Words and photos by Matt Wood
An event of two halves
As the largest event on the Dunedin mountain bike calendar rolled into town over the weekend, there were a few anxious eyes cast over the local weather forecast, and justifiably so as Dunedin has a tradition of turning on the rubbish weather for out of town folk.
If you were on the cross country side of the fence there was noting to worry about, as Saturday delivered sunshine, sunburn and dusty trails. Technical riders showed there strength on the challenging Signal Hill course. With a mix of rock gardens and off camber roots, along with steep climbs it was no walk in the park.
The elite woman's field was dominated by kiwi rider (but now living in Australia) Samara Sheppard. After trailing Australian champion Rebecca McConnel for the first lap, Sheppard put the power down on the climb to push ahead and finish 1st by three and a half minutes.
In the elite men's race, it was a close battle between Anton Cooper and Sam Gaze, with Gaze taking the lead early on, only to suffer a mechanical issue with his seat post giving the lead and the top step to Cooper.
Now the downhill was a whole different story altogether
I was told by local pinner Nik Borland “the dust clouds during Saturday practice was so thick in the air, it was like sucking back a 20 of cheep durrys”.
Race day Sunday was in stark contrast to practice, with the sky opening up, and the dust quickly turning to cake batter.
As some riders hurried to fit wet tyres, others decided to give it a punt on there dry's. As it turned out it made absolutely no difference what tyre you were running as nothing would grip to the slick clay.
Seeding runs were a game of who can stay on the bike the longest. With a number of riders choosing to retire after seeding to join the heckling crowd, leaving only the real keen to tackle the race runs.
A broken ankle during race runs caused a red flag and the top 6 elite men to begrudgingly head back to the shuttle for a re-run. Sam Blenkinsop threw down the quickest time of the day with a 3:13, a solid 16 seconds in front of 2nd place Wyn Masters.