February 10-19, 2017

Return to Skyline - mountain biking is back!

Media release: February 5

The 1st Rotorua Bike Festival, February 2013 – Return to Skyline…

 

The trail is fast and flowing and runs through Redwoods.

It’s typical of Rotorua mountain biking with views out to the city and the lake.

But it’s not in the world-famous Whakarewarewa trail network. The Sprint Warrior trail is at Skyline Skyrides on Mount Ngongotaha, just to the north of Rotorua and mountain bikes are rolling down the hill for the first time in over 6 years.

Rewind to Spring, 2006: it was an important year for mountain biking in New Zealand. Rotorua hosted the biggest show in international mountain biking, the UCI Mountain Bike and Trials World Championships with over 600 riders from 39 countries, including all the stars of the sport.

It was a magic week with large, raucous crowds and over 250 media from round the world lining the custom-built courses at Skyline.

Now, in 2013, mountain biking returns to Skyline as part of the 1st Rotorua Bike Festival. Tak Mutu is the man behind the Skyline Sprint Warrior on the evening of Friday, February 15.

“The idea of biking at Skyline Rotorua isn't a new one, starting back in 1991 with a downhill race on the side of Mt Ngongotaha,” says Mutu, who runs Mountain Bike Rotorua, a bike hire and guiding company. They are based at the main Whakarewarewa Forest trailhead at Waipa, south of the city. “After the 2006 World Champs, those amazing trails built for the event were decommissioned.

A lot of people have wanted to see riding reinstated there, this time open to everyone.”

Apart from test runs, some open days and rehearsal events, riding the World Championships courses was just a dream for the general public.

“The courses were all built up on Mount Ngongotaha over the two years before the worlds for a very good reason,” says Dave Donaldson, who was chair of the 2006 Organizing Committee and is a long-time advocate of cycling in Rotorua. “The UCI wouldn’t have granted Rotorua the event if the venue was the Whakarewarewa Forest, simple as that,”

It was all a question of infrastructure.

“The UCI needed the cross-country, downhill and 4X courses to be close together, with office space for event HQ, media centre and so on,” continues Donaldson.

“Skyline offered the bonus of resources like a café and a gondola to get the thousands of spectators up into the heart of the action.”

Most of the international riders trained in the Whakarewarewa Forest.

“Actually we heard of a few teams who had to stop their riders from over-training out there,” adds Donaldson, with a chuckle. “They were having too much fun and not tapering for their races.”

It was good news all-round for one of New Zealand’s premier mountain biking destinations,

“The Worlds were a huge success and the riders loved it and went back to their own countries and talked up Rotorua and our trails,” says Donaldson. “And we got world-wide media coverage.”

 

All good things come to those who wait.

For the first time in many years riders will be able to enjoy mountain biking at Skyline.

There is one significant difference from 2006. Back then, the cross-country featured a tortuous climb to the top of the gondola and the downhill started well above this on Mount Ngongotaha.

In 2013, riders will gondola up to the trailhead and then race down.

“We’re stoked to bring gondola-access mountain biking to Rotorua,“ says Mutu, as he grooms part of the trail. “And using some of Rotorua’s expert trail designers, like Adam King and Chris Martin and a really, really hard-working crew, this course was built with most mountain bikers in mind.”

The trail is technical in sections, but with easy lines bypassing the serious grade 6 features.

“We wanted to make a course that pros will think is "sick" and weekend warriors will absolutely love,” Mutu adds.

It is also a bit of a tribute to the World Champs designers and volunteer building crews who put in long hours in 2005 and 2006.

“There are still some key features from the original 2006 courses,” says Mutu “Our track is a completely different type of build, but we really hope they’ll be proud to see the mountain come alive with riders again.”

The 64 thousand dollar question: is this a sign of future development at Skyline?

“The Sprint Warrior is a one-off track and one-time event,” says Mutu. “I’d love to see the hillside developed into a full-time gravity park, but there are no plans underway for that….yet,” he adds with a big grin.

 

The Skyline Sprint Warrior, is just one of a long list of events on the Festival programme.

Brand new events like the Agroventures Shweeb World Champs, theMore FM BikeExpo and Giant 2W Gravity Enduro  also feature on the schedule.

There will be an Inner City Street Criterium and Bike Parade, fun rides for the kids and social rides for the grown-ups. The Redwoods Coast,Hard Court Bike Polo and Mountain Bike Adventure Quest Orienteering are also in the mix.

The second weekend of the Festival, will feature the BMX RotoruaNational Qualifiers on Saturday, February 16.

BikeNZ's high performance Olympic squad of London silver medalist, Sarah Walker, Marc Willers and Kurt Pickard will all be there. The Rotovegas Jumps Jam will take the action into the twilight with spectacular action.

Meanwhile, out in Rotorua's world-renowned trail network in the Whakarewarewa Forest New Zealand's elite cross-country and downhill racers, like Anton Cooper, Karen Hanlen, Dirk Peters, Sam Blenkinsop, Brook MacDonald and Louis Hamilton will compete for 2013 titles at the Mountain Bike National Championship.