Merida Karapoti ClassicTuesday 05 March 2013, 3:56PM
Media release from Merida Karapoti Classic
An Upper Hutt GP became the first local to win New Zealand's
premier mountain race when Kim Hurst took a surprise win ahead of
London Olympian Karen Hanlen at the Merida Karapoti Classic.
Established in 1986, the Merida Karapoti Classic is the longest
running mountain bike race in the Southern Hemisphere. Based in
Upper Hutt's rugged Akatarawa Ranges near Wellington, this annual
gathering has become the cultural hub of New Zealand mountain
biking. American cycling magazine, Velo News, once ranked Karapoti
among the top 25 mountain bike races in the world and every year
the event attracts more international entrants than any other
mountain bike race in New Zealand.
This year some 800 riders from 10 countries and all ends of New
Zealand lined up, but the highlight came from Upper Hutt's adopted
doctor, Kim Hurst.
Hurst, originally from Wales, had been second for the past two
years at Karapoti. But facing London Olympian, Karen Hanlen, Hurst
was very much the underdog for her third Karapoti. Word around
mountain biking circles said Hurst was in her best ever form, but
Hanlen has been New Zealand's form female in recent years and was
fresh off winning the national title in Rotorua during
Hurst, however, declared her intentions from the start, sprinting
into the lead in Karapoti's famous LeMans style start across the
Akatarawa River and then leading into Karapoti Gorge.
Hanlen stayed close, with national reps Samara Sheppard (Wgtn),
Sasha Smith and Megan Dimozantos (Roto) also in cloe attendance.
But Hurst pulled away on the first big climb up Deadwood Ridge and
by halfway, at the top of the greulling 3k bike carry up Devil's
Staircase, she had almost three minutes in hand.
Hanlen is renown as one of the strongest finishers in the sport and
true to form, started closing on the final climb of the race up the
5k long Pram Track. But Hurst managed to find some legs for the
final flat 7k back through Karapoti Gorge and held on to claim the
covetted Karapoti title by 74 seconds in 2hrs 50min 31secs.
Behind Hanlen Samara Sheppard claimed third on bike borrowed from
Hurst in 3hrs 50secs, exactly four minutes ahead of Sasha Smith and
then ultra-distance specialist Megan Dimozantos.
"That was amazing," beamed Hurst at the finish line. "I wasn't
really trying to break away," she said of her race tactics. "I was
just riding as hard as I could and ended up leading."
"But I knew Karen is always so strong in the second half of a race,
so I was spent the rest of the day just riding scared expecting her
to come past at any minute.
Indeed, Hurst spent the entire race on the edge. She crashed twice,
the first time on the notorious Rock Garden, hitting her knee so
hard she wondered if she would be able to mannage the following 3k
of bike carry up Devil's Staircase.
"A couple of times there, when I was really suffering, I honestly
thought I was going to end up being second for the third
consecutive year," said Hurst. "It was that thought that kept me
Hurst's win made her the fourth fastest woman in Karapoti history,
but even more importantly the Upper Hutt GP became the first home
"Winning such an iconic race, and being the first local to do it,
is just amazing," she said.
"When I was looking at emigrating to New Zealand I did a Google
search for New Zealand mountain biking and one of the first things
that popped up was this crazy video footage of a race where riders
had to start by running across a river with their bikes on their
shoulders and then rode off into a big mountain range with full-on
river crossings and huge hills. But when I got here and rode the
course I realised that the video didn't do the race justice."
Hurst's time didn't really do justice to her effort either. To win
she had to beat New Zealand's current number one, but her time (and
Hanlen's for that matter) on less than fast track conditions was
just four minutes outside the race record set by American-based
Kiwi Jenny Smith in 2007, a year many pundits believe were the
fastest conditions ever.
The men's race played out in complete contrast to the women, with
the favourite taking line honours but only after a closely fought
race that saw 10 men contending for the lead during the opening
Rotorua's Dirk Peters was always in control of proceedings. But was
shadowed by a tight bunch that included defending champion Matt
Waghorn (Palm Nth), former Karapoti bridesmaid's Brendon Sharratt
(Wgtn) and Gavin McCarthy (UH), Wellington number one Ed Crossling,
and a precotious Wellington teenager named Eden Cruise.
Cruise, aged just 13, was causing the high-powered field a few
nervous moments during the first half of the race, riding as high
as fourth place before Dirk Peters split the race open along
Only Crossling could stay with Peters past halfway, but the
Wellingtonian suffered an unfortunate puncture on the rocky
undulations along the 600m high Titi. Crossling would limp home in
fourth place but Peters, who had finished second at Karapoti in
2011, went from strength to strength and continued riding away to
win in 2hrs 25min 02min.
Whereas experience won the day in the women's race (Hurst and
Hanlen are both well into their 30's) youngsters dominated among
men with 21 year old Peter's finishing 3min 12secs ahead of his 20
year old Rotorua training partner Sam Shaw. Behind them came a trio
of 30-somethings in Sharratt, Crossling and McCarthy, who just
managed to hold out 13 year Eden Cruise.
Cruise became the youngest ever rider to finish among the top 10 of
New Zealand's premier mountain bike race. Prior to him
Christchurch's current world junior champion Anton Cooper had
finished fourth in 2010 aged 15 and then first in 2011 when he
defeated Dirk Peter's by three seconds in Karapoti's closest ever
In yet another Karapoti contrast, standout performances further
back in the field included Wellington's 57 year old Francis Hoen
finishing his 25th consecutive Merida Karapoti Classic. Karapoti
Classic creator, Paul Kennett, could be seen riding the 20k
introductory distance with his 3 year old son Adam riding behind on
a booster seat, while his twin brothers Simon and Jonathan missed
the 50k tandem record by just eight seconds in 2hrs 57min
An impressive new record was set, however, when Palmerston North's
73 year Denis Turnball became the eldest finisher in the history of
the Southern Hemisphere's longest running mountain bike