A triumph for age and a triumph for youth — that was the long and short of it at the third annual Karioi Classic on Sunday as another large turnout of cyclists took on the gruelling round-the-mountain challenge, this year in the face of stiff and swirling winds.
Most of the 270-odd mountainbikers, many from out of town and one or two from overseas, competed in the 44km one-lapper where 16-year-old Cambridge lad Sam Gaze put the disappointment of pulling out in the same event two years ago behind him as he headed off two first-timers from Rotorua, 23-year-old Carl Jones and 19-year-old Nigel McDowell.
“The way up was mean,” said Sam in reference to the strong early tailwind up Te Hutewai Road.
But the other placegetters had a different take on the conditions. “The wind was right in your face, it was so hard,” said Carl, who was just a second behind the winner. His Rotorua team-mate, who finished another 10 seconds back, also rued the savage northeaster. “Maybe I’ll do it again next year, it depends on how the wind is.” He had a lone struggle against the elements towards the end and “just caught up with them (the leaders) right at the end on the grass”.
Meantime it was a different story age-wise in the new 90km two-lapper — named the double buster because, perhaps, like a giant hamburger, it was really tough to get through — where two older competitors with a little luck on their side came to the fore.
The long morning’s slog, which began at 7.30 and took the 20 entrants twice around the base of the Karioi, was expected to result in another victory for young Hamilton rider Sheldon Gorter.
But the 22-year-old winner of the past two Karioi Classics suffered a double puncture and pulled out, leaving it to 40-year-old Ben Knight and 35-year-old Carl Van Den Heuvel to fight it out right to the finish line at Raglan airfield.
Ben — who’d travelled up from Masterton for a cyclocross event, part of a national series, at Pukete the previous day — was “absolutely rapt” with a first placing at Raglan to go with his fifth at Pukete. “Carl seemed quite fresh towards the end and I was a little bit worried. But I thought I’d give a sprint a bit of a go.”
The narrower tyres of Ben’s cyclocross bike gave him an advantage on the airfield — a surface which event co-organiser Dirk De Ruysscher warned about in his pre-race briefing — and he pulled out a seven-second winning margin.
“He got me on the grass,” conceded Carl. “It was like riding through mud, the sand base was so soft and springy.”
As he’d caught up with Ben after puncturing 10 kilometres out from the finish, the Te Aroha rider was disappointed not to win. But Carl was still “stoked” with his performance on what he described as an awesome circuit, and said he’d definitely be back next year “to knock the bastard off”.
Raglan’s Mike Loten finished close behind third placegetter Andrew Sudfieldt in the double buster. He was “really happy” with his time of 3 hrs 44 mins — about 20 minutes slower than the winner — in conditions where “you got blown up the first bit, had a struggle with gusts and then it was hell from Te Toto Gorge”. He promised he’d be back again next year but maybe on a single-speed.
Ironically a single-speeder, Matthew Peploe from Hamilton, took out fifth just behind him. The 37-year-old also graduated to the longer event after a fifth placing last year.
Further back in 13th was the only woman to take on the double buster, 34-year-old Aucklander Louise Mark, who was second woman home in the one-lapper last year.
“It’s all been so wonderful, so cool, well organised and with great prizes,” she enthused.
First woman home in the traditional one-lapper this year was teen Amber Johnston in 26th place.