbers of people on the hill, lining the street and gathering on nearby balconies, it's the sort of action people love."
Competitors rode the Skyline gondola to the top of the course which was held on tracks established by the Queenstown Mountain Biking Club, and tweaked by local downhill rider and course designer Blair Christmas.
The race itself was finished at Ben Lomond Crescent, and riders then rode into the final finish arena via the Brecon Street steps.
"This year's course was very different from the last, featuring much more technically demanding sections and a shorter race time," says Christmas.
"Riders loved the new loose section combined with some of the existing trails, it gave a wide variance in track surface and type. There were a few crashes, me included, but generally plenty of smiles and laughing."
"Plenty of practise runs were possible due to the efficiency of the gondola. I was very pleased with the general relaxed vibe on race day, with riders having the opportunity to practise between their qualifying and race runs thanks to the experience and flexibility of Hamish Seaton doing the timing and scheduling."
In the open men's section Matt Scoles of Alexandra put a strong challenge and placed third in 3.32.
Rupert Chapman won the under 19 section in 3.44 followed by Christchurch's Matt Prior in 3.54, and Tyler Brooker of Christchurch in 4.00.
In the Junior 16-17 men section Leo Sandler of Atawhia easily won in 3.47 over his next opponent Dan McCombie who finished second in 3.52, followed by Raphael Kammlein-Cutler in 3.54.
The veteran men's title went to Nicholas Sutcliffe of Christchurch in 3.53, heading off local guru Paul Angus by a mere .28 of a second and Fraser Gordon of Queenstown in 3.55.
The master's title went to well known Queenstown rider Niall Renwick, who put on a very credible performance recording 3.54.
In the Junior 12-15 men category, the title went to Mathew Gillan of Queenstown in 4.17, second place to Sam Robbie also of Queenstown in 4.22, and third place went to Carlos Wilson of Dunedin in 4.23.
Competing under this category, Boaz Hebblethwaite of Queenstown, 11 years old and youngest competitor in the event, finished in a very credible 5.16.
Hebblethwaite, an avid young mountain biker, had been practicing his downhill skills on the Rock Garden and Grundy tracks in the Queenstown Bike Park after school.
"It has been a week since I first went down Grundy, and I have really enjoyed practising and racing with the other boys in my category. It was also really awesome to be competing with riders like Justin Leov too. I can't wait for the coming winter to be over so that I can bike again."
The fastest woman of the day was Gabby Molloy of Rotorua competing in the Open Women section and clocking 4.04, followed by Scarlett Hagen of Dundedin in 4.14 in second place and Harriett Latchen in 4.17 in third place.
Veteran Naomi Wilson of Queenstown won her category in 4.18 while the Under 19 women's title went to Veronique Sandler of Nelson in 4.34.
The Junior Under 17's title went to Sophie Tyas of Methven in 4.37 and local Sara Leadbetter won the Master Women category in a time of 5.38.