A sold out field of 250 riders from all round New Zealand and Australia enjoyed a tough, challenging 11-kilometre course on Rotorua’s magnificent Whakarewarewa Forest trail network.
Some rode the full three laps while others managed 1 or 2, then stopped in the beer short cut tent to enjoy refreshments while watching the action unfold at the front of the field.
Most of the extravagantly costumed riders were there for fun, but it was more serious at the sharp end. The men’s field featured top cross-country racers like Mark ‘Cabin’ Leishman, Sam Shaw and Saul Webb.
It was the same story in the women’s field.
Beijing Olympian and Commonwealth Games silver medalist Rosara Joseph, top downhiller Jenna Makgill and endurance mountain biker Erin Greene were racing in the National Singlespeeds for the first time. Australian, Heather Logie, who won the 2010 Singlespeed Women’s Worlds Championships, also in Rotorua, was a last minute addition to the line-up.
2010 Singlespeed Men’s World Champion, Garth Weinberg, is a Rotorua legend but had a shocker of a start. While the racers assembled out of sight, volunteers and spectators scrambled the bikes. Weinberg spent a frustrating 5 minutes finding his bike, with most of the field already heading out of the double-S start loop and into the forest.
He didn’t throw in the towel, working his way past most of the other riders and into second place after the first lap. Weinberg also took the beer short cut option each lap. Instead of riding a longer loop in the race village, racers could scull a beer or eat a Weetabix.
“I felt pretty good after the first beer and got into a good pace,” said Weinberg.
By race end, Weinberg had added to his 3 previous national titles, in front of a noisy and enthusiastic local crowd and to an emotional greeting from his wife, Rachel and their children.
Meanwhile, Dunedin’s Erin Greene cleared out from her rivals in the women’s race. Rotorua was a happy hunting ground for Greene. The weekend before she won the solo category at the Nduro 24 hours, topping the women’s field and also riding more laps than the men. That was on a geared bike, but it was still a remarkable effort to back up a week later to win the singlespeed title.
One of the few rules of singlespeed competition is no ta moko (or tattoo), no title.
Weinberg and Greene were both inked by brilliant young, Rotorua artist, Tane Singh-Lagah, immediately after the race.
“All the rest of the riders were 2nd equal and did very well, including me” says Gaz Sullivan, President of the host club, the Rotorua Singlespeed Society. "Like all the events we run, there are hundreds of hilarious photos on our facebook page, though quite a few aren't really for family viewing."
The Society hosted the first two Singlespeed Nationals in 2008 and 2009, then the 2010 Singlespeed World Championships in 2010 with around 1000 entries from 30 countries.
They are already planning another big event at Anzac Weekend, 2015.
"There will be a strict limit on entry numbers, then, like this year," says Sullivan. "Everyone who entered this year will get 1st dibs on entry and we'll have more information on the facebook page, soon-ish."
While Greene and Weinberg took the tattoos, the other coveted award, Best Dressed, went to Whanganui’s Wayne Gedye.
He rode all three laps and was one of the last riders to finish. There was a good reason for that. Gedye was dressed in a full scuba suit with dive tank and flippers.
As Gedye completed the 33 kilometres, Dunedin faced off against Auckland for the right to host the 2014 Championships. After five rounds on the kid’s pump track at Mountain Bike Rotorua in front of a raucous crowd, Dunedin prevailed.
The Society’s committee did all the work on the 2013 event in their own time.
“In lots of ways, this year’s event was the best with a really relaxed atmosphere, beautiful ta moko and a great bunch of people organising and entering the race,” adds Sullivan
The Society is New Zealand’s smallest mountain bike club but makes a lot of noise for its size.
“We're a really experienced group and most were involved with the 2006 UCI Mountain Bike & Trials World Championships and 2010 Singlespeed Champs,” says Paul Laing, one of the Society committee. “People like Dave Joy, Rawiri Bhana, Carolyn Scherger, Dr Kat Webb and Jono Cuff, along with great new blood, like course designers, Haedyn Borck and Damian Pootjes, the wonderful rego, beer tent, scrutineering and photo crews all did a great job, again, along with the race marshal team from BMX Rotorua."
The Society also has a loyal group of sponsors.
"Most of them have been with us since 2008 and we can't do it without them, especially Gregg Brown, Bevan Brake and the whole team at the Pig & Whistle," says Sullivan. "Because of their support and all the heavy lifting being done by the committee, we'll be making a substantial donation to the Cancer Society, soon."
The event facebook page is: www.facebook.com/2013NZSinglespeedChamps
The event website is: www.rotoruasinglespeed.com