The organisers of the Emerson's Whaka 100 say they are "devastated" after approval for the event was withdrawn this afternoon, just days before thousands of mountain bikers were scheduled to cross the starting line.
The race is the latest of several local events to be cancelled or postponed due to the latest Covid restrictions imposed by the Government.
The race, which would have begun this weekend, was originally meant to take place on Labour Weekend last year but was postponed because of the Covid-19 Delta outbreak.
Whaka 100 is the biggest mountain bike event in the Southern Hemisphere. Thousands of racers and spectators descend on Rotorua for the event.
In a statement released on their website and Facebook, race directors Tim and Belinda Farmer announced that approval for the event was withdrawn this afternoon.
"The Rotorua Lakes Council, on behalf of the Whakarewarewa Forest Recreation Management Group, who had provided us their approval on the morning of Monday, January 24, retracted this approval at 2.27pm today," the statement said.
"We are painfully aware of the impact on you, your travel, accommodation and all the work you've put in ahead of the event. We know many of you are here already.
"We are devastated, and it leaves Whaka 100's future uncertain."
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Event organisers said they had been monitoring the risks and perceived them to be low for participants and staff.
"Our protocols met and exceeded what was mandated."
They asked for patience as the Whaka 100 team worked out what they could do for participants, "considering we received notice on the first day of rider registration".
"Ultimately, we acknowledge and respect the decision of mana whenua and forest owners. Being able to access the forest is a privilege that we greatly appreciate."
Rotorua Lakes councillor Merepeka Raukawa-Tait said she was disappointed with the decision to cancel the event "at this late hour".
"Of any event, this is the one that would probably have the least risk because the cyclists are out in the fresh air and certainly not all bunched up together.
"I feel for the organisers, participants and local businesses. I think organisers could have shown us how to manage the event in a positive and safe way. I believe they and the participants would realise what's at stake and played ball."
A press release on the council website confirmed Whaka 100 was approved before New Zealand moved into the red Covid-19 setting.
"Following the move to red, Rotorua Lakes Council confirmed its approval on Monday January 24 and that appropriate risk mitigation was in place," the statement read.
"Following further consideration and discussion, given the changing Covid-19 environment with the added context of Omicron in New Zealand, Rotorua Lakes Council supports the decision of the forest landowners CNI and mana whenua that, taking a wider community view, the public health risk is too high for the event to go ahead.
"The council sought feedback from local health authorities – the Lakes DHB and Toi Te Ora Public Health – regarding their views about events and they confirmed they are increasingly concerned about the risks events in general pose to our community."