The numbers weren't big but the racing was intense at the St John's Club Rivercity Speed Skating tour in Whanganui over the weekend.
The Premier Mens grade was won by Timaru's Dale Christofferson by one point from previous champion and NZ World teammate Antony Nalder of Valley Inline. Christofferson was in great form winning four of the eight stages to Nalder's three, including the Keown Honda 666m Time Trial at Mitre 10. He missed the lap record of 59.92 by a fraction with a run of 1.00.04 which sees the prize jackpot to next year.
However, the highlight of the Mitre 10 stages was a win over the star pair by local Andrew Jones in the 5km. Jones broke away with about 1km to go and Nalder initially let him go hoping to put Jones between himself and Christofferson. However, Christofferson ran Nalder wide on the treacherous southern corner and Nalder showed sublime skills in veering through the car park, jumping the speed humps back onto the track without losing any speed or position.
But he now had only 600m to catch Jones and the local man was using all his outstanding pace and grit to hold the international at bay and crossed the line about 5 metres in front of Nalder to a thunderous reception from the local supporters. Jones showed his speed all weekend for third overall with Mark McCormak of Dunedin fourth.
The Premier Women's grade was a contest between Whanganui pair of Monique Cleeve and NZJunior Champion Renee Teers up against the Timaru pair of Arianna Snook and her Junior teammate Charlotte Grant.
It was a fascinating match-up between a group of skaters who are all known for their fighting qualities and never-say-die attitudes. Snook, who was the bronze medallist at last year's National Marathon Championship in Whanganui and recently won the Tour of Nelson, took the title with five stage wins, but Teers and Cleeve fought her every metre of the way with Teers taking the 500m and the 1000m indoor races for second overall and Cleeve the 400m indoor stage for third.
Their races were particularly brutal because Cleeve, who has only recently returned to the sport, was throwing in suicidal attacks hoping to break her opposition before she ran out of gas and whenever the pace slackened Grant went over the top of the others to launch yet another sprint.
Some of the best racing was in the Composite grade made up of Junior and Juvenile Boys and some younger Junior Girls. Whanganui's NZ Juvenile Champions Chase Morpeth and Drew Brennan were in a class of their own with most races between them being decided with a finishing line lunge.
Ironically, Morpeth dominated the longer outdoor races for the title from Brennan, the more established distance star, while Brennan muscled his way past Morpeth, the flat track wunderkind, for a pair of indoor wins at Jubilee Stadium. Jake Duggan of Hamilton was third and Ocean Woolley of Manawatu fourth.
Whanganui's Lucas Hodgson was fifth in the events largest field and the youngster got better and better as the tour progressed eventually getting a third in the special stage that finished the tour.
The Masters grade was won by Hamiltons Scott Moody from clubmate Thomas de Maijer . Whanganui's Krystine Davies picked up two stage wins for third overall against the men and was able to get away if she could pick her way through a sometimes chaotic pack scenario.
The Juvenile Girls had the smallest class, but Whanganui teammates Keira Hodgson and Cassandra Bonica scored four wins apiece and Hodgson took the title only in a deciding special stage. Hodgson added some new found aggression to her flawless technique while Bonica showed real courage in racing through the pain of a knee injury in her usual determined manner. Hamilton's Lorena Gonsallez was third.
Whanganui's Mickey Zhang was in fine form to win the Primary grade with six wins to Keira Brennan's two. Brennan showed real grit in one race falling at Jubilee Stadium only to get up in last place and fight her way back to second.
Newcomer Victoria Smith kept improving all weekend closing the gap between the leaders pace and her own for third overall. Manawatu's Storm Woolley and Whanganui's Gabby Valentine were fourth and fifth respectively.