The Giant Top Gun started the Nelson Bikefest with a triple-whammy of powerful events. With downhill on Saturday, XC on Sunday and enduro Monday there was something for everyone over the long weekend (thanks Nelson anniversary!). But the brilliance of Top Gun is that all the events contribute towards an overall placing, with a rider’s best two out of the three results counting. The overall winner for the men’s and women’s walked away with $1000NZD each - pretty good for a weekends riding.
There was fear in the eyes of many downhill racers at practice on Friday due to the moist conditions. Kaka DH is an old favourite but it’s a handful in the wet. The weather was soon back to the sunny Nelson standard and come race day the rocks and roots were dry and the dirt was tacky. The course was prime for some fast times, and as it was also a DH Nationals round, the calibre of rider was there to deliver. Spectators were excited to see how the local rippers stacked up against the pro riders like Brook and Blenki. For the 100-odd racers, the excitement was surviving the steep and brutal course.
The patch of grass next to the final 40-footer filled with spectators over the day. By race runs there was a fantastic atmosphere as people basked like lizards in the fine afternoon sun. There was loads of action as the last corner saw plenty of tired riders push too hard and lose the front wheel. The final show jump was a great chance for riders to woo the crowd with a big luscious whip.
When the times were tallied it was a local lad who had gone fastest on the day. Rueben Olorenshaw broke the three minute mark with a sizzling 2:55.32. Sam Blenkinsop edged out Rupert Chapman by .21 of a second for second place. Brook Macdonald and Kieran Bennett rounded out the elite podium.
In the woman’s category, Sarah Atkin comfortably took the win. Agata Bulska and Lisa Horlor slotted into spots two and three respectively. For the senior men, Sam Todd continued to ride strongly and took his second win of the nationals series. Amani Mcintyre, Jamie Lyall, Loui Harvey and Troy Stewart filled the remaining podium spots.
Sunday dawned with roasting conditions, adding to the suffering of the 50-odd XC whippets. Racer’s faced a single lap which could be finished in as little as an hour. The course was typical Nelson cross country with vicious steep climbs and some marginal technical descending. The single lap and exciting trail choices encouraged a wide range of riders and bikes to show up on the day.
No-one looked like threatening Henry Jaine, who finished up in 58:47.36 minutes. Bradley Collins had the gas to edge out Kieran Bennett, who settled for the third step. In the women’s, Ingrid Richter was too sharp for Raewyn Morrison and Naomi Whitehead.
Monday’s enduro was a gourmet event. Around 70 rider’s were frothing for a chance to test themselves down three of the country’s best trail-bike tracks in quick succession. Without a doubt this race is one of the hardest enduros in the country. A stacked field came to the party, with international-level rippers like Wyn Masters, Sam Blenkinsop, Raewyn Morrison and Anka Martin in the mix.
The first stage was the legendary Peaking Ridge. Clever riders paid for the shuttle to the top of Fringe Hill before transitioning along Black Diamond and Sunrise ridge. Those too tight to cough up an extra tenner had to pedal and push up the disgracefully steep access road. Peaking itself was six to eight minutes of hand-punishing savagery. The endless criss-cross of beech roots meant that most riders were barely hanging on at the bottom.
The mid-morning sun was out in force through the tough transition to stage two, the infamous 629. Sweat soaked riders enjoyed a brief rest at the top before dropping into seven to nine minutes of full-bore rowdiness. The native section at the top is one of the countries finest sections of trail and it was running fast. Riders crossed the road and, after negotiating a couple of committed turns, found themselves riding through baby pines on a flowing section with ripe lips and rollers. Just when fatigue was setting in, the track dropped back into the native and dialled up the gnar with some spicy corners and fast rough straights. A wee pedal at the bottom ensured the track had a bit of everything.
After a brief recovery, riders had a flat spin down the road to the Maitai Golf Course and a lunch break. The last climb of the day was also leisurely, up the well graded forestry road to the top of Maitai Face. This track caught a few riders out. After a flat and approachable first section, things become hairy when the hillside drops away very sharply. More than one rider took a dirt sample in the first steep left hand corner. The track is consistent after that, a series of dropping turns linked by off camber pencil bench through the Douglas Fir. After punching 100 metres down a fire road the course jumped onto loam ranger, which has a mellower grade but similar character. A big crowd was camped out for the rock roll and bottom few turns. Riders ran slowest to fastest on this stage, which meant most of the field could head up to see the big dogs in action.
In senior men it was Wyn Masters who came away with it in 17 minutes 23 seconds, followed by local shredder Loui Harvey’s 17:29 (someone sponsor the man!). Sam Blenkinsop (17:36) filled out the podium for the class, but it’s worth noting that master’s winner Kurt Lancaster went third fastest overall with a 17:30. For the women, it was Raewyn Morrison (21:23) from Anka Martin (22:03) and Amanda Pearce (23:13).
There could only be two Giant Top Gun overall winners and this year it was Sam Blenkinsop and Raewyn Morrison. A crisp $1000 each made it a great weekend for them.
Giant also put up a brand new Giant Reign to give away, and after the classic heads or tails palaver it went Ali Jamieson of Trans Savoie fame. For a variety of reasons Ali felt that he wasn’t a good recipient so he generously offered it up for a redraw, which went to Mark Newton. Mark had organised Saturday’s DH race, putting in endless volunteer hours to ensure the event ran flawlessly. It was superb to see the main spot prize go to a deserving recipient who has given so much time and energy to promoting racing and riding in the region.
The Giant Top Gun is a feel good event that showcases everything that’s great about club racing, but provides events of a national standard. The perfect balance of relaxed vibes and hard racing meant that everyone went away from the weekend with big smiles and awesome memories. I’m sure the team are already debating ways to make next year’s Top Gun even better. With the Dodzy Memorial Enduro a few days later, it’s probably worth thinking about getting the time off for next year.