Wide open racing expected at Karapoti Classic

A record field and a top class field with no clear favourite are the features for this weekend's Scott Karapoti Classic.

The longest running mountain bike race in the Southern Hemisphere has attracted a record field with no clear favorite for this weekend. Started in 1986, the Scott Karapoti Classic 50km epic around Upper Hutt's Akatarawa Forest will see 1,300 racers at the start after 1,800 applied.

"We'd love to let all of them race," said event manager Michael Jacques, "but Karapoti is a tough challenge in a remote environment and we simply can't cope with more."

Jacques attributed the record level of interest to the continuing trend of increasing popularity in mass participation endurance events across New Zealand. "Karapoti has always had a big reputation," he said. "But mass participation sports like mountain biking, road cycling, multisport and triathlon have been enjoying substantial growth for the past four or five years."

Racers will compete for a NZD$30,000 prize pool with an additional $5,000 bonus for a rider who can win both the Scott Karapoti Classic and its sister event in Australia, the Flight Centre Epic.

Last year's record breakers Clinton Avery and American-based Jennifer Smith will not be defending their title. "If there is a favourite," said Jacques, "it would be Australian Tim Bennett. He's been second and third at Karapoti and last year won the Flight Centre Mega Epic and was third in the prestigious Croc Trophy across the Australian Outback."

Bennett will have his work cut out. Compatriots Nick Both, who was second at Karapoti last year, and Adrian Jackson, a several times mountain bike orienteering champion, will be riding for the same Flight Centre team and all can be expected to work together in the early stages before nature decides who is strongest.

These team tactics could make it hard for a strong Kiwi contingent headed by recent New Zealand title winner Stuart Houltham. The national championship runners-up, Mike Northcott and local Gavin McCarthy, will also be at Karapoti. McCarthy has been enjoying the best form of his career and will be hoping for the home-track advantage at Karapoti. But fellow Upper Hutt rider Wayne Hiscock will also be looking maintain his place on top of the local standings and hoping to finally claim Karapoti's top spot.

Swedish riders Mathias Kraehemann and Christian Willi are in New Zealand to add to the challenge. Both ride professionally in their homeland and have based themselves in Nelson during the Southern Hemisphere summer.

The woman's race is even more wide open. Last year's New Zealand series champion and Karapoti runner-up, Fiona Macdermid, has the best recent Karapoti form, but will face recent national medallists Brenda Clapp and Cathy Hamer. Top Dunedin performer Erin Greene should also feature, as will Nelson-based former Swiss Amateur champion Sandy Vincent.

Saturday's weather is forecast for rain and a Southerly change; conditions that Jacques says should favour the top Kiwi riders.

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