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Held annually in June, the Bridge to Bridge "North" race is now three mountain bike rides down the northern bank of the Waimakariri River.
Race director John Moore said competitors love it because it’s all downhill, with plenty of open gravel roads that make it the fastest MTB race on offer.
"Despite Covid hitting a number of competitors prior to the mass starts, from the 250 entered we had a total of 211 of all ages line up on the day for the three races," Moore said.
The serious competitors took on the 60km challenge, starting near the Waimakariri Golf Course on Thongcaster Rd, 1km north of the gorge.
Race winner James Wilson, of Timaru, said the racing was fast and the very tight.
The 19-year-old road cyclist said there were five good riders at the front all the way to the finish.
"It was tight the whole race, even after the first three river crossings which caught a few out with their depth. The lead pack stayed mostly together.
"Then at about 30km we dropped a couple and it was down to about five of us. Then going through the single track, we dropped another rider, so there were four good strong riders up for the sprint to the finish.
"I just bided my time, watched Quintus (Vermeulen), who lead us through the forest single track, near the end - and I just popped out in time and took the win," he said.
Vermeulen, of Wigram, said he was gutted he managed to only secure fourth overall after the chasing pack had jumped him at the final sprint.
"It was very hard. I knew James (Wilson) was going to have a pretty big sprint. And Steve (Roberts) had had a bit of a rest, so I knew he had the strong legs.
"I did most of the pulling through the single track, and it just absolutely killed me," he said.
He said he knew there would be a big sprint at the end, but he didn’t have the legs to catch the others when they jumped and raced away.
The 114 challenge competitors travelled from the golf course near the gorge to Browns Rock Rd and then crossed the river at the intake.
They raced eastwards along the river stop banks, into the forest west of the road bridges, under the State Highway 1 river bridges, through Waimakariri Park then back up onto the stopbank at Kaiapoi for a sprint finish on Raven Quay.
Wilson’s winning time for the 60km race was 1:39.17.
Steve Roberts (Darfield) finished one second behind, Nathon Wright equalled that but was a fraction of a bike length back and Vermeulen was fourth just two seconds later.
For those looking for a shorter challenge, the 30km race started off at Downs Rd. Aaron Hooper, of Christchurch, led home Reuben Josh Juanitas, of Hoon Hay, by 37 seconds in a smart time of 1:01.15.
For the younger riders aged from seven and over, the 15km ride started at Harrs Rd. They set out 15 minutes ahead of the others so no smaller, less confident riders would be still on the track by the time the serious 60km riders reached the road bridges.
In the 15km race, Regie Mangaoil, of Woolston, narrowly pipped Angus Morgan, of Burwood, by just five seconds to victory.
The second of the two Bridge to Bridge races, the eighth ‘South’ race, will be held over the same distances on the southern side of the Waimakariri River in December.