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Concentration . . . Oamaru's Tim Rush pedals to second place in the main 125km Contact Epic event around Lake Hawea. PHOTO: GARRICK CAMERON

North Otago mountain bikers showed their worth to the country at Saturday’s Contact Epic race around Lake Hawea.

The main Epic event, traversing 125km around Lake Hawea, was billed to be a fierce battle between the favourites – Oamaru’s Tim Rush and Ben Oliver, of Christchurch.

Oliver and Rush are ranked third and fourth respectively in elite men’s mountain biking in New Zealand.

From the gun, both cyclists went hammer and tongs, with Oliver pushing the downhill pace hard and Rush paying back the favour on the uphill. Neither rider could be broken and it came down to a sprint finish.

A skid in the sprint finish saw Rush swerve to avoid hitting a fence and Oliver took the advantage to get his wheel across the timing mat first. After 4hr 43min of punishment, Oliver beat Rush by a single second. Former Oamaru rider Dougal Allan claimed third place in 4hr 57min.

In the open men’s category, Kurow farmer Paul Gow was ninth (5hr 30min) and Oamaru’s Hamish Elliott 11th (5hr 42min).

Waitaki Boys’ High School’s Taz Selfe (16) showed outstanding form in the shorter classic event (95km), winning the junior section. Selfe, who trains with Rush, finished in 4hr 27min and placed fourth overall.