Cycling: Mountain bikers soar at Rotorua again

By Peter Thornton

Riders speeding down Mt Ngongotaha's world class track for first time in 6 years

Chris Jongewaard of Australia on the slopes of Mount Ngongotaha during the Mountain Bike World Championships, 2006.  Photo / NZ Herald
Chris Jongewaard of Australia on the slopes of Mount Ngongotaha during the Mountain Bike World Championships, 2006. Photo / NZ Herald

It's typical of Rotorua mountain biking with views out to the city and the lake but it's not in the world-famous Whakarewarewa trail network.

The Sprint Warrior trail is at Skyline Skyrides on Mt Ngongotaha, just to the north of Rotorua, where mountain bikes will roll down the hill for the first time in over six years.

Rewind to Spring, 2006: it was an important year for mountain biking in New Zealand. Rotorua hosted the biggest show in international mountain biking, the UCI Mountain Bike and Trials World Championships with more than 600 riders from 39 countries, including all the sport's stars.

It was a magic week with large, raucous crowds and 250 media from round the world lining the custom-built courses at Skyline.

Now, in 2013, mountain biking returns to Skyline as part of the first Rotorua Bike Festival. Tak Mutu is the man behind the Skyline Sprint Warrior on the evening of Friday, February 15.

"The idea of biking at Skyline Rotorua isn't a new one, starting back in 1991 with a downhill race on the side of Mt Ngongotaha," said Mutu, who runs Mountain Bike Rotorua, a bike hire and guiding company.

"After the 2006 World Champs, those amazing trails built for the event were decommissioned. A lot of people have wanted to see riding reinstated there, this time open to everyone."

Apart from test runs, some open days and rehearsal events, riding the World Championships courses was just a dream for the general public.

"The courses were all built up on Mt Ngongotaha over the two years before the worlds for a very good reason," said Dave Donaldson, who chaired the 2006 Organising Committee and is a long-time advocate of cycling in Rotorua. "The UCI wouldn't have granted Rotorua the event if the venue was the Whakarewarewa Forest, simple as that,"

It was all a question of infrastructure.

"The UCI needed the cross-country, downhill and 4X courses to be close together, with office space for event HQ, media centre and so on," continues Donaldson.

"Skyline offered the bonus of resources like a cafe and a gondola to get the thousands of spectators up into the heart of the action."

There is one significant difference from 2006. Back then, the cross-country featured a tortuous climb to the top of the gondola and the downhill started well above this on Mt Ngongotaha.

In 2013, riders will gondola up to the trailhead and then race down.

"We're stoked to bring gondola-access mountain biking to Rotorua," said Mutu. "And using some of Rotorua's expert trail designers, like Adam King and Chris Martin and a really, really hard-working crew, this course was built with most mountain bikers in mind."

The trail is technical in sections, but with easy lines bypassing the serious grade 6 features.

It is also a bit of a tribute to the World Champs designers and volunteer building crews who put in long hours in 2005 and 2006.

"There are still some key features from the original 2006 courses," says Mutu.

"Our track is a completely different type of build, but we really hope they'll be proud to see the mountain come alive with riders again."

Bike Festival

When: February 8-17

Where: Throughout Rotorua

For more information visit: www.rotoruabikefestival.com

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a3 at 17 Apr 2014 02:01:29 Processing Time: 405ms