Difficult conditions did little to dampen the enthusiasm of competitors, as hundreds turned out to celebrate the final of the 2017 Cyclezone Winter Series on Sunday.
After what has perhaps been the wettest Winter Series on record, it was perhaps fitting that Sunday’s finale saw the clouds roll in and temperatures plummet, adding an extra element of difficulty to the already challenging courses. But once again the performances from the athletes on show would brighten the day.
Palmerston North’s Josie Wilcox, the standout rider of the series was in imperious form as she took her 3rd straight win in the Women’s Long Course. While the hilly course suited Wilcox obvious climbing strength, the wet conditions and technical descents provided a demanding test for the former runner, who is still learning her MTB craft. “Yeah. That was the toughest race so far! A nasty crash early on saw me flip my bike and break my helmet but crashes are all part of this sport” reflected Wilcox. “Really happy with another win today and pleased to take out the series.”
Fellow Palmerston North rider Fiona MacDermid would overcome an inadvertent early detour, to come back through the field and claim a strong 2nd place. The 3rd straight podium for the former National Series Champion. While series stalwart Amy Haddon rounded out the podium in 3rd.
For the men, any hope Cosmo Bloor had of matching the Wilcox’s series clean sweep was soon dashed as race was dominated by 2016 series champion Ed Crossling. Having missed the earlier rounds, the Wellington rider returned to fire a clear warning shot to his rivals ahead of October’s Whaka 100, showing all as his strength and experience as he played his cards perfectly to cross the line almost 30sec clear of Brad Jones. Bloor rounded out the podium a further 2min back.
Having represented New Zealand at the MTB Marathon World Championships in June, Crossling had had a quiet couple of months, and arrived in Rotorua looking for a good hitout to see where his form was at. And that’s exactly what he got.
“That wasn’t easy that’s for sure. It was tough today. Those boys were riding strong and definitely made me earn it out there” said a clearly stoked Crossling. “I wasn’t too sure what to expect from these other boys, so I pushed the pace fairly early and the 3 of us managed to get away. Brad especially was really tough. I attacked a few times and couldn’t shake them. But I knew the descent of Hot-X Buns would be decisive today, so I pushed pretty hard through there and got a gap. Really stoked to hold that to the finish.”
Both Crossling and Wilcox will take confidence from today, and head into October’s Whaka 100 as warm favourites for what is undoubtedly one of the toughest MTB races on the calendar.
The Mid-Course events also saw some excitement, as the winning streaks of Alex Coventry and Sammie Maxwell were broken with fresh (albeit a little muddy) faces at the top of the podium; as young U17 riders Matthew Wilson and Ruby Ryan earned their maiden Winter Series victories.
For Wilson, the win maybe shouldn’t have come as a surprise. The young Auckland rider had secured third placings in each of the first two Winter series races and had been right in the mix. Having finished just 4sec and 10sec respectively behind the winner. On Sunday he found the conditions, and the tough climbing to his liking as he was finally able to take the honours after a race long battle with fellow U17 athlete Adam Francis. Masters rider Elson Halligan saved his strongest performance for the finale. Finishing a close 3rd, and with it claiming back some pride for the older riders in attendance!
For Race Director Tim Farmer, the tough racing, and new winners made for a great finish to what has been another epic series. “Yeah it’s been a tough one. Our wettest series on record and that’s certainly bought some challenges. But we’ve still had almost 1700 riders across the series and they’ve been some great rides, and epic stories. So bring on 2018!”