On October 23, New Zealand’s best mountain bikers and many from around the Oceania region gathered in Rotorua for the Whaka 100. The mountain bike event has quickly become known for being tough, but also very rewarding thanks to the event organisation and high quality trails. In 2022, the main event would also host New Zealand’s Cross Country Marathon (XCM) National Titles.
Under a cool and clear sky, 700 riders lined up in waves for the Whaka 100. It is one of four distances that can be raced, with a 100 mile event starting at 5am, a 25km later in the morning and the highly popular 50km on Saturday. There’s also a kids event for junior shredders to take part in. But the 100km event (or, 103km this year) was the event distance that would be the title fight.
Elite men were sent off first, in a start grid based on the Whaka 100 Eliminator that was held on Friday evening in downtown Rotorua. The race got underway with riders looping around the event village and straight into the trails.
Elite women started 5 minutes later, with a reasonably calm start before the top contenders really put the pace down as they entered the singletrack.
In the men’s race while the pace was firm, the front of the race stayed very much together with a lead group of about 10 riders, until Cameron Jones made an attack. Ben Oliver (Christchurch) rode the descents hard to keep riders working to pull him back, and managed to reel Jones in. Oliver rode to the finish solo after attacking on the final climb (and winning the KOM), with Jones second and Australian Sam Fox finishing third.
“It’s wicked, I was so stoked that after a few years without the event that everything managed to run smoothly as today. It was a wicked turn out and to add the national marathon title to it made it an even bigger event – it was great to win”, said Oliver.
Sammie Maxwell (Taupo) took off from the front of the women’s race early, riding the trails with skill and flair, and making the climbs look easy. Jose Wilcox was in pursuit, however a crash on Hot X Buns saw the speedy rider withdraw soon after. Samara Sheppard was in hot pursuit and launched on the final QOM. She was the fastest woman up there, but it wasn’t enough to close the gap and she never made contact with the flying Maxwell, who finished with about a 10 minutes lead over Sheppard. The win gives Maxwell an unprecedented three national titles across in one session. Matilda Raynolds of Australia came in for a gutsy third place.
At the finish line Maxwell was over the moon – and exhausted.
“That was so hard, I was stopping at water fill stations and shoving my mouth under the taps like, arrrrrggggh! But it was so good, I don’t quite believe it.”
Our take on the Whaka 100
There’s more to come in this regard, but it is a top-shelf event for the Oceania region. The event team do a stand out job with hosting such a major event, and it’s incredible to see how well the town of Rotorua embraces it. The event village has everything you need and makes you want to hang out post event, to have a drink, get some food, and see more riders finish.
The trails shold speak for themselves, but they are high quality and fun. There’s plenty of natural singletrack that is demanding to ride fast. The Grade 4 trails keep you on your toes and the total amount of singletrack (about 85%) sure adds to the fatigue. It’s a long event – but the 50km event is an ideal option for those who don’t fancy aiming for the top step – or spending 6 hours or more out in the hills.
Is it one of the toughest marathons? Maybe. We’ll have some more thoughts on the race in the coming days. It’s a stand out event and one worth looking at for 2023.
PermaPine Whaka 100km / UCI New Zealand Marathon National Mountain Bike Results
1. SAMMIE MAXWELL (NZ) 05:49:25
2. SAMARA SHEPPARD (NZ) 05:59:21
3. MATILDA RAYNOLDS (AUS) 06:31:04
1 BEN OLIVER (NZ) 04:53:46
2 CAMERON JONES (NZ) 04:55:11
3 SAM FOX (AUS) 04:59:27