Mon, Oct 9, 2023 11:24 AM
Marlborough's mountain biking community took the opportunity to showcase the region's tracks and facilities with both hands when the Skoda Nationals Schools Mountain Biking Championships were staged across the region last week.
Marlborough Mountain Bike Club president Fraser Brown described the event as “an absolute blast”.
“We are thrilled with how the event unfolded, almost exactly as we had envisioned four years ago when we started planning it," he said.
“The preparation was a little consuming at times, but to then host over 500 riders and families and see everyone having a great time was very special and made the long hours and hard work all worth it.
"The skill level of the riders is truly inspiring. With many riders bringing professionalism, maturity and riding ability far beyond their years. NZ mountain biking is in looking in good shape for future years."
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 on Wednesday.
The local contingent quickly made their presence felt on their home track, 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 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 practising 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 it has 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, attention turned to the downhill, staged on the demanding and exhilarating Homebrook course. The junior races were first, with the junior boys and overall title claimed by Jaxon Mair from Otumoetai Intermediate and the girls crown being won by Fiordland College’s Libby Excell.
Bohally rider Kobie Madsen was the quickest of the 13-strong Marlborough-based contingent, finishing seventh overall among 133 racers and winning the under-13 title.
Jono Planthaber from MBC was next best, finishing 16th overall and 10th in the under-15 division. Fairhall’s Billy Hurren came home in 55th place overall but made the top 10 in the under-13 grade, finishing sixth.
The senior downhill was held at the same venue on Friday and provided a feast of adrenaline-inducing action.
The quickest time (1.50.25) was registered by Wakatipu rider Malik Boatwright, with Seppy Binsbergen from New Plymouth BHS second and Sam Dunnett from Christchurch BHS third overall. The top three riders were all under-16 competitors. Roisin McGuinness from Cashmere, another under-16 rider, won the girls overall title.
Marlborough’s best was MBC rider Jacob Herd who finished 25th overall and 10th in the under-20 boys, while Maddy Sinclair came home fourth in the under-20 girls’ section.
On Saturday the champs concluded with the three-stage enduro event, contested by over 300 riders at Jentree and in the Taylor Pass Forest.
Lachie Ross from Hutt International School was the overall winner, from Nayland College’s Nico Schroder (under-16) and Cameron Anderson from Mt Aspiring. MBC’s Jacob Herd finished just off the overall podium in fourth place but was third in the under-20 division.
Kobie Madsen again underlined his potential by adding the under-13 enduro title to his downhill crown, with Bohally schoolmate Billy Hurren third.
Neve McKenzie also got on the podium, finishing second in the under-16 girls’ grade while Maddy Sinclair came fifth among the under-20 girls.
Fraser Brown paid tribute to the wider Marlborough community.
“Our events team was humbled by the support we received from our community. From the property owners where our venues were, our event sponsors and the army of volunteers and supporters who all went above and beyond to ensure the event was a success, we extend a huge thank you.
"Marlborough isn’t traditionally known for its mountain biking and the venues and trails that we used were built for this event. We had a few test runs with smaller events and post race feedback that the trails were fantastic and were going to be well received.
"Being a schools event with competing riders from year 7 through to year 13 it’s a fine balance when creating the tracks to cater to the wide array of skill levels. As the Schools Nationals is the pinnacle MTB event on the calendar we were keen to raise the bar and include some fairly tough courses, challenging the more experienced riders while at the same time ensuring they are safe and achievable for the newer riders."
Fraser said "Hearing the hoots and hollers and seeing the stoke and excitement from the riders post-riding validated that we achieved what we planned.
“There was definitely a huge ‘phew, we’ve done it’ from the events team as the event came to a close late Saturday afternoon, but we have proved that Marlborough and our MTB community is capable of hosting these large-scale events, so in terms of future events, watch this space.
“Next up on our calendar is a round of the national cross country championships in February, a smaller scale event but with NZ’s top racers competing, it will be quite the spectacle.”
Visiting riders and their support crews were also impressed. This message came from Fiordland College, who made the lengthy trip north,
"So, so good Marlborough MTBC. You organised a truly amazing event, our kids were buzzing. Great racing, friendships made and memories for life created. Please pass on to your team of volunteers how much we appreciate the Mahi that went into creating a fabulous event!"