Kiwi mountain bikers have trekked across the Tasman en force to compete in the opening round of the UCI World Cup in Cairns. There are 28 New Zealand riders competing at the World Cup, which will be a forerunner to next year when Cairns hosts the world championships.
The World Cup begins with qualifying for downhill today where 19 New Zealanders are competing, with the race set for Saturday before Sunday’s attention turns to cross-country. The riders have enjoyed excellent weather to match the spectacular setting overlooking the famed Far North Queensland tourist resort. This was in stark contrast to the cyclone that turned the course into a quagmire when they last raced in Cairns in 2014. The forecast is excellent for today and tomorrow with a slight chance of rain on Sunday.
Interest in the cross-country centres on the debut for under-23 world champion and Cannondale professional, Anton Cooper in the elite category, one of three under-23 riders from last year who have moved up to the top echelon. Cooper is in a battle for selection to the Rio Olympics with Waikato rider Sam Gaze, who having just turned 20, has opted to remain in the under-23 ranks where he has been seeded with the number one plate for the opening round. National champion Kate Fluker will be keen to test herself after showing some excellent early-season form at both the New Zealand and Oceania championships.
The 4.31km cross-country course weaves its way through steep gumtree-lined ridges and rainforest valleys. Riders funnel into rainforest single track for a steep and tight climb, before a series of high speed technical drops.
The downhill course took no prisoners in practice this week with several riders crashing over the rocky sections. Best of the Kiwis in practice was Sam Blenkinsop (Norco Factory Team) ahead of Brook MacDonald, who steps out for his first World Cup with his new GT Factory team.
There are 19 New Zealanders competing in downhill with interest in Rupert Chapman (Bergamont Hayes Factory Team) in his first World Cup sporting the New Zealand colours as national champion, as will Queenstown’s Alanna Columb in the elite women’s category.
Sitting above the coral islands of the Great Barrier Reef, the 1.9km downhill course runs through the rainforests from the start point high in the tropical mist and twists down through ancient rock outcrops on volcanic clay.
The New Zealand riders competing include:
Downhill, elite men: Sam Blenkinsop, Brook MacDonald, Rupert Chapman, Ed Masters, Wyn Masters, George Brannigan, Bryn Dickerson, Connor Sandri, Louis Hamilton, Tyler Brooker, Gareth Burgess.
Junior men: Cole Lucas, Ben Karalus, Oliver Jarman, Shaun Barclay, Carson Rayner, Billy Meaclem.
Elite women: Alanna Columb, Victoria Armstrong.
Cross-country, elite men: Anton Cooper
Under-23 men: Sam Gaze, Craig Oliver, Ben Oliver, Gareth Cannon.
Elite women: Kim Hurst, Samara Sheppard, Kate Fluker, Myra Moller.
Photo: Cannondale Factory Team