Anton Cooper and Rosara Joseph proved too good at the Urge 3 Peaks Enduro staged in Dunedin, New Zealand, at the weekend. Threatening weather dampened the tops of Signal Hill for the final two stages today, but beneath the trees the steep tracks remained in optimum condition for racing.
Commonwealth Games gold medalist Anton Cooper was unable to snag a stage win today, but his consistent times were enough to give him the overall lead by just 11 seconds after five stages. Jimmy Pollard, of Queenstown, chased Cooper right to the finish claiming four stage wins along the way.
"I'm happy – I was fast and smooth and made no big mistakes and held onto the lead," offers Cooper (below). "I was 0.19 back on the first run today and 9 seconds back on the last stage – it was pretty close."
Cooper said the race was his last big, fun hit-out before he resumed his training for cross-country racing.
"It's a great weekend and really great to race with guys like Jimmy Pollard and mix it with them," he said.
Cooper said he had just signed for a further two years with Cannondale Factory Racing in Europe for cross-country. He said they were a great team and very open-minded towards enduro racing – even encouraging him to race them.
"It's good for the brand, it's what we like to do for fun and it's what riding is all about – just having fun."
Behind Cooper and Pollard less than a minute separated the field back to sixth place with Leighton Kirk, of Dunedin, in third, freerider Conor Macfarlane in fourth and Rotorua's Sam Shaw in fifth.
Pollard said he was "really gutted" to have not been able to claw back Cooper's lead with his four stage wins.
"I was a bit complacent on the first stage and I knew that halfway down and picked up my act for the second half, but it was a bit late," he smiles.
"My plan was just to keep it smooth and stay on the bike and try to finish strong. It was good, but not quite good enough. The first stage is tough – it doesn't flow too well and it tests your fitness. If you make it to the bottom and you're not seeing stars then something is going wrong. I know I was seeing stars and I guarantee Anton was, too. It's so physical, it's unbelievable."
Mt Cargill was Pollard's favourite stage because you weren't allowed to ride it outside of the race and it was a rush at high speed and with drops on one side and the embankment on the other.
Kirk said he had switched from downhill racing to enduro and was enjoying the new discipline.
"I had two crashes on Mt Cargill, which was a bit annoying," the 22-year-old offers.
Macfarlane said he was happy to mix it with the top riders ahead of the opening Enduro World Series round in Rotorua in March 2015.
"I really liked the first stage today – just nice and challenging and off-camber – it was good to see my fitness hold up," Macfarlane explains.
In the women's race 2014 Enduro World Series number seven Rosara Joseph was masterful on the Signal Hill tracks extending her lead to a 2 minute 30 second gap over her nearest rival Natalie Jakobs, of Queenstown. Raewyn Morrison came home in third just one second ahead of local favourite Anja McDonald. Lisa Horlor finished fifth.
"I'm really happy to win my third Urge 3 Peaks Enduro today," smiles Joseph. "It's always a fun event to travel down to."
"We're probably lucky the rain didn't turn out to be too heavy," she grins.
Jakobs said she was pleased the rain held off, too. She focused on riding smooth and safe on the challenging Signal Hill tracks.
"I didn't crash all weekend and I even made the stairs on Mt Cargill," she laughs.
French rider Alexis Riviere won the Junior men with Ben Friel in second and Josh Reilly in third. In the Junior women's Phoebe Coers held out Shannon Hope and Georgia Petrie in second and third respectively.
Race organiser Tom Bradshaw said the event was a resounding success.
"The variety of tracks was great this year – a big epic day in the hills yesterday with a bit of everything and then today was super gnarly and really challenging," Bradshaw explains.
Event founder Kashi Leuchs said they had learnt a lot from the past two years and implemented the right changes.
"We wanted to make this one of the toughest events in the country and I think we have achieved that," Leuchs said. "We design it to push people's limits and even riders who found these tracks beyond their skill level still had a grin on their faces at the bottom. People love a challenge."
Leuchs said New Zealand had a lot of riders who were capable of running top-10 in the world and he felt an event like the Urge 3 Peaks Enduro gave them an opportunity to hone their skills.
"We have a lot of top downhill riders in the world because our races here are so tough. We need to do the same thing with enduro," he explains. "Raise the level."