After more than three days of the closest mountainbike racing Nelson has seen for some time, Anton Cooper and Meg Bichard claimed the second edition prestige of Top Gun champions.
Today’s Super D at the Codgers Mountain Bike Park was the deciding event, with several riders carrying maximum points into the Nelson Anniversary Day clash from Saturday's Downhill and Sunday's Cross Country events.
Cooper (Woodend) finished as the fastest man and Bichard (Moutere) the second fastest woman, which combined with their maximum points from the Cross Country for Cooper, and the Downhill for Bichard gave them the coveted 2014 Top Gun titles.
The Downhill and Cross Country events also doubled as the second round of the New Zealand Mountain Bike Cup this year and the appeal of this high level of competition drew large fields in both events, 112 riders taking on the Kaka Downhill, and 95 the Codgers Cross Country.
Saturday's Downhill saw a return to Kaka Hill - a venue that has hosted the nationals going back to 1999 but rested for the last four years. This break allowed the race course to recover and further evolve into a truly worthy test of rider and machine. The closeness of competition was clear to see in all categories, with the Junior categories producing classy wins for Oscar Perks (U17, Nelson)) and a rare tied result in the U19s to Josh McCombie (Dunedin) and Ben Watkins (Wanganui).
Queenstown's Sophie Tyas followed through on her top seed position to win the Elite Women's race, while the Elite Men’s race provided a thrilling conclusion to the day. The top five seeds took the five podium spots, but none in the positions that they had seeded. Wanganui's Sam Blenkinsop looked to have done enough to win after peeling seven seconds off his seed time, however Kieran Bennett (Christchurch) bettered that by over a second to set the benchmark for the remaining three riders on course. None could match Bennett's pace on what really is his home course, with Switzerland's top World Cup racer Nick Beer last rider through in fifth.
Sunday's Cross Country race at the always popular Codgers Mountain Bike Park gave competitors a course that was absolute fun and ideally suited to the Olympic format of multi-lap Mountain Bike racing. Age group categories in the morning race start gave an indication of what would be on offer for the afternoon Elite/Under 19 race, with a very strong Under 17 Men’s field giving spectators and supporters a fantastic lead-in race - Wellington's Eden Cruise taking the win in style. Masters categories were also fiercely competed with many having an eye on the Top Gun decider.
The strongest fields seen this summer in Under 19 and Elite were on course in the afternoon race start. Both Under 19 Men and Women races were close at the front - Auckland's Charlotte Rayner and Rangiora's Ben Oliver winning from the gun, but they had to work to keep ahead of the rest of their competitors. Queenstown's Kate Fluker and Cooper won the Elite races by comfortable margins.
However, in both the contest for podium spots was intense and only a sniff of opportunity could have made a difference to the pack. Nelson's Ingrid Richter produced a well grafted race to take second place behind Fluker, surprising several highly experienced athletes in the process. And early in the Men, Te Awamutu's Sam Gaze challenged Cannondale's World Cup professional Cooper at the front, however Gaze couldn't maintain the frenetic pace - Rotorua's Dirk Peters and Carl Jones left to try to close the gap to Cooper.
Top Gun/NZ MTB Cup Round 2 Downhill
Top Gun/NZ MTB Cup Round 2 Cross Country
Top Gun Super D
Top Gun Overall Points