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           Home >  Health N Environment  > Environment  :

Skins Alpine Epic - New Zealand's first stage mountain bike race

Jen Andrews - 09/04/09

New Zealand's first stage mountain bike race, held from 25 to 28 February, saw teams of two battle it out over 259km of picture postcard scenery from the Canterbury foothills of Mt Somers through the Southern Alps to Lake Tekapo in Mount Cook/Mackenzie country.

Competitors finished on the shores of Lake Tekapo with the spectacular backdrop of the Southern Alps behind them.

Lake Tekapo
Lake Tekapo
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The 2009 race was a great success. Organisers had to close off entries early and even had a wait list. Don't hesitate about making arrangements if you want to take part in 2010. The dates for next year are 24th to 27th February 2010.

Event co-organiser Nick Ross predicted that first place would be a battle of epic proportions between New Zealand's top cross-country mountain biker and Olympian Kashi Leuchs (pronounced Cashy Lukes) teamed up with fellow national rep Marcus Roy, and well-known endurance athlete Mark Williams from Queenstown with team-mate Scott Wilder, a competitive road cyclist from Christchurch.

Naming rights sponsor Skins, a specialist in body-moulded compression performance equipment, has given further incentive to racers by pledging $5,000 cash for overall place getters.

Mr Ross says securing key sponsorship from Skins has been very important.

"We wanted a strong naming rights sponsor whose values closely aligned with that of the event and who would actively want to be involved. Skins have given us both in fact, Skins' managing director David Watt will be on the start line as a competitor.

"In a multi-day race format it's crucial for athletes to recover as much as possible each night in order to meet the next day's challenge," says Mr Ross. "Skins is a perfect fit for the Alpine Epic because it optimises performance and recovery."

Destination Mt Cook Mackenzie General Manager Phil Brownie, a race entrant himself, who has teamed up with Cathy Richards from Visit Waimakariri, was expecting a large crowd of supporters and locals to be at the finish line cheering racers across.

Breakdown of race stages

Day 1- Stage 1: Mt Somers to Inverary - 35km, 800m ascent
Fast and furious from the time the starter gun goes off. After jockeying for position, riders hit undulating 4wd tracks through historic farmland and stands of native beech. Rocky creek crossings and the odd glimpse deep into the Arrowsmith ranges can be seen as the course enters Inverary Station. Traversing some classic tussock downs to the finish line and campsite high above the Hakatere Conservation Area.

Day 2. Stage 2: Inverary to the Rangitata River - 35km, 1250m ascent
Another fast short stage, but featuring a scenic river gorge, a checkpoint at a historic musterers hut, some steep and rough climbs and a fast descent of an overgrown track to the Rangitata River. A final bash through matagouri and chest deep snowgrass to the finish will keep riders honest.

Day 2. Stage 3: Rangitata River to Rangitata Gorge - 15km, 150m ascent
It's time for riders to dust off their skin suits and get aerodynamic. The end of day 2 is a team time trial to the finish line near the Rangitata Gorge. There are a couple of steep climbs to begin with and the opportunity to click into a big gear. Knobbly tyres are needed on for the final descent which is super slippery when wet.

Day 3. Stage 4: Rangitata Gorge to Sherwood Hall - 80km, 2300m ascent
Today is the longest day in the race and it's all about big mountains. There's a massive climb to start the day with a steep descent to the halfway point for the stage. After riders fill their drink bottles at the checkpoint they head off into the remote Phantom River region. There's a gradual 25km climb before some undulations and fast descents. The riding will be unforgiving and rough, rewarding technical prowess and endurance. Good teamwork will be needed to ensure there are no issues with dehydration or exhaustion as this could lead to massive time gaps.

Day 4. Stage 5: Sherwood to Tekapo - 62km, 1950m ascent
The end is in sight but the Two Thumb range is a major hurdle to negotiate. There's a short and fast ride to the hills and then a steady climb onto the foot of the Two Thumb range. Riders can soak up the serenity before a rough bike carry and climb to the crest of the ridge overlooking the Mackenzie Basin and Lake Tekapo. In the distance the intimidating bulk of Aoraki Mount Cook crowns the horizon. The incredible 1000m descent is rough at first then speeds up, finishing over undulating tussock rollers and smooth tracks to the Lilybank Road. Roll into Tekapo to the finish of the 2009 Skins Alpine Epic and a hero's welcome!

Leuchs and Roy win inaugural Skins Alpine Epic

New Zealand's top cross-country mountain biker and Olympian, Kashi Leuchs, (pronounced Cashy Lukes) together with team-mate and fellow national representative Marcus Roy, made history on Saturday (28 February) by winning the inaugural Skins Alpine Epic.

Winners Kashi Leuchs and Marcus Roy crossing the Hewson River
Winners Kashi Leuchs and Marcus Roy crossing the Hewson River
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The pair crossed the finish line in a time of 13hrs:27min:47sec in front of the 200-strong crowd who were gathered on the picturesque shores of Lake Tekapo to cheer them home.

The second of the 60 teams, well-known endurance athlete Mark Williams from Queenstown with team-mate Scott Wilder, a competitive road cyclist from Christchurch, came in twelve minutes later with a time of 13:40:14. Nic Smith and Neil Sutherland placed third on 13:45:07.

"It was a real challenge," said Mr Leuchs. "Four days of cross-country mountain bike racing over 240km is hard going. Having said that, the track is absolutely beautiful and you get to see incredible picture postcard scenery all the way. I'll definitely be back for another go."

All eyes were on the finish line to see who would be the first female team to come in.

In the end it was former NZ mountain bike representative Megan Dimonzantos and Sadie Parker Wynyard who beat out Denise Thorne and Georgie Mclean to take the title of overall female winners. The pair crossed the finish line in 18:48:55 to rapturous applause.

The Veteran men's category was won by Geoff Blance and Malcolm McLeod in a time of 13:58:53.

Longtime sport stars Steve Moffat and Shane Fairmaid took out the Classic category with a time of 15:53:03.

Jamie Fitzgerald and Rob Hamill, both past winners of the Trans-Atlantic Rowing race, competed together and found the course extremely challenging but said the camaraderie and evening campsites made the whole experience lots of fun and very memorable.

Race director Nick Ross, of Crank Events, says the event was a huge success.

"We knew it had huge potential because we've competed in events like this overseas but we're absolutely stoked that it's proven so popular from the get-go. We weren't expecting to have a full field in our first year of running the event but we had to close off entries early and even had a wait list.

"The scenery is spectacular and there's plenty of technical riding with a mixture of tough climbs, fast downhills, four wheel drive tracks, rolling tussock fields and open flats.

Cyclists having a rest at the raft crossing of the Rangitata River
Cyclists having a rest at the raft crossing of the Rangitata River
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"Although the weather caused a few headaches it didn't dampen the atmosphere in-camp or at the finish line at all. People said how great it is was to have full logistical support rather than providing their own support crews they could just get on with the race rather than worrying about their gear. Our team of volunteers was outstanding and the support from the spectators was fantastic. I hope everyone will be back in 2010 to do it all again."

More than 200 people celebrated the end of the four-day race together on Saturday night at a banquet, prizegiving and good old fashioned knees up in Tekapo.

For full race results and photos visit

Remember the dates for next year - 24th to 27th February 2010.