Sheppard sweeps Snowies

The Snowies Mountain Bike festival has wrapped up with Samera Sheppard and Kyle Ward thrashing the competition

This Valentine’s Day weekend saw New Zealand’s Samara Sheppard race a clean sweep of all five stages at the three-day Snowies Mountain Bike Festival.

The 25-year-old Kiwi dominated each stage of the 45-kilometre marathon on Sunday afternoon after winning the 20.5km Gravity Check descent just hours earlier.

“I was really happy to get out in front and get some clean track and find my rhythm,” said Sheppard. “It was actually great having a lot of the men around as well to keep pushing you along and keeping you focused so I was really happy with the last stage and getting to the finish still in the yellow.”

Sheppard topped the charts with more than 12 minutes over her nearest rival – international endurance superstar Renata Bucher (SUI) – who finished third overall last year and second on every stage over the weekend. Aussie Cristy Henderson finished third on the final stage and on GC.

In elite men’s action, Kyle Ward (AUS), who won stages 1, 2 and 4, rode to his fourth win of the race by defeating stage 3 winner and last year’s champion Andrew Blair (Specialized Racing Australia) by nearly three and a half minutes.

“I didn’t really have a race plan for that one other than I wanted to make sure I stayed in the yellow jersey until the end of it,” said Ward. “But it’s kind of hard because when you think about the race duration it’s 45km so you can’t really attack it like the other ones.”

“I knew it was going to be up to ‘Blairy’ to make up the time so I just put the ball in his court and he took the front on the second lap and then I took an opportunity on the third and final lap going into the first climb through transition,” he explained.

“I saw a gap open up and took my chance and stayed away for the rest of the lap…just happy to cross the line and finish off a big weekend of racing.”

For Blair, second place was bittersweet for the inaugural winner, but overall he is pleased with his valiant performance.

“I was happy to win [stage 3] and it was the only stage I come away with,” said Blair. “But other than that I was consistently second behind Kyle and I’m happy with that.

Going into the final stage, Blair still held out hope for a win although he admits the odds were against him.

“Anything can happen and I know that going into a fairly flat 50km stage with a lot of wind and with a deficit like a minute and a half that the pressure is on me to try and attack Kyle,” he explained. “There is a reason why he’s got a minute and a half cause he’s the strongest guy and so the odds are stacked against you and all you can do is put your cards on the table and hope it all works out.

“I took a couple of risks on the descents but it wasn’t enough to get away from Kyle, and he sort of sat on my wheel for a couple of laps and then attacked me with one to go and it was all over from there – but I gave it a shot.”

This year’s race featured an Alpine start line at 1,260 metres in elevation, as well as 100 kilometres of rugged mountain terrain, technical single track, monstrous ascents, daring descents and, of course, a hefty $10,000 cash prize pool.

Elite and amateur riders alike faced a barrage of mountain biking disciplines, including a 5.5km time trial, 21.5km Thredbo Summit Smash, 6km Thredbo All Mountain Descent, the Gravity Check and the marathon

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Stage 5 Results – Top 3

Elite Men:

1.   Kyle Ward, NSW, 1:53:36

2.   Andy Blair, ACT, 1:55:05

3.   Lewis Cressy, ACT, 1:58:17

Elite Women:

1.   Samara Sheppard, NZL, 2:08:44

2.   Renata Bucher, SUI, 2:17:14

3.   Cristy Henderson, ACT, 2:17:27