Rider has mettle for mountain mission

ALEX FENSOME
Last updated 05:00 01/03/2014
Ben Mitchell
ALEX LIU/Fairfax NZ

SMALL BOY, BIG CHALLENGER: Ben Mitchell, nine, could become the youngest mountainbiker to complete the 50km Karapoti Classic today.

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It's the weather rather than his age that's worrying Ben Mitchell before today's Karapoti Classic.

If he finishes the gruelling 50-kilometre mountainbike, the 9-year-old Ngaio School pupil will be the youngest competitor to complete the annual Akatarawa challenge.

He said he was looking forward to the challenge, and was prepared for it.

Ben has already ridden the full course of tough hill climbs, river crossings and rocky, danger-ridden sections where it's all too easy to fall. "I'll be OK as long as it's not too rainy," he said.

It may take him about six hours. For fuel Ben plans to carry muesli bars and mango slices packed by his mum, and there are two water stations.

Some of the older competitors may be startled to see a 9-year-old outpace them.

"I could try to pass them," he said. "I know there's going to be thousands of people there."

The thought of falling in the "Devil's Staircase" - a rocky sector - was not frightening because bumps and scrapes were a part of mountainbiking, he said.

He had fallen plenty of times before, though he had not broken any bones.

Ben started biking when he was 3, and quickly fell in love with it, attracted by the chance to do wheelies and jumps and race downhill. The fact you often get very muddy also helped.

For training, he had been doing two-hour rides with the Wellington Off-Road Riding Department, a mountainbike club, and lots of fun rides with his family.

Mum Nicola, Dad Pete and little brother Sam are all avid riders.

The holder of the youngest finisher record, Wellingtonian Eden Cruise, was two months older than Ben when he first rode the race.

Now 14, he is an emerging star of the New Zealand mountainbike scene.

"He's someone I look up to," Ben said.

The event - with total prizemoney of $30,000 - also includes a shorter 20km race and 5km kids event. However, there will be more than a few kids on the 50km start line.

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- The Dominion Post

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