Rotorua’s Tuhoto-Ariki Pene has claimed victory in the junior male downhill at the latest UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in Italy.
Pene, part of Cycling New Zealand’s Subway National Performance Hub, produced a stunning run down one of the sport’s toughest test for gravity riders at Val di Sole, finally winning by just 0.33 seconds.
Teammate and fellow Hub rider Sam Gale finished in fourth place, only 0.7s off his first World Cup podium.
The pair proved the highlight for New Zealand riders in the third-to-last round of the Mercedes Benz World Cup with Brook MacDonald (MS Mondraker) the best of the elite males in 30th after a fall at the top end of the course while national champion Kate Weatherly was sixth in the elite women.
Both remain in the top-10 with two rounds remaining in Switzerland and USA.
Pene, who did not qualify for the final in his first World Cup in France last month, has rocketed into the top-10 rankings, one of only three junior men’s World Cup winners this year along with French riders Thibaut Daprela and Matteo Iniguez.
The teenager qualified fifth fastest with Gale (Nelson) sixth and fellow Kiwi Finn Hawkesby-Browne (Christchurch) seventh on a rain-sodden track which dried out for the final overnight (NZ time).
The track is regarded as one of the toughest, littered with big holes, loose rocks and roots strewn throughout its 2000m.
Australian Kye Ahern set the standard in the junior elite men’s final in 4:10.044 which stood for some time until Pene’s superb run edged him into the lead by half a second. Pene was only fifth fastest at the first time-check but moved to the top of the standings with a brilliant finish.
Slovakia’s Zak Gomilscek, third fastest in qualifying, made a flying start and was fastest throughout all four checkpoints but could not match the Kiwi in the open section near the finish, falling just 0.3s short.
New Zealand officials believe it is the first junior men’s World Cup victory since MacDonald was a junior rider.
“It was a brilliant performance on brute of a test. Tuhoto-Ariki had to be really brave and let the bike run and at the same time not make any mistakes. I am super proud of him,” said Thompson.
“To have two riders in the top four and four in the top-20 with three of them from the Subway Hub is fantastic and great with the hard work they have put it.
“Sam Gale was terrific also today and throughout the weekend because he was fast in the wet as well.”