Twenty-five New Zealand riders have ventured to the mountains Switzerland for this week’s UCI Mountain Bike World Championships at the alpine resort of Lenzerheide.
The team boasts three elite riders ranked in the world’s top-10 with No 7 ranked Anton Cooper leading the cross-country team while Sam Blenkinsop and Brook Macdonald are ranked sixth and eighth respectively in downhill.
Cycling New Zealand coach Sam Thompson said cross-country course at Lenzerheide will suit Cooper who completed a consistent UCI World Cup campaign with four top-11 placings.
“Anton’s ranking means he will start on the front row which is a good advantage,” said Thompson. “It is a punchy and power course with longer climbs rather than short steep climbs. That suits a power climber like Anton and I expect he will do well.”
New Zealand will not have the services of last year’s under-23 world champion Sam Gaze who is still recovering from a fall that forced his withdrawal from the final round of the world cup in France recently.
Thompson also rates the chances of No 9 ranked Ben Oliver in the under-23 race as a strong and bigger rider who will enjoy the terrain.
“While we are at some altitude, there’s only around 100m of climbing each lap.”
After significant success from Cooper, Gaze and Oliver in the junior ranks in recent years, this year is a rebuilding phase with a number of first-year under-19 riders led by Nelson’s super-talented Cameron Jones.
There’s excitement in the gravity ranks with outstanding recent form from former junior world champion Macdonald, who enjoyed two podiums in the last three world cup competitions and has found a real affinity in his return to the MS Mondraker team.
Blenkinsop (NORCO Factory) is looking to continue his remarkable consistency at the world championships where he has only once been out of the top-20 since his debut in 2007, with his best being third at Champery, Switzerland in 2011.
Shania Rawson (Subway Performance Hub) was second in the junior downhill ranks in Cairns last year and steps up to the elite ranks this time, while the leading junior hopes lie with Queenstown’ s Sam Robbie, who was 16th as a first-year junior last year.
“The downhill course is quite a mix of bike park along with natural rock garden features that will throw up some challenges and then a mix of natural forest and big jumps to make this a real test,” said Thompson.
Competition for the New Zealanders begins on Friday (NZ time) for junior cross-country; under-23 cross-country on Saturday, and men’s elite cross-country on Sunday. The downhill competition is on from late Sunday evening NZ time.
The elite men’s cross-country will be broadcast live on Sky Sport 4 from 1.20am on Sunday, with the women’s downhill on Sky Sport Pop-Up from 10.50pm on Sundayand elite men downhill from 12.20am on Monday.
The New Zealand team is:
Cross-Country, Male, Elite: Anton Cooper (North Canterbury, Trek Factory Racing). Under-23: Ben Oliver (North Canterbury, Subway Performance Hub), Eden Cruise (Wellington, Subway Performance Hub).
Under-19, Male: Cameron Jones (Nelson, 4Ever Racing NZ), Max Taylor (Palmerston North, Subway Performance Hub), Caleb Bottcher (Palmerston North, National Mtb Performance Hub), Josh Burnett (Invercargill), Connor Johnston (Rotorua, Subway Performance Hub), Maxwell Wickens (Wellington).
Downhill, Female: Virginia Armstrong (Auckland), Shania Rawson (Tauranga, Subway Performance Hub). Male: Sam Blenkinsop (Christchurch, NORCO Factory Team), Brook Macdonald (Napier, MS Mondraker Team), Ed Masters (New Plymouth, Pivot Factory Racing), Wyn Masters (New Plymouth, GT Factory Racing), Bryn Dickerson (Wellington, FS Funn Team), Matt Walker (Rotorua, Cube Global Squad), Keegan Wright (Rotorua). Reserve: Cole Lucas (Hamilton).
Under-19, Male: Nico Fernandez (Queenstown, Subway Performance Hub), Sam Robbie (Queenstown), Charlie Makea (Napier, Subway Performance Hub), Josh Oxenham (Auckland, Subway Performance Hub), Tuhoto-Ariki Pene (Maketu), Sam Gale (Nelson, Subway Performance Hub), Hamish McLeod (Queenstown, Subway Performance Hub). Reserve: Boaz Hebblethwaite (Christchurch).