Mountain bike power couple Samara Sheppard and Kyle Ward took out the women’s and men’s mountain bike races at the prestigious Macpac Motatapu today, riding to impressive victories in near perfect conditions from Glendhu Bay to Arrowtown.
The pair have been together for three years, with Ward also coaching New Zealand Commonwealth Games rep Sheppard, and it proved a successful first visit to the iconic event celebrating its 15-year anniversary this weekend.
Despite hailing from Clyde, a short drive from Arrowtown, this was a first ever appearance at Macpac Motatapu for Sheppard, and the 28-year-old made up for lost time with a dominant performance, winning by over half an hour.
“I had a fun time, the countryside is just epic out there and so many people ae enjoying it, it’s a really great experience,” said Sheppard.
“The timing worked in perfectly, we came to New Zealand last week had a race in Wellington, the Karapoti (both winning), we are then heading up to the national cross-country champs next week in Rotorua so it was perfect timing.”
While it may have looked easy, Sheppard said she did not pay the course enough respect.
“I underestimated actually; on the profile it looked like it was just a big climb and then a scream on home for the last 20km but we got to the last 20 odd km and it was just a headwind all the way. Some of that was through the grass and even some of the rivers you were riding through had your feet submerged, so it was pretty awesome, a real adventure.”
“I was born in Clyde, so this is my birth country, it was awesome, I am really stoked to be here, so thanks to everyone else as well.”
Second home overall was Yvonne Pfluger, with Seonaigh Conchie in third.
Australian Ward did not have it quite so easy in the men’s finishing 4 minutes 34 seconds ahead of the well performed Tim Rush, with Paul Wright in third place a further 4:24 back in third.
He too paid full respect to a great course, having gone clear quite early in the 47km journey from Glendhu Bay to Arrowtown.
“I went solo from about 10km in so I was kind of worried cause you have a good mountain biker in Ben Oliver behind me somewhere, so I didn’t want to take him to the line, he’s got fast legs and I figure if I could get a gap it would be a good opportunity to get a good tempo to the end.
“There was a moment there on top of the hill where I thought ‘I swear I’m standing still’, the grass was tough but as a front-end competitor when you are feeling good in the legs you make the most of your opportunities. If you are in the lead and you are finding it tough there is a fair chance everyone behind you is finding it tough as well.”
It turned out the biggest danger came from Rush, with 2018 Commonwealth Games 4th place getter Oliver eventually finishing in fourth place again today, highlighting the quality of the men’s field in what is an iconic mountain bike event through the Motatapu Valley.
Ward described a challenging day in different conditions than he is used to across the ditch.
“This style of racing is not like what we do in Oz, one it is drier, so we don’t have creeks to run through, it is a different style of race, it was nice to lead from the front. If you are following someone you don’t get to pick your own lines you kind of follow them. I mentioned to Samara this morning to stand off people going into creek crossings so you can decide if they went the right way or the wrong way.”
Rush was just glad to get to the line with his bike in one piece, recalling the dramatics of last year when he crashed and snapped his seat post clean off with 10km to go.
“I was going through that bit today and thought, shit that is where I decked it last year, and I just took it a bit gingerly through there, but then it is a lot easier coming through with a seat, in the last 10 kms, it makes things a bit nicer.
“Kyle just got a gap up a steep nasty pinch and I was behind a bunch and I got around and I had no gas left in me to get him, he was bloody strong and then after that it is ‘out of sight out of mind’. It’s just a mental game from there, I can see him in the distance, and we kept the same gap to-ing and fro-ing but then I lost sight of him and I was done, I was toasted.”
It was a hugely successful day then for the trans-Tasman cycling couple in Ward and Sheppard, with Ward indicating they might well be riding the same event a little more often, in fact they might be riding quite close together in those races.
“We are looking to try something different next year, we’ve done a few European adventures, we’re going to crack into the mixed races, hopefully come back for The Pioneer in New Zealand later this year, if we can get through that unscathed relationship wise, we are going to try to get across to do the Cape Epic.
“Samara and I have been dating for three years now and I consider myself a very fortunate guy to have a girlfriend to chase around, she enjoys riding around and chasing me too. We keep each other fit, some days I need motivation and vice versa.”
In all there were just under 2,000 riders in the mountain bike event, one of six on offer at Macpac Motatapu, with three events held today (Mountain Bike, XTERRA Tri, Ultra Run) and a further three tomorrow, with the Sawpit Trail, Miners Trail starting and finishing at Wilcox Green, with the off-road Marathon making its way through the Motatapu Valley to the same finish line. Full results are online.
1 Kyle Ward, AUS, 1:56:56
2 Tim Rush, NZL, 2:01:30
3 Paul Wright, NZL, 2:05:54
1 Samara Sheppard, NZL, 2:13:53
2 Yvonne Pfluger, NZL, 2:47:11
3 Seonaigh Conchie, NZL, 2:48:57
1 Team Spots Creek, Iain Weir/Hamish Mackay 2:26:30
2 Oamaru Honda, Blair Selfe/Taz Selfe, 2:33:38
3 Broke Mountain Bikers, Andre Austin/Scott Copplestone, 2:44:03
1 The Spokeswomen, Betty Townsend/Rebecca Firth, 3:50:03
2 Tassie Two Step, Clare Hester/Jane Medhurst, 3:57:13
3 SOS, Louise Hopkins/Ursula Lincoln, 4:12:52
1 New World, Mark Williams/Kate Boe (Fluker), 2:18:08
2 Dutch Courage, Greg Shearer/Tessa Aukje Dekker, 2:51:33
3 Rhys and Abby, Rhys Hamilton/Abby Ross, 2:51:41