Day one of Macpac Motatapu saw competition in the Ultra-Run (51km), the Mountain Bike (47km) and the Off-Road Tri (1km swim, 47km bike, 8.5km run), with athletes enjoying near perfect conditions for the 16th hosting of the iconic multi-sport celebration.
And it was New Zealand’s royal couple of off-road triathlon shining brightest, with Sam Osborne and Samantha Kingsford starting their seasons in the best way possible with victories on debut at the storied race, in the process collecting Suzuki Off-Road National Championship titles.
Osborne was delighted with the win and the honour of being named national champion.
“Anytime you can race at home and win a national title, it always means a lot. We go to all these places around the world but it is always nice to win at home and with everything going on, who knows how many finish lines we will reach or event races we will start this year, so this is nice.”
Osborne nearly didn’t make it to the start, his bike frame cracked yesterday while on a gentle preparation ride, the frame clearly suffering from some earlier stress. But such is the support in the local community, it didn’t take long for a replacement to be found.
“My bike is fairly uncommon but southern hospitality is such that we found a guy in Wanaka who had the exact same bike as me and in the exact same size. It was very generous of him to lend it to me, considering I had just snapped mine in half, it was pretty trusting of him.”
The day played out perfectly for the Rotorua XTERRA star.
“I always expected Dylan (McNeice) to lead the swim out, he is a fish. I was hoping to have his company on the bike and do some turns together but I am not sure what he was doing in transition, buttering scones or having a cup of tea! So, I thought I will go and do it myself.
“It was so hard though, even the descents – everyone says you get to 10k to go and just roll down, but I was doing a lot of pedaling in that last 10k, it never let you relax, you are always on the gas.
“And that was not a run course that is my forte, it was super technical, and I have quite a dodgy ankle but I found a good rhythm out there today and only came down once on the run, not on the bike. But a national title is really cool.”
Osborne held off Dougal Allan for the win, with the Wanaka athlete bravely backing up just a week after his fifth-place finish at Nutri-Grain IRONMAN New Zealand, with 2019 winner Flavio Vianna third.
Samantha Kingsford made it a double for surely the fastest of off-road triathlon racing couple on the planet, matching the victory of her partner Sam Osborne in the men’s, winning the women’s race by 1:42 from Joanna Williams.
“This race is amazing, riding through the back country, I have never done that before and you never see anything like that in races overseas. It is pretty special to race at home here in New Zealand and see that kind of scenery, and national champion – I didn’t expect that, but I will take it!
“Race conditions were perfect with a light breeze, clear skies, it was amazing and not too cold, it was awesome.”
Williams was second and Holly Pawson third, a further seven minutes behind Kingsford.
Queenstown based British athlete Sam Tosh took out the men’s Ultra-Run, in a time of 6:24:45. The man from Rochdale has been in New Zealand for a year, his performance today made all the more impressive as the 51k is the furthest he has run in his career to date.
“I am not used to this sort of distance, so I am on a learning curve. I was really struggling on the last climb and last descent but once I got in the river I felt alright and could run so it was all good. I am not too sure about more longer races, but this was a really good course. Starting before sunrise and passing the first few huts with the head torch was amazing and then running into the light was fantastic.”
Tosh made his move on former ITU and Olympic triathlon star Courtney Atkinson when taking the lower part of the course through the riverbed while Atkinson stayed high, it saw Tosh gain 13 minutes in just 4.5km, but it turns out it wasn’t an accident.
“I went over the course about two weeks ago and knew that part of the course and knew 100% that the lower route was faster.”
Atkinson enjoyed a stellar career over Olympic distance triathlon and loved his first Macpac Motatpu experience in what was also for him the longest run of his career.
“I decided to come over on Wednesday, what interests me about the different events is the variety and not knowing what is coming, especially in New Zealand because the terrain is so different to Australia. That makes me want to come over and explore but that was to my detriment today, missing the river.”
The women’s Ultra title was taken out impressively by Kris Jarvis (Queenstown), the Wellingtonian came home 15 minutes ahead of Sophie Rolleston-Smith (Queenstown), with Meg Buddle (Dunedin) a further 22 minutes back in third.
Mountain Bike Review
Jeremy Gardner (Wanaka) took out the men’s mountain bike title in 2:05:06, over three minutes clear of Taz Selfe (Oamaru) and Sullivan Martin (Oamaru).
“That was good, pretty wet and a little cold at times, but it was nice. It was maybe 20k in when I made my move, between the first and second aid station. It was frosty across the top, wasn’t too bad at the start but once you got moving it was nice and warm,” said Gardner.
The women’s mountain bike was won impressively by Kate McIlroy, the multi-talented Wellingtonian added yet another title to her storied career, defeating her Pioneer riding partner Amy Hollamby by five minutes.
“It was tough to be honest, I thought it was going to be easier than Karapoti, but it was a different kind of hard. I expected it to be downhill for the last 12k but the river crossings, I was putting so much power down that quads started cramping and I had to get off and had a bit of a moment. It was a tough course, but it is beautiful.
“It is a privilege that we can ride through those stations, it is the first time I have ridden Motatapu and it does live up to its name, it is stunning, but it is tough as well.”
McIlroy looked to distance Hollamby early in the race and very nearly paid a price.
“I know Amy is riding well and I just tried to stay with the guys around me early on for as long as I could, I had to dig pretty deep to be honest, potentially too deep which led to the cramp. I figured I had enough of a lead on the downhill and took my time. I can’t descend with the guys yet, I am not as crazy as them, so I took my time, I am stoked to win it.”
Day two sees the trail running and walking events take centre-stage, with the Off-Road Marathon, Miners Trail, Sawpit Trail and Junior Trail events the order of the day, with all but the Off-Road Marathon starting from Wilcox Green and returning to the same finish line celebration, with prize giving at 1pm.