The skaters who competed at the 10th anniversary Rivercity Speed Skating Tour in Whanganui over the weekend did the occasion proud, with some of the closest and best racing in years.
In the Premier Men's grade, Whanganui's Andrew Jones took the title in a great duel with former champion Antony Nalder of Valley Inline and Mark McCormack of Dunedin. Nalder had lost only a fraction of his speed and none of his fitness in his change to road cycling and he took the early lead on his return to skating with two stage wins after Hamilton's Thomas DeMeijer won the opening 200m Time Trial.
Jones fought back with a great come from behind win in the 4600m race at Mitre 10 Mega and then went on to win all the remaining stages, often by only a lunge on the finish line.
McCormack was never more than a length or two back from the pair, grabbing a second in the 1500m at Manfield Autocourse. Jones also won the 666m Keown Honda Time Trial at Mitre 10 Mega from Nalder.
Local ace Renee Teers was just too strong for her opposition in the Premier Women's grade, winning seven of the eight stages, usually by a handy margin, although indoor ace Georgia Hurley did her usual thing and grabbed a win in the 400m sprint at Jubilee Stadium, with Teers trying everything she could to get around her.
Hurley finished second overall and Manawatu's Ocean Woolley scored a couple of seconds in her third overall placing. Jasmine Beech of Valley In Line was fourth. Sprint specialist Serenity Griffiths of Manawatū retired unwell after a close second in the opening time trial.
Teers also won the Wanganui Farm Supplies 666m at Mitre 10 Mega with a time that would have placed her fifth among the premier men.
The Masters grade was a dual between Whanganui's Paul Cleeve and Manawatū's Andy McDonell with Cleeve ultimately prevailing with an almost desperate determination.
Whanganui's Master's Women's Sportswomen of the Year, Krystine Davies was third from her daughter Melissa White. The ever-improving Crystal Denbee was fourth just ahead of Johnman Zhang.
The B grade was a fantastic competition, with Whanganui's Drew Brennan coming out on top from clubmate Chase Morpeth in a four-way dogfight. Morpeth won three stages to Brennan's two, but a couple of inconsistent performances cost him the tour.
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Jamie Manson from Nelson got stronger as the tour progressed and came home strongly to win the final three stages. Hamilton's Jake Duggan was never far from the leaders.
There will be a lot of anticipation around their rematch at Nationals in Timaru over the New Year. Hopefully by then Whanganui's Josh Valentine will rejoin the mix after recovering from a previously undiagnosed virus which has blunted his recent performances.
The C grade was the closet competition of all, with Blenheim's Erin Green and Whanganui's Tazia Parker sharing four wins apiece and finishing tied on points after eight stages.
Green took the title courtesy of a special stage win at Jubilee Stadium. It was a good performance by Green and an outstanding one by Parker, who was skating up an age group. In third place was Whanganui's Keira Hodgson. Possibly the best technical skater of her age group in the country, Hodgson was inconsistent, alternatively running effortlessly with the leaders or trailing the field. Mikayla Wason battled with her usual courage to fourth place.
The Combined Juvenile boys and girls grade threw up a surprise winner, with a vastly improved Nathan Bedford of Manawatū prevailing over the favourites, Whanganui's Mickey Zhang and Nelson's Liam McDonald.
Bedford and Zhang won four stages apiece but Bedford never dropped below second whereas Zhang was pushed to a couple of fourth places by McDonald. Behind this trio Blenheim's Lily Pontague, Whanganui's Elilai Poton and Manawatū's Katie McIlhatton staged their own battles and pushed the boys hard.
Hadleigh Smith had a clean sweep of the Primary grade from Emma Chen and Eden Wason.
The Novices was a three-way battle with Tylah Rees winning six stages to prevail over Pieta Martin, who won two stages on the indoor track on her way to second with Brydon Wason a consistent third.
After the tour racing was finished at Manfield. Skate NZ staged a Tri Skate competition, where competitors skated 10km, biked 10km and ran 1.5km. Nalder and Jones again battled this out, finishing the skate stage side by side but once Nalder was on his bike Jones had no answer to Nalder's cycling expertise and he went on to a clear win.
Chase Morpeth and Drew Brennan continued their battles with Morpeth hunting Brennan down on the bike leg for third individual home and Renee Teers was the first woman home in fifth.