An Englishman and a Southlander claimed joint first place in Saturday’s annual Merrell Tour de Wakatipu, with a dead heat at the finish line.
About 200 cyclists took part in the eighth – and possibly last – trail ride, which took elite, sport and recreational competitors from Millbrook Resort past Lake Hayes to the finish line at the Kawarau River.
Richard Dunnett, from Suffolk, England, and road racing specialist Luke Macpherson, from Invercargill – both top 10 finishers in the world solo 24-hour mountain bike championships in Rotorua last month – crossed the finish line together in a time of 1:11.14, nine seconds ahead of third place-getter Hamish Presbury, also of Invercargill.
Dunedin’s Ronel Cook won the women’s elite title in 1:26:17, more than 13 minutes ahead of her nearest rival, Sophie Luther, also of Dunedin.
Katherine Gillespie, originally from London, was third.
Dunnett, who rides for United Kingdom team Torq Performance, is travelling around New Zealand in a camper van and has only been in the Southern Lakes region for three weeks.
“It’s been good riding up some proper hills, as being from Suffolk I’m used to it being flat.
“The course was pretty quick – two or three of us kept attacking on every climb and then on the flat, faster sections it was bunching back together.
“On the last gravel climb, I got away with Luke and we both stayed away on the road down to the finish,” he says.
He and Cook plan to compete at next weekend’s Naseby 12-Hour Challenge before the Contact Epic at Lake Hawea on April 16.
Queenstown Bike Festival director Geoff Hunt says the future of the Tour de Wakatipu was uncertain because of changes to land use on the traditional route along the true right of the Kawarau River to Chard Farm winery.
“We’re looking at some exciting new events for next year’s bike festival, but the feedback about this year’s Tour de Wakatipu course has been really positive, so who knows.
“The great thing about this event is that riders of all ages and abilities can choose their own challenge over our fantastic local trail network, so it would be a shame to lose it.
“Whatever happens, I’d like to thank the Queenstown Trails Trust, all our sponsors and the competitors who have taken part over the last eight years.”