The ground had been groomed by the overnight storm, which was still represented by a howling south-wester. A cold wait for the starting horn was followed by the usual excited surge at the start. One man who has been all over the starts is Ron King. Ron went into this final race sitting high up the points table after a series of strong runs. In fact, he remained unbeaten by any MEC men. However, his gallant efforts at regaining the New Zealand Cyclocross title the previous weekend had left him vulnerable and a nasty chest infection had been paying him a close visit. Nevertheless, King shot off at the start, keeping pace with the frontrunners. The first hill slowed him somewhat, and young Mike Lichtwark took his place in the top 5. Lichtwark has not been as much of a feature in this year’s racing, but turned up for the final – one of his favourites. King kept in contact as they went into the offroad section. Behind them, Mike Hale was feeling a bit flat, but holding his own in 15th place. This series had been unsettled for Hale, with a niggly calf injury upsetting his early season. He had been growing stronger at each outing and was looking for a good finish at this event, with its coastal section a personal favourite. Also in the mix were James Spence, his mate Craig and the super-vet Alan Lichtwark. Lichtwark snr was looking to sow up his season with another commanding display in the Vet Men, which he had dominated throughout the year. (sadly further details on their races have not come to hand at the time of this report)
And so after 3.5km of rolling hills, the grass gave way to the coastal section. Hale, still in 15th place could see King rounding the first headland, over a minute up, and Lichtwark jnr was already out of sight. King was looking a little out of sorts on the rocks though. A tender Achilles had flared up in the jarring conditions and he was running solo. Hale, with the benefit of a group to pace with had now found his groove and could see the gap up ahead diminishing steadily. Lichtwark too, came into view, and by the time the course swept back into Te Haruhi Bay at the 10km mark, Hale and King were running together, and just 20m behind Mike Lichtwark.
The final 2km of rock saw the group forced to jump into the surging waters where Hale yelped with glee like a puppy at a sausage factory. No sooner had Hale caught Lichtwark after this wade section, when the fast young lawyer took off across the beach, with Hale in hot pursuit and King working to keep touch with both. King caught Hale at the next drinks stop and together they went about trying to reel in young Lichtwark. Just like last year, the race had become a three way battle for the boys.
The last 7km were back on land in the extremely rolling (STEEP up and down) pasture. Lichtwark looked strong on the climbs so King launched his usual goat-man downhill attack, making up lots of lost ground. But come the next (and worst) hill, King faded away as Hale was left clawing his way after Lichtwark. Each hill became a battle ground as Lichtwark would pull away on the climbs and then see his lead reduce on the slippery downhill (that will teach him for wearing racing flats to an offroad run) Finally, the runners emerged back on Te Haruhi Bay and despite a final surge, Hale could not catch wiley Litchwark. What a race! Everyone had a smile as they came in 4th , 5th and King in 7th to mark and extremely satisfying day. In a repeat of normal proceedings, Alan Lichtwark caned all others in his race category to totally own the series championship. And James Spence, now a Whangaparaoa local, put his injury woes of March behind him with a strong run into 18th.
Thus endeth the season.
Another beauty, and what a way to pass the Winter away! Hope to see more of you fullas out there next year. Fantastic courses and epic running contests for sure.
1 Open Male James Kuegler 1 1:26:32