"It wasn't easy," laughed Marcus Roy after winning the 50km race across sub-alpine terrain in a valley floor between Glendhu Bay to Arrowtown on Saturday.
Finishing within 8/100ths of a second of his record time set in 2008 (1.57.47), Roy, of Invercargill, was faced with tough competition that included his Yeti team mate and three-time Olympian Kashi Leuchs, of Dunedin, Tony Hogg, of Dunedin, Brent Miller, of Christchurch, and Mark Williams, of Queenstown.
But it was a younger competitor who kept Roy honest right to the finishline at Butler's Green in Arrowtown: 15-year-old rising mountain bike star Anton Cooper, of Christchurch.
"This was definitely the most competitive field we've ever had for this race," Roy offered, noting that the fourth rider home was also a young rider: 17-year-old Pieter Bulling, of Invercargill.
"It was a nervous start and the field was visibly jumpy off the start, which led to a few crashes. Everyone wanted to be second wheel – no one wanted to take the lead," Roy explained.
Cooper was quick to make his intentions clear on the first big climb.
"He attacked early and was just smashing it up all the hills," Roy said.
"Tony Hogg was with us too, but I was having to catch Anton on all the flat sections to stay in the race. On about three or four occasions he'd put 10-15 metres into me on the hills and I would slowly claw it back on the next flat section."
Roy was impressed by the way his quarry handled himself out on the track.
"He was riding with experience beyond his years – he was clearly using his head throughout the race and playing a good game. He'd keep attacking and then he'd watch my reaction to see how it would play out," Roy conceded.
Cooper got away from Roy on the last climb before the Soho descent began, but Roy benefited from the ASR 5's 120mm of travel and could catch Cooper during the descent.
The river crossings also better suited the longer-travel ASR 5.
"We hit the river crossings side by side, but I had longer legs and managed to create a gap there," Roy admitted.
Roy crossed the finishline 33 seconds ahead of Cooper and praised the young rider for his tenacity throughout the race.
"He is a rider to watch in the future – he's certainly a talented rider."
Roy's win on Saturday was his fifth Motatapu win since the event began.
Team Yeti NZ was also represented by Olympian Kashi Leuchs and Daniel Franks, of Christchurch.
"I was out there to have fun on the new ASR 5 and I had a blast. Yeti NZ's downhill and BMX rider Daniel Franks came along and rode his first endurance race ever and we had a lot of fun today," Leuchs said afterward.
Franks, who races downhill at the top level in New Zealand and is ranked sixth in the world in BMX, finished the race in 2.29.43 to finish sixth in the Elite Junior Male category. Franks rode a Yeti 575 – the marque's premium 150mm-travel bike – in the event.