A cool, partly cloudy day with gentle to moderate northeasterly winds greeted the 62 riders who lined up for the Mabel Bush 76km graded race, the penultimate race in the Winter Points Series. Starting from the Mabel Bush community hall, each grade would ride two undulating laps of a 38km circuit through Hedgehope, Springhills and Rakahouka.
A-Grade's numbers were bolstered by 6 members of the visiting South African team, in Invercargill for the upcoming 2012 Junior Worlds.
A grade started with a red hot pace that split it into two groups early on. The gap was almost closed, but on the flat to Hedgehope the wind split the field into three groups. A chase group at the back managed to peg back on to the main bunch just after the fire station, but the lead group containing some big hitters including DBuzz, Zeno and Tuhi were away with a South African in hand too. By the end of the first lap the time gap was a bit over 30 seconds.
The main bunch finally got organized and chased it down and caught the front group just after the fire station at Hedgehope. From here on it was a game of cat and mouse with individuals attacking. It came down to Rakahouka Hill being the splitter with three riders getting away. Series leader Robert Huisman had to react and hammered it up the hill to catch the front group in a bid to retain the leaders jersey. The chase group including four South African riders just never caught the front 6.
With riders splintered everywhere it was down to a group of four riders to contest the sprint. Dillon Bennett outsprinted Brad Tuhi for the win, Josh Haggerty coming in 3rd with Matt Zenovich a close 4th. Zenovich had done just enough to take the jersey from Series leader Huisman who came across the line in 7th place.
A large group of 26 riders contested B-Grade. Individual attacks peppered the opening lap. Part way through the first lap a break of 5 riders got clear. They were away for several kilometres before being reeled back into the bunch. Vaughn Edie spent alot of time on front taking turns and chasing down breaks.
Gabby Vermunt got away by herself several times while her father Sier Vermunt also had a very strong race. Two riders from Central Otago were in the field, Brian Lippers riding strongly. With no-one able to stay away, most of the main bunch were together as they approached the finishing sprint.
Three riders had a small gap on the field in the last few hundred metres, with Andrew Lienert outkicking Wayne Miller to take the victory, Lee Moreton taking 3rd.
The C-Grade bunch worked well together. The first lap through Springhills saw a few riders dropped as several surges thinned the grade out a bit. The main group remained intact until the second lap when once again Rakahouka Hill took its toll and saw a number of riders drop out the back of the main bunch and three riders got clear.
Neil Sutherland, Erin Criglington and Troy Boniface pressed home their advantage and the bunch who never looked liked reeling them in. In the last few kilometres, Neil Sutherland went clear to finish 12 seconds ahead of Erin, Troy a further 6 seconds back.
The majority of the bunch finished 1min 20seconds behind the winner. In the last 600 metres Jamie Cunningham launched an attack which only series leader Wally Kopae responded to. But it was a case of launching too soon as Wally rolled Jamie to take the bunch sprint for the minor placings.
A Grade (19 riders)
1st Dillon Bennett
2nd Brad Tuhi
3rd Josh Haggerty
New leader of the Points Jersey - Matt Zenovich, taking over from Robert Huisman
B grade (26 riders)
1st Andrew Lienert
2nd Wayne Miller
3rd Lee Moreton
Vaughn Edie retains the Points Jersey
C Grade (17 riders)
1st Neil Sutherland
2nd Erin Criglington
3rd Troy Boniface
Wally Kopae retains the Points Jersey
Thanks to the many helpers; Robin Criglington, Lindsay Jones -STMS, Waine Harding, Bruce Ross, Tony Scannell and the marshals, John Andrews, Kerry Cox, Maree Haggerty, Tony Hammington and Marty Lohrey (and anyone else I haven't mentioned).