Fluker forces elite pace as hundreds enjoy Merrell Tour de Wakatipu
Queenstown’s Olympic-hopeful mountain biker, Kate Fluker pushed her male counterparts all the way in yesterday’s Merrell Tour de Wakatipu.
Fluker won the 45km female elite open race comfortably with a time of 1:32:39. This was more than ten minutes clear of Haley Van Leeuwen (Dunedin) and Kath Kelly (Roxburgh), second and third place respectively in the women’s race, but only 1:44 behind the third placed elite male.
21-year-old Tom Filmer from Nelson took the men’s elite open race with an impressive time of 1:28:46, more than one minute ahead of Rock and Road Cycles’ Shaun Portegys (Alexandra) in second and the Dunedin Cycle World-sponsored Johnny Van Leeuwen in third. Van Leeuwen finished second in the same category last year.
More than 400 elite, sport and recreational riders from junior to veteran took part in the seventh annual trail ride from Millbrook Resort, Arrowtown to Chard Farm winery in the Gibbston Valley. It is one of the biggest mass participation cycling events in the South Island and the final event of the 2015 Queenstown Bike Festival.
The family-friendly event even attracted the Easter Bunny, aka multi-sport legend Steve Gurney, who won the Sport Master Male category in fancy dress complete with carrots dangling from his handlebars.
Kate Fluker, sponsored by NZXC Racing, Giant Bikes, Rabbit Ranch, Around the Basin and Torpedo7, said the race fitted nicely with her current training regime focused on endurance but she still gave it everything.
“It’s always an awesome day out and good to support the local events. My weakness is the mass start so whenever I do come to these things I use it as good practice to get my foot on the pedal and get off the line as quick as I can,” she said.
“I was leading the men in the first half. We were all in a group then I saw them chatting and thought ‘here we go’. We got onto some flat where I didn’t have enough gears to keep up with them and they started drafting together, looking behind and just dropped me. Anything to beat the girl!”
Tom Filmer travelled down from Christchurch, where he studies, especially for the race and slept in his car the night before. He said he only knew he had the race in the bag with about 500 metres to go.
“It’s quite deceptive how much time you have – it can seem like a lot but sometimes it isn’t! I nearly got caught out by the scenery and was too busy looking at it – it was amazing,” he said.
Both Filmer and Fluker are travelling to Europe soon for the northern hemisphere season. Filmer is hoping to compete in a French national division series with an amateur club. Fluker is spending seven weeks in Europe for the UCI World Cup cross-country series before heading to America for two more rounds and then the World Championships in Andorra. Her aim is to gain enough points to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
“It’s a big ask for New Zealand to get a spot in the Olympics but the only way I can give it my everything is by getting to all these races. It’s not impossible!” said Fluker.
Watch the video edit of this year's event here