The Whaka100 MTB Marathon attracts a wide range of characters and among those hitting the trails next weekend will be former All Black Carlos Spencer.

The rugby star has returned to New Zealand after living in South Africa and Japan in recent years. He is set to start a new job in December as assistant coach of the Hurricanes.

Although he has never been committed to mountain biking, he has committed to taking on the Whaka100, one of the toughest races on the mountain bike calendar.

"I raced in Cape Epic, but I didn't do the training that I needed. I was living in Japan at the time and only had four to five weeks to prepare for it," Spencer said.

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He had only been on the Whakarewarewa mountain bike trails once before, but looked forward to riding them again and having a bit of fun in the Whaka100.

He is not setting goals or times, and will ride with his brother Fabian who raced in last year's event.

"We just want to push each other along, and get a time we're both happy with. I've only been in the forest once and it was just a play around."

His wife Jo will be taking on the 50km. She has also only been in the forest once.

Carlos Spencer makes a run for the All Blacks against South Africa during the 2003 Rugby World Cup. Photo / File
Carlos Spencer makes a run for the All Blacks against South Africa during the 2003 Rugby World Cup. Photo / File

This year's Whaka100 is shaping up to be one of the most well-attended events in the 12-year history of one of New Zealand's most challenging single day mountain bike events.

The 100km, 50km and 25km courses take in the world class mountain bike trails of Rotorua on October 20-21.

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There has been a 21 per cent growth in participation this year, with a seven per cent increase in female riders.

The increased growth of the event is not related to locals, but domestic entries with a large percentage travelling from the South Island and 96 per cent of people traveling from outside of Rotorua.

Event director Tim Farmer said the domestic growth was a great boost to the local economy.

"Many of the domestic riders spend time in Rotorua, familiarising themselves with the trails and enjoying the activities that Rotorua has to offer."

Carlos Spencer

During his playing days, Spencer played at first five-eighth for the Blues and Lions in Super Rugby and for New Zealand internationally. Spencer first played for the All Blacks in a non-test tour match in 1995, but did not play his first test match until 1997.

His test debut was against Argentina at Athletic Park in Wellington on June 28 that year. He scored 33 points in that match alone. His All Blacks appearances as a starter were somewhat irregular thereafter, as Andrew Mehrtens was generally preferred as the first-choice first five for the side during the period from 1995–2002.

Spencer was selected for the 1999 All Blacks World Cup squad but was injured in training at London, so did not play a match in that tournament. However, following an exceptional season for the Blues in Super 12, Spencer became first-choice first five for the All Blacks in 2003, and was a part of the squad for the Rugby World Cup that year. He then coached in South Africa and Japan, before returning to New Zealand to be assistant coach of the Hurricanes.