Great History in the Motu

Friday 31 August 2012, 2:24PM

By MJ Media


The Horizon Energy Motu Challenge (October 13) has seen the who’s-who of multisport over the last 18 years.

Hats off to Scott Pitkethley. Way back in 1994, the Gisborne athlete was the first individual home in the very first Motu Challenge, clocking a slick 7hrs 45min. Neil Jones and Peter Cook rounded out the top three individuals, while Newport Cycles (Marty Madsen, Grant Young, George Westerman, and Matt Flannery) won the teams racing.

Roll on a year to 2005, and Tulip McRoy was the first individual woman to finish the 172km Eastern Bay of Plenty race, taking out the veteran’s section in 10hrs 9min, just four minutes ahead of Deanne White of Invercargill, who won the open women’s category. Neil Jones won his first major multisport, a precursor to his 1996 win in the Coast to Coast.

Since those early days, a lot of big names have mountain biked from Opotiki and up the Old Motu Coach Road, run the Whinray Scenic Reserve, road cycled over Traffords hill, and paddled the Waioeka river. Richard and Elina Ussher, Gordon Walker, George Christison, Steve Gurney, Jill Westenra — they’ve all won at Motu as well as the Coast to Coast.

In 2012, the race marks a new milestone, with Horizon Energy coming on-board as the title sponsor. That means that the prize money and spot prizes will again remain excellent, with $2000 cash for first place in both the open men’s and women’s categories; plus generous cash prizes for fastest stage times; and numerous age-group and teams’ divisions. In all there will be $30,000 in cash prizes and tens of thousands more in product spot and merit prizes.

Another milestone in 2012 will be a sure switch of winners. Due to a clash with overseas AR racing, Elina Ussher, who has won race five years in a row, and Richard Ussher, who’s won four in a row, won’t be in Opotiki. Neither will men’s runner-up in 2011, Dougal Allan of Wanaka. So the door’s open!

One athlete who definitely has his toe in for a win is Whakatane’s Sam Clark, twice third in the men’s race, and fifth in the 2010 Coast to Coast. This could well be Clark’s breakthrough race, before he heads on to November’s Waikaremoana Challenge and February’s Coast to Coast. "For me, Motu Challenge is a hugely important local race. And this year I am determined to stamp my name on the trophy,” Clark says.

Teams racing is always impossible to forecast, with regulars, first-timers and old-hands all battling it out in two-, three- and four-person teams. Suffice to say, there will be plenty of competition, heaps of effort, and a good few laughs along the way.  The Motu is a brilliant teams race, because much of the Waioeka river is visible below the road, set out like a fluid stage. The paddler who tips out and swims often does it to a backdrop of whoops and cheers; it’s easy to see who’s on a great day and who’s fading.

The multisport is partnered by the Motu 160 Cycle Challenge, introduced in 2009 for keen bikers. This takes the same course up the Coach Road to Motu, where competitors change to road bikes, or pass over to a teammate, to return to Opotiki over Traffords Hill and the Waioeka Gorge Scenic Reserve road.

At the sharp end of the field, last year’s individual Motu 160 winners were Scott Thorne (Hamilton) and London Olympian MTBer Karen Hanlen (Whakatane). The teams section was taken out by ‘Small and Smaller’ — Clinton and Patrick Avery.

In 2011, Carl Jones teamed up with partner Katie O’Neill, he riding the MTB stage and she the road stage, to win the mixed teams section. This year Jones, who was also last year’s elite men’s national XC champ, will be racing as an individual in the 160, and hoping to win. “I’ll try and go under 2hrs 15min for the mountain bike, then the road stage will be just hanging on,” said the Waiariki Academy of Sport athlete.

As for those original names, you can’t keep a good name down. Pitkethley apparently still bike races in Gisborne; Jones won the Motu veteran’s category a couple of years back; Westerman still cycles; McRoy still runs. And Madsen? He’s the race director.

Enter the Horizon Energy Motu Challenge or Motu 160 at