Marlborough husband-and-wife cyclists Jason and Georgia Christie narrowly missed out on a Forrest GrapeRide double when the 15th version of the annual cycling classic was contested on the roads of Marlborough on Saturday morning.
Georgia claimed a convincing win in the women’s “speed bunnies” section over the 101km course which takes riders from Renwick to Picton, through Havelock and back to the start line at Forrest Wines.
However, Jason just missed notching the family double when he was pipped on the line by Christchurch rider Laurence Pithie in a dramatic conclusion to the men’s race.
The race turned into a cagey affair and although there were a few breakaways, they were soon reeled in, leaving a group of a dozen riders at the front of the field approaching the finish.
Christie and Skoda team member Pithie were neck-and-neck down the winding finishing straight, before 16-year-old Pithie managed to get his wheel in front at the line, both riders registering the same time, 2.27.37.
However, the leading duo had no time to relax as the lead car slowed down immediately after the finish, forcing the cyclists to take immediate evasive action, Pithie tangling with a hedge.
Pithie, who finished seventh in last year’s event, said, “it’s quite a gnarly wee finish. I knew that if I was leading into that final corner, into the vineyard, I could probably hold on but Jason came round me on the straight. I managed to come back round him on the corner though and just get him on the line.”
Jason Christie, a two-time national road race champion, described it as a “crazy” finish. He said he rode in the leading bunch most of the way and, while there were a couple of breakaways, felt it was always going to end in a sprint finish. Two years ago he crossed the line first but was relegated, making this his second runners-up placing to go with wins in 2014 and 2015.
Georgia, the reigning national road race champion who notched her second win in the race, beating Annamarie Lipp by over a minute, said, “there wasn’t a big women’s field so we just worked together until Picton.
“I knew that Annamarie and I could climb so I tried to get her and I to go hard on the climbs. Up the Wedge I just went hard and dropped everyone apart from her.
“I figured that I had to get away before the finish so I caught her off guard with an attack about 10 kilometres from the finish, then just soloed to the line.”
Meanwhile, Marlborough endurance rider Craig Harper completed his 15th lap of the GrapeRide course on Saturday, covering 1515km over five days in preparation for his Ride Across America in June.
Event organiser Duncan MacKenzie said the 2019 event hosted over 1200 entrants, aged from 10 to 82.
“The Marlborough community, sponsors and volunteers were fantastic. Cheer squads were out around the courses encouraging the riders, including over 100 in the inaugural mountain bike section. We’ll be looking to grow this in 2020,” added MacKenzie.
Speed Bunnies (101km)
Men – 1 Laurence Pithie (Christchurch) 2.27.37; 2 Jason Christie (Blenheim) 2.27.37; 3 Michael Vink (Christchurch) 2.27.38. Women – 1 Georgia Christie (Blenheim) 2.46.11; Annamarie Lipp (Christchurch) 2.47.18.
Men – 1 Paul Odlin (Christchurch); women – Joanna Sharpe (Auckland) 6.18.01
Men – Liam Seeley (Whangarei) 1.07.11; women – Anna Salek (Richmond) 1.19.10.
MTB 40 (40km)
Men – Mark Ellis (Timaru) 1.26.47; women – Cecilia Bourke (Lyttleton) 1.26.48.
MTB 20 (20km)
Men – Myles Yarrell (Christchurch) 1.05.58; women – Brooke Harper (Blenheim) 1.16.03.