Mud and Kiwis – Report from New Zealand’s Cyclocross National Championships

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The National Championships featured a Le Mans start with a twist - no front wheels! by Greg Gibb

The National Championships featured a Le Mans start with a twist - no front wheels! by Greg Gibb

There’s some high-profile racing going on in the Southern Hemisphere. Sure, the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships are going on in Australia, but that’s not the only event. Last weekend featured New Zealand’s second-ever National Championships in cyclocross. While New Zealand has sent riders to the UCI Cyclocross World Championships in the last decade, notably Kiwis Kashi Leuchs in 2007 and Mark Legg-Compton in 2002, there hasn’t been a national championship until last year. Last weekend gave the Kiwis and some visiting racers in America some epic mud (stay tuned for a report from them), and we’ve got a report and photos of the event below.

by Tui Allen, photos by Greg Gibb.

Pukete Farm Park in northern Hamilton has been the scene for hundreds of epic MTB battles in the ranks of the local Hamilton MTB Club who build, maintain, and race the trails there.

The idea of introducing cyclocross to New Zealand by holding an inaugural national championship at the park was the brainchild of club member, Warwick Mills. Inspired by tales of Belgian ‘cross racing while working with a Flemish mechanic, Warwick felt cross would be a perfect fit for the local terrain, and also a good excuse to add another bike to his garage. The first event was held in 2008 and attracted much interest but only 16 entries. This year the entries more than tripled, proving cyclocross is catching on fast in New Zealand.

The course this year was distinctly more euro with plenty of mud short runs and few little dog legs to keep racing tight. The main mud pit was quickly renamed ‘the rhino pit’ by competitors due to its depth and possibly the racers wallowing in it. Feedback on the course was very positive, with everyone declaring it to be one of the toughest but still enjoyable events they had taken part in. New Englanders Colin Reuter and his partner Linnea Koons,who tied in the NZCX Champs to a visit to New Zealand, said the course was some of the worst conditions they had raced cross in. That sounds like a successful event!

Linnea Koons, the winning woman from New England, but is a Kiwi. by Greg Gibb

Linnea Koons, the winning woman from New England, but is a Kiwi. by Greg Gibb

When the starting bell rang the early pace was fast and furious with a core group of five strong riders quickly showing they were the serious contenders. The rest of the competitors were happy to put their laps in and watch the fast riders rip by. One of the highlights for a lot of the competitors was the very vocal spectators, yelling support and ringing cowbells on every pass of the event village. When the mud settled Garth Weinberg was crowned the men’s national champ, a title he adds to his singlespeed national title from a year ago. Visiting kiwi/American Linnea took out the women’s title piping Michelle Hyland a strong local road rider.

Warwick says his aim was to provide an authentic cross experience for all who took part and judging by the comments on a local cycling website Vorb, he delivered this in spades:

    “That track was a hurt fest from go to woah, but thankfully the bell rang before a heart attack was imminent. Good stuff dude, and I am already hunting for a more suitable mount for next years event.’ -Russ S
    “That was AWESOME with a capital O. It was truly a filthy gruelling race but worth every eye and mouthful of mud. I cleaned literally 2 kilos of mud off the bike when I got home. Congrats to everyone else who trashed their rides out there.” -Garth
    “Heaps of fun, I’m not much of a mudlark so was a bit slow but happy to have finally done a cx race after years of wanting to.” -Cyclenutz
    “Great to see so many ladies in the mud also…best looking podium I’ve ever seen in NZ” -Oli

‘Cross is alive and well in New Zealand and continuing the growth it has seen in the States over the past few years. Plans are already being considered for the 2010 champs with even the possibility of a series of races. Warwick hopes to see the sport grow and more races be put on around the country in coming years, saying, “New Zealand has a great conditions for cyclocross in winter, with plenty of small parks scattered through most cities it would be great to see more events held throughout the year, and we look forward to providing another hour in hell next year.”

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