Capping off four days of tough racing, Team R&R Sport riders Tony Hogg and Mark Williams sealed the victory at the 2010 Alpine Epic, but not without a big final stage fight from the Property Syndication riders Ollie Whalley and Brent Miller, both of Christchurch, who won Stage 6.
“Brent was on fire today and totally smashed the climb up the Irishman,” his teammate Whalley said.
“I just wanted to be the first one to the top to see the view of Mt Cook,” Miller laughed.
“We tried to attack off the start, got a bit lost and then had to find our way to the front again and just pulled away after the climb,” Whalley said.
Near the end of the 74km stage Whalley, of Christchurch, thought his race might be over when it felt as though he had stripped a cog off his bike's cassette, but it was later that he realised he had actually stripped the spline off the freehub. He managed to preserve the bike to the end and win the stage in a time of 3:22:03 and secure second position overall.
“The event has been lots of fun and I will definitely do it again – but maybe with tougher tyres next time,” Miller said.
“Willie and Tony are a very tough team to beat,” Whalley said.
Williams, of Queenstown, and Hogg, of Dunedin, overcame a tough start in Stage 6 after Williams struggled on the ascent up the Irishman – a climb that took riders to 1300m above sea level and a panoramic view of the Southern Alps on the clear, hot, windless final day of racing on Saturday.
“I was in the box today and Tony had to pull me through. I lost a bit of traction up the climb and then the gap just grew,” Williams conceded.
“I knew we had a big lead going into this stage so it was just a case of managing that lead – maintaining a good pace without blowing ourselves to pieces,” he said.
“You can’t take any lead for granted – anything could happen,” Hogg said.
“It’s good to see those guys win a stage today – they’ve raced bloody hard and had a lot of bad luck, so they really deserved the win today,” Williams said.
Williams and Hogg rode bikes equipped with 29-inch diameter wheels [standard is 26-inch] and they both admitted that this had a hand in their success at this year’s Alpine Epic.
“Stage racing and getting used to the whole team dynamic has been great fun and we were quite evenly matched and didn’t abuse each other too much,” Hogg laughed, vowing to return again in 2011.
“The camaraderie of this event is the best bit for me – getting your tents up, sitting around and having a laugh and hearing all the stories from the day and just eating as much as possible,” Williams said.
The Team Yeti NZ pairing of Kashi Leuchs, of Dunedin, and Marcus Roy, of Invercargill, finished third.
The lead three women's teams continued their tussle during the final stage with Athena Girls Bec Rae and Jo Turnbull, both of Christchurch, pulling away to a strong lead to the top of the Irishman, ahead of Team Outside Sports, Floortje Draisma and Jo Williams, both of Wanaka, and Team R&R Whippets, Erin Greene and Kath Kelly, both of Dunedin.
However, Greene and Kelly, recovering from a series of bad luck in the preceding stages, determined to build on their lead and applied the pressure through the gravel road section and made it into first place on the second climb and went on to win the final stage and the women’s title.
"We probably worked together better as a team and every night we made a plan about how we would apply the pressure and attack things," Greene said.
"Erin made me hurt," Kelly said.
"Erin came back down on the big climb when I was hurting and she carried my bike up – she's been an awesome teammate."
Greene and Kelly made their move on the second climb and never looked back – literally.
"Erin kept telling me that the other team was right on us, but she wouldn't let me look back at them," laughs Kelly.
Greene and Kelly could not relax to enjoy their final moments in the stage until they had the finishline in sight, they said.
"This has been one of the best races I have ever done," Kelly said.
"The atmosphere at nights is unreal and the food is fantastic ... and as for the weather – four days of perfect conditions – I'd hate to do that in the rain!"
Having two strong women's teams around them throughout the four day journey made it "scary, but made us work harder", admitted Kelly.
Greene and Kelly completed the four-day, six-stage race in 21:18:17, and placed sixth overall.
The race for second was won by Draisma and Williams, who finished Stage 6 three minutes ahead of their rivals, Rae and Turnbull, and in doing so stretched their overall advantage to 8 minutes. Draisma and Williams finished on 21:49:50 for ninth overall with Rae and Turnbull on 21:57:02 and in 11th position overall.
Event co-organiser Nick Ross said the event had surpassed his expectations this year with stunning weather adding to the ocassion.
"You couldn't ask for better – stunning views up the lake to Mt Cook today and for the last two days we've had views right up the Aoraki range – it has been good," Ross said.
"It has been a tough event, the second day in particular, but riders are coming in stoked with a real sense of achievement that they have completed it, which is brilliant."
Ross admits that he thought he may have made Day 2 a bit hard at one point.
"The stage across Coal Hill and then on to Clayton Station is a critical part of the race, but we started to worry when we were looking at our watches and no one had come in after five hours," he laughed.
Organisers expect the event to grow and would like to lift the entry numbers to help "streamline some areas of the operation".
"It's great to see some international riders here and we would like to see more coming to take part and to grow the event," Ross said.
Next year's race would maintain the intensity of the 2010 course, but Ross said it might include some new trails and hinted at the possibility of a fifth day being added.
He also suggested that alternate loops would be created for those who want to complete the event, but will be challenged on the longer days.
"That way top riders could have bigger days and less experienced riders would still get to ride most of the course," he said.
Ross was quick to acknowledge that both winning teams in mens and womens were R&R Sport teams – something that fits well with the event sponsor.
"They came on board from the beginning and have been really supportive throughout the race, so it was good to see they also fielded such strong teams," Ross said.