A grape day to remember

An absolute 'boomer of an event'

SAM MORTON
Last updated 11:30 26/03/2012

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Drizzly rain could not dampen the spirits of the 2500 riders who took to the Forrest GrapeRide course in Marlborough on Saturday.

The Forrest Estate grounds were brimming with thousands of cheering spectators as riders crossed the finish line with a beaming smile.

The event, in its eighth year, attracted some of New Zealand's top cyclists and riders from around the world and, according to most riders, it didn't disappoint.

About 300 Marlborough riders also got involved, lapping up the scenic beauty and surrounds of the GrapeRide course covering Renwick to Picton, Picton to Havelock and Havelock to Renwick.

Event spokesman Duncan Mackenzie was upbeat about the event on Saturday night, as he relaxed with event organisers, enjoying a cold drink and a beef patty.

"What a day – it was an absolute boomer of an event. Considering what the weather tried to throw at us, we came out looking pretty good," he said.

"If the rain hit any earlier, it had the potential to turn to custard, but thankfully the weather gods were with us."

Feedback from the riders had been encouraging and there appeared to be some relieved riders in the finishing circle, Mr Mackenzie said.

The popular Forrest Grape Crusher feature pulled the crowds in to see the 100 "virgins" in action, as they jumped into a tub of grapes, before being doused by event directors Peter Halligan and Steve Gurney.

The crushed grapes will make a wine for next year's Forrest GrapeRide.

It was the best Grape Crusher in the history of the event, an elated Mr Mackenzie said.

"I thought it was an absolute cracker, I really thought it was top-notch entertainment value and that's what it's (Grape Crusher) always been about. It was magic."

The benefits of the event didn't stop there.

Restaurants in Blenheim and Picton were reportedly full and most accommodation providers in Blenheim were showing "no vacancy" signs, indicating the enormous flow-on effect for the region's economy.

Event organisers were discussing the possibility of a formal economic study to show the value of the GrapeRide, but were seeking funding for the task, Mr Mackenzie said.

However, unofficial studies and research estimate a boost of $2 million to the region, as 2300 visiting cyclists, plus almost double that in friends, family and supporters stayed in Marlborough for a minimum of two nights and dined out in the town's bars and restaurants during the event, Mr Mackenzie said.

"It's very easy to see the dollar tally up very quickly using that formula. Undoubtedly, this event provides an incredible boost to the economy and businesses throughout the region reap the benefits of the event."

The prizegiving was held in high spirits and the camaraderie was exceptional throughout the event, he said. "The heavens opened about five minutes after, so we were very fortunate."

The GrapeRide experienced few hiccups, with the most sifnificant incident resulting in a group of riders going to ground after slipping on diesel on the Mahakipawa Hill, near Havelock. Event marshalls were alerted and quickly warned other riders of the hazard.

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St John operations manager Tony Cronin said six people were taken to Wairau Hospital, in Blenheim, with suspected broken bones and neck injuries. A total of 39 riders were treated.

Ben Verhoef, of Rai Valley, said the course was a delight and he was pleased with his time of 2hr 50min. However, the hills proved a tough challenge.

- The Marlborough Express

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