Wed, Oct 4, 2023 10:30 PM
Marlborough riders took advantage of competing on familiar territory when the Skoda Nationals Schools Mountain Biking Championships began in Blenheim today.
Under clear blue skies riders from all over the country gathered at the foot of the Wither Hills Farm Park for the first day’s action, with the individual cross country and cross country relay races being staged.
The local contingent quickly made their presence felt, picking up medals of all colours on opening day.
The highlight was provided by Marlborough Boys’ College rider Finn McKenzie who claimed a gold medal in the under-20 boys grade, leading from start to finish and crossing the line 24 seconds ahead of second-placed Eddie Adams from Dunstan High School, who edged out Hamilton Boys’ High School rider Hunter Adams in the 31-strong field.
Finn made amends for missing out on a possible medal last year, when the nationals were held in Bluff. Gear failure when he was among the leading riders in the 2022 event saw him register a DNF in his favourite discipline, however he was a clear-cut victor this time.
“It has been a pretty wicked day,” said Finn, whose game plan was to get to the front early and control the race from there.
“I have been practicing the downhill a lot and it is quite hard to get right, so I knew that if I could get in there first that I would get a bit of a gap. I was strong on the flat and tried to hold it … be consistent on the climbs, keep my breathing constant and be as efficient as possible.”
Finn, a flanker in the MBC First XV rugby side, has shed 8kg since the conclusion of the rugby season and feels he is at his optimum weight.
He was full of praise for the state of the course and the organisation behind bringing such a high-profile event to the province.
“Credit to Fraser [Brown] and the team at the Marlborough Mountain Bike Club, they have done an epic job of setting this course up … the council have also been very lenient with us, letting us get in among the walking tracks, and I think [the nationals] have really put Marlborough on the mountain biking map.”
The Marlborough crew also registered three bronze medals in individual cross-country events.
Maddy Sinclair turned in a gritty performance to better her seeding in the under-20 girls event, Neve McKenzie placed third in the under-16 girls race while Bohally Intermediate student Billy Hurren bagged bronze in the under-13 boys event.
Lachlan McNabb narrowly missed a medal in the under-20 boys division, finishing fourth after a gutsy ride.
Later in the day the relays were staged.
The MBC team of McKenzie, McNabb and Elijah O’Donnell placed second behind Hamilton BHS, while the MGC combination of Sinclair, McKenzie and Erin Green were also forced to settle for silver, behind Cashmere HS.
In the under-16 relay Renwick School placed second.
On Thursday the junior downhill races are staged at Homebrook, the senior DH on Friday and the enduro on Saturday at the Taylor Pass Forest.