Pre-race favourites didn’t disappoint at the 2014 Scott Karapoti Classic in Wellington yesterday. But in a race full of former champions, they needed race records to take the top spots in New Zealand’s premier mountain bike event.
Established in 1986, the Scott Karapoti Classic is the longest running mountain bike race in the Southern Hemisphere. Based in Upper Hutt’s rugged Akatarawa Ranges near Wellington, this annual gathering has become the cultural hub of New Zealand mountain biking. American cycling magazine, Velo News, once ranked Karapoti among the top 25 mountain bike races in the world.
This year more than 700 riders from 10 countries and all ends of New Zealand took advantage of a dry track and perfect weather conditions that made 2014 the fastest Karapoti ever. When the dust had settled 'Canterbury’s Anton Cooper and Upper Hutt’s own Kim Hurst were the fastest Karapoti winners ever.
Hurst, originally from Wales, had been the surprise winner in 2013 when she defeated London Olympian Karen Hanlen. That win gave the local Upper Hutt doctor a new-found confidence and she went on the finish runner-up at the world 24 hour mountain bike championships and returned to Karapoti in hunt of the race record.
The 36 year old declared her intentions from the start, hitting the front after Karapoti’s famous LeMans-style start across the Akatarawa River in a catch-me-if you can strategy that saw the pre-race favourite racing mostly against the record-setting schedule scrawled on her hand.
The record pace didn’t come easy. “On the last climb up the Pram Track, it was just so hard,” Hurst would say after winning in a race record 2hrs 45min 29secs.
“But in the last bit I had some guys around me really pushing me and yelling at me about the record; it was really cool.”
Hurst broke Jennifer Smith’s 2007 record by two minutes six seconds. Behind her Rotorua’s Katie O’Neill and Palmerston North’s Margaret Leyland also broke Karapoti’s prestigious three hour barrier with 2:57.08 and 2:59.41 respectively.
Hurst was clearly emotional about the record breaking win. After representing Great Britain as a teenager she gave up the sport for more than a decade before taking it up again when she moved to New Zealand.
“I moved to New Zealand five years ago and I’ve ridden Karapoti five times,” said Hurst. “I love this race. When I won it last year I immediately set myself the goal of the race record. So to achieve something that you’ve worked towards for 12 months, and to have your name in the Hall of Fame next to legends like Jenny Smith and Kathy Lynch is pretty emotional for me.”
The men’s race played out in almost identical fashion to the women, but 19 year old Anton Cooper was less emotional and more pleasantly surprised when he smashed the men’s record.
In 2011 the diminutive Cantabrian became the youngest ever winner of New Zealand most prestigious mountain bike race. In 2013 he became the fastest. But just a few days before he wasn’t even sure he wanted to race after a lack lustre summer that saw him beaten at home for the first time since 2010. But the former world junior champion illustrated his class by riding away from the 2013 and 2012 winners, Dirk Peters (Roto) and Mat Waghorn (Feilding).
At the finish line Cooper was almost surprised at his winning time of 2hrs 07min 57secs. “I haven’t really felt great lately,” he said. “I didn’t come to Karapoti looking for the record. I just wanted to win, but the conditions were so good and I had good legs. I saw I was on for a fast one so I really started pushing it hard.”
Cooper even shrugged off a puncture on Karapoti’s iconic Rock Garden section to take six minutes and three seconds off the record set by Rotorua’s Clinton Avery in 2007. Behind him, Mat Waghorn had perhaps the best race of his life to also beat the old record with 2hrs 13min 25secs. In third place, Rotorua’s Carl Jones needed a sprint finish to hold of Porirua teen sensation Eden Cruise by four seconds in 2hrs 18min 42secs, with the 14 year old Cruise continuing to rack up performances faster than even Anton Cooper at the same age.
As New Zealand’s favourite mountain bike race, Karapoti is so much more than just a race for line honours. In 29 years it has developed a culture as the sport’s annual gathering. The event’s creators back in 1986, the Kennett brothers Paul, Simon and Jonathan, were all riding again. As were locals Francis Hoen and Peter Schmitz, who both finished their 25th Karapoti. At the other end of the spectrum nine year old Ben Mitchell became Karapoti’s youngest ever finisher.
Race director, Michael Jacques, said “People like Francis Hoen, Peter Schmitz and Ben Mitchell is what the Scott Karapoti Classic is really about. People of all age and ability and walks of life making Karapoti their own personal challenge.”
In 2015 the event that kick-started mountain biking in New Zealand will celebrate its 30th year. Race day is scheduled for Saturday 7 March. See www.karapoti.co.nz for details and 2014 results.
Scott Karapoti Classic
March 1, Upper Hutt
1st, ANTON COOPER, 2:07:57, Christchurch
2nd, MATHEW WAGHORN, 2:13:25, Feilding
3rd, CARL JONES, 2:18:42, Rotorua
4th, EDEN CRUISE, 2:18:46, Porirua
5th, DIRK PETERS, 2:22:11, Rotorua
6th, EDWIN CROSSLING, 2:28:51, Wellington
7th, GAVIN MCCARTHY, 2:31:25, Upper Hutt
8th, STEVE BALE, 2:31:45, Wellington
9th, CHRIS SHARLAND, 2:33:49, Nelson
10th, BRAD HUDSON, 2:37:03, Christchurch
1st, Kim Hurst, 2:45:29,Upper Hutt
2nd, Katie O’Neill, 257:08, Rotorua
3rd, Margaret Leyland, 2:59:41, Palm North
4th, Jill Westenra, 3:08:21, Lower Hutt
5th, Sasha Smith, 3:10:01, Wellington
6th, Jacqueline O'hagan, 3:18:24, Wellington
7th, Libby Barnett, 3:19:50, Wellington
8th, Bex Houston, 3:24:55, Upper Hutt
9th, Martine Barnes, 3:51:34, Wellington
10th, Jo Harris, 3:55:11, Nelson