Endurance specialists sprint to victory at 2016 Merrell Tour de Wakatipu

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  • 11 April 2016
  • sam white



QUEENSTOWN, New Zealand (March 26, 2015) – Top-ten finishers from the World Solo 24-Hour Mountain Bike Championships held in Rotorua last month topped the podium at yesterday’s Merrell Tour de Wakatipu, part of this year’s Queenstown Bike Festival.

Richard Dunnett from Suffolk, England finished joint first with road racing specialist Luke Macpherson from Invercargill after a dead heat in the men’s elite category, whilst Ronel Cook from Dunedin dominated the women’s elite field.

They headed around 200 other elite, sport and recreational competitors who took part in the eighth – and possibly last – annual trail ride. A new course this year started at Millbrook Resort near Arrowtown and continued past (and, for elite riders, around) Lake Hayes to a finish area on the banks of the Kawarau River.

Richard Dunnett, ninth at the WEMBO (World Endurance Mountain Bike Organisation) championships in Rotorua, and Luke Macpherson, last year’s Tour de Lakes road race winner who is sponsored by EnduroBeet, completed the 36km elite course in 1:11:41, nine seconds ahead of Invercargill’s Hamish Presbury in third.

Dunnett rides for UK team, Torq Performance and is currently travelling around New Zealand in a campervan. He said he had only been in the Southern Lakes region for three weeks.

“It’s been good riding up some proper hills as being from Suffolk I’m used to it being flat! The course was pretty quick. Two or three of us kept attacking on every climb and then on the flat, faster sections it was bunching back together. On the last gravel climb I got away with Luke and we both stayed away on the road down to the finish,” he said.

Bike Otago-sponsored Ronel Cook won her 40-44 age group at last month’s WEMBO championships, placing eighth overall in the women’s field. She took the women’s elite crown today in 1:26:17, more than 13 minutes ahead of her nearest rival Sophie Luther from Dunedin with Katherine Gillespie, originally from London, third.

She said she was happy to win having never finished higher than fourth in previous Tour de Wakatipu races.

“The course was good and I was on my own the whole way. It would have been nice to have a few more women around but a win’s a win!”

Both Ronel Cook and Richard Dunnett plan to compete at next weekend’s Torpedo7 Naseby 12-Hour Challenge followed by the Contact Epic, Lake Hawea, on 16 April.

There was a relaxed atmosphere at the finish with prize giving for all three race categories plus live music and a BBQ for competitors, their friends and family.

Queenstown Bike Festival director, Geoff Hunt said the future of the longstanding event was uncertain because of changes to land use on its traditional route along the true right of the Kawarau River to Chard Farm winery.

“We’re looking at some exciting new events for next year’s bike festival but the feedback about this year’s Tour de Wakatipu course has been really positive so who knows?” he said.

“The great thing about this event is that riders of all ages and abilities can choose their own challenge over our fantastic local trail network so it would be a shame to lose it. Whatever happens I’d like to thank the Queenstown Trails Trust, all our sponsors and the competitors who have taken part over the last eight years.”

Full results are available on the Queenstown Bike Festival’s website at www.queenstownbikefestival.com, or southerntraverse.com. Video edits of the Merrell Tour de Wakatipu and other events are available to watch on the festival’s YouTube channel.