Rotorua-based teenager Tuhoto-Ariki Pene has claimed a bronze medal in the junior men’s downhill at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Canada yesterday.
The 18-year-old becomes the first New Zealand junior male downhiller to finish on a world championship podium since Brook MacDonald a decade ago.
It completes and excellent season for riders from Cycling New Zealand’s Subway National Performance Hub, with teammate Sam Gale from Nelson finishing 10th at Mont Sainte Anne. This follows strong results throughout the World Cup season in Europe, including the World Cup win by Pene at Val di Sole in Italy.
“It’s been a brilliant season for Tuhoto-Ariki, with his win in Italy and his performance here,” said Cycling New Zealand’s Sam Thompson.
“It’s pretty cool to see him handle what is a brutal and physical course here at Mont Sainte Anne and there were some good rides from our Hub riders overall.”
Thompson said the season had been the most successful yet for the mountain bike hub, which is the pathway programme for promising young riders based at the Toi-Ohomai Institute of Technology campus in Rotorua.
“Our cross-country riders achieved some excellent results earlier in the season in Europe and the downhill guys have raced so well in the latter part. There’s no doubt that we can’t replicate these sorts of experiences that they have gained racing and training in the hot-bed of the sport in Europe.”
Pene, the second last rider on the course, finished just 0.1s off second placed and one second behind winner Kye A’Hern from Australia over the 2.9km course, that has a vertical drop of nearly 600m and where riders reached speeds of 75kph.
Wanaka’s Fiona Murray finished an encouraging fifth placing in the junior female downhill in her first mountain bike world championships.
There was excitement in the elite male final with Kawerau’s Matt Walker producing a stunning run of 4:12:492 as the 10th rider to start. It took him to the top of the rankings and he remained on the hot seat for the next 35 riders before the final 10 riders clocked faster times.
Walker finished with a career-best 11th placing to top the kiwi elite riders with Frenchman Loic Bruni, the top seed and final rider, produced a stunning performance to earn his fourth rainbow jersey in the last five years.
The unforgiving nature of the Mont Sainte Anne course claimed some kiwi scalps. National champion MacDonald and junior Finn Hawkesby-Browne crashed during final training yesterday. MacDonald came through an operation on a fractured vertebra today and is expected to make a full recovery while Hawkesby-Browne was not seriously injured but unable to start.
There was disappointment for female national champion Kate Weatherly, fifth fastest in qualifying, who crashed during today’s morning warm-ups. She has had a CT scan and is undoing further tests in hospital.
The UCI Mountain Bike World Cup season finishes next weekend at Snowshoe resort in West Virginia.
Junior male: Kye A’Hern (AUS) 4:17.776, 1; Antoine Vidal (FRA) at 1.14s, 2; Tuhoto-Ariki Pene (NZL) at 1.29s, 3. Also NZers: Sam Gale at 9.07s, 10; Blake Ross at 11.39s, 17; Finn Parsons at 25.86s, 34l Louis Vuleta at29.08s, 37; Alex Barke at 30.02s, 39; Finn Hawkesby-Browne dns.
Junior female: Valentina Holl (AUT) 5:01.033, 1; Mille Johnset (NOR) at 12.92s, 2; Anna Newkirk (USA) a 21.23s, 3. Also: Fiona Murray (NZL) at 47.412s, 5.
Elite female: Myriam Nicole (FRA) 4:53.22s, 1; Tahnee Seagrave (GBR) at 1.20s, 2; Marine Cabirou (FRA) at 1.69s, 3. Also: Kate Weatherly (NZL) dnf.
Elite male: Loic Bruni (FRA) 4:05.544, 1; Troy Brosnan (AUS) at 0.58s, 2; Amaury Perron (FRA) at 2.54s, 3. Also NZers: Matt Walker at 6.94s, 11; George Brannigan at 12.16s, 26; Wyn Masters at 19.80s, 41; Keegan Wright at 26.78s, 48; Sam Blenkinsop at 2:39.18, 66; Brook MacDonald dns.