CYCLING Monday, 14 January 2008, 2:25 PM

Forrest Estate Graperide

In just three years the route known to local riders as 'the Grove' (for the picturesque Grove Arm of Queen Charlotte Sound it traverses) has become host to the largest cycling event in the South Island. Starting from the grounds of Forrest Estate winery in the heart of Marlborough's wine country, riders take on courses ranging from 21km to 202km in search of everything from personal goals to the largest winners' purse on offer in one day New Zealand cycle events.

A unique feature of the event is the grape crushing carried out in a vat of nearly 3 tonnes of pinot noir grapes by 100 randomly selected 'grape crushing virgins'. The end result of this activity is a bottle of 100 Virgins Pinot Noir in the race pack of every returning rider (aged 18 or over) for the following year's event. Already a number of riders who have participated in the first three events have set themselves the target of accumulating a case (1 dozen bottles) of 100 Virgins from the first 12 events.

Capped at 2,500 riders, the field has enjoyed wonderful Marlborough weather in the sunshine capital of the country with the only rain seen on the day of the event ceasing an hour before the start of the inaugural event three years ago. The 2007 event took place in temperatures which soared to 29 degrees during the afternoon, testing conditions for many of the riders who spent up to six hours completing the ride. Fastest riders around the route take part in the 'Speed Bunny' class, women over 101km and men over 160km. The majority of riders take on the single lap challenge of 101km but around 100 riders took on the Peak Fuel Magnum, an addition to the programme for 2007. At 202km the two lap event saw top international endurance athlete Nathan Fa'avae home in a very impressive ride of 5hr 11min 28sec, a fine performance from a 'retired' athlete.

Top local talent in the men's and women's Speed Bunnies included a representative team from New Caledonia in the men's field. Graperide supremo Pete 'the Grape Gonzo' Halligan expects the elite element to grow even more in coming years with the inclusion of the event in the Bike NZ National Points Series calendar.

With sponsors continuing to come on board, the Graperide team expects to see the total in-kind and cash prize pool top $100,000 for 2008. The field will remain capped at 2,500 riders for the event, meaning even greater chances for riders to pick up one of the hundreds of prizes on offer.

As is the case for any successful event, continued innovation is the name of the game. As event organiser Pete Halligan says, 'we continue to innovate for the good of the participants, it is flattering to see so many of our concepts and developments adopted by other events around the country.' He describes the greatest joy of the event as joining with Forrest Estate owners John and Brigid Forrest to welcome the riders, their supporters and the general public to Forrest Estate for an unforgettable experience. He invites you to be a part of it in 2008.

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