The 2022 Isuzu Utes Whaka 100 takes place this weekend in Rotorua, New Zealand. And for the first time in years, New Zealand mountain bikers will also have a Marathon MTB National Championship to contest, with the elite ranks duking it out for the coveted National Champion titles in the 107km Whaka 100. But for those top shelf making the trip to New Zealand’s iconic mountain bike hub, there’s actually a second title on the line on Friday evening. The Eliminator National Championships will take place in the Rotorua CBD, and the match ups there should go down in history.
The Whaka 100 Eliminator will be raced in the heart of the city on a course adjacent to Eat Streat,
and will see four riders at a time racing shoulder-to-shoulder around a tight and twisting 500m
course featuring man-made bumps, berms, and rollers. At the end of each heat two of the four
riders will be ‘eliminated’ until there are only four riders left to contest the final – with the winner
taking the title and the coveted National Champion jersey. Qualification starts at 6.15pm and racing will start at 7.00pm.
Plenty of big names have put the event weekend into their calendar, and the types of mountain bikers competing are highly diverse. Cross country legend Anton Cooper may even go up against downhill icon
Brook MacDonald fin the first Cross Country Eliminator (XCE) National Championship on Friday night.
Cooper rides for the Trek Factory Racing team on the UCI World Cup circuit, MacDonald, otherwise
known as ‘The Bulldog’, is a famous for his all-out attack on the most technical downhill courses in
the and as has forged a reputation as one of the most fearless downhill riders in the world.
Tim Farmer, Race Director Whaka 100, believes that the fast and furious action of the eliminator
format and the potential for unique match ups will make this event a real crowd pleaser.
“We haven’t seen an eliminator race take place in New Zealand for ten years, and for the life of me I
can’t understand why; we’ve got great riders, and awesome urban course with some unique
structures, and some serious cash up for grabs. Hopefully the crowds will come out in force and
make this a night to remember for everyone.”
Keeping Cooper and MacDonald honest will be 2022 Commonwealth Games mountain bike silver
medallist Ben Oliver, and 2012 Olympic silver medal winning cyclist and America’s Cup winning
‘cyclor’ Simon Paul van Velthooven.
In the women’s field it could be anyone’s event, but they’ll need to get past two very fast Sam’s,
Samara Sheppard and Sammie Maxwell, if they want the title and prize money. Sheppard is a two
times Oceania Champion in cross country MTB and Maxwell is a three times New Zealand Champion
at only 23 years old.
The Big Show
Of course, all eyes will be on the line for Sunday when riders take to the trails for the legendary Whaka 100. Tim Farmer is pretty sure it’s one of the toughest marathons out there. I’ve done my fair share of hard marathons – not all of them – but trust me, enough! With 107km that is primarily singletrack, the Whaka 100 already puts itself into being a tough undertaking. Throw in over 3000m of climbing (also mostly on singletrack) and there are very few free kilometres. The physical demands will be matched by the mental demands, as the course requires sharp handling to stay efficient on the trails – and to avoid mishap.
In the Elite women’s field, it is hard to look past Samara Sheppard for the win. Samara did a short overseas stint this year in Europe, racing some highly demanding events like the Hero in the Dolomites, the MB Race in Chamonix and the Dolomiti Superbike. All could claim being one of the toughest marathons out there. Samara was one of the top riders in each race.
But, there will be plenty of competition on home soil, especially from Josie Wilcox. But the strongest threats may come from Samara’s adopted home in Australia. 2018 Australian Marathon Champion Anna Beck is jetting over for the race, with her sidekick and athlete Holly Lubcke. Or what about Michelle Vorster, the Namibian MTBer who resides in NZ? The start list runs deep, and 107km of trails can impact the roll of the dice.
In the elite men’s race, it is difficult to look past Anton Cooper. But if we did, Ben Oliver would be the rider to take the race to Cooper. Both have been duking it out on the World Cup circuit, and Oliver has the Silver medal from the Commonwealth Games to bolster his confidence for the race. Expect to see Australians Brent Rees, Sam Fox and Kyle Ward in the mix – but again, the course will decide!
My take on the Whaka 100
I’ve done a lot of bike races, but the Whaka 100 has me worried. It is fair to say that my marathon performance has been on a downward trajectory – maybe for a decade. But the appeal of riding a a huge race with 1000 riders in one of the best trail networks in the world is hard to ignore. I don’t often stay on to ride at a destination after a race, but will be in Rotorua!
Like anyone looking to complete, compared to compete, my big challenge will be pacing, and making sure the tank is topped up for about 7hrs on the bike. It’s a big day ahead, but one I looking forward to – if not with some apprehension. The Whaka 100 is going to be epic!