Enduring downhill mountain biker Sam Blenkinsop is hoping 2018 will be a lucky 13 as he begins his year with the Altherm Oceania Championships in Dunedin at the weekend. The 29-year-old begins his 13th year at the sharp end of the global professional sport, since he stepped on to the podium for a silver medal in the junior division when the UCI World Championships were staged in Rotorua.
Blenkinsop, originally from Wanganui but now based in Christchurch, has been the country’s best male gravity rider in that time, finishing in the top-10 at the world championships seven times including his bronze medal at Champery, France in 2011. He is the only male Kiwi downhiller to win a world championship medal.
While he has been consistently always competitive, “Blenky” has never won a national elite title nor the Oceania crown, although it is something he is not that fazed about. “They always fall at the start of my year and I am really just building up, so it is more like a training race,” said Blenkinsop. “Don’t get me wrong, I want to win every time I get on my bike and that will be the case at the weekend.
“I never hold back whenever I race. There’s no point in racing if you are not going to go full out. But at the same time my preparation has been more in the gym and with the development of the bike.”
He returns to the NORCO Factory Team on the UCI World Cup circuit again this year, excited with the new bike that he has played an integral part of in the development process.
“Unfortunately, I won’t have the new 29er this weekend but I will have it for the nationals. I am excited about it,” said Blenkinsop who believes the 29-inch wheels are the future with downhill tracks less technical and more open. “I have my old 650 this weekend but I will be giving it everything. I have always liked racing at Signal Hill,” he said of the circuit for the championship in Dunedin.
While Blenkinsop has lived nearly half his life out of a suitcase on the international mountain bike scene, he is still endeared to the lifestyle.
The competition will come mostly from fellow Kiwis including fellow Cantabrian Rupert Chapman who recorded a top-10 finish at the world championships in Cairns last year. He will be joined at Pivot Factory Racing team by the experienced Taranaki rider Ed Masters who will be a rider to beat this weekend, along with his ebullient brother Wyn, who lines up for the GT Factory team this year.
Wellington’s Bryn Dickerson won the Oceania title in New Zealand two years ago and was runner-up in Australia last year, while Louis Hamilton (Rotorua) and Matt Walker (Kawerau) are both well performed on the international circuit. There will also be interest in the rise of talented young riders Lucas Cole (Hamilton) and Billy Meaclem (Christchurch).
In the women’s ranks, rising Subway Performance Hub rider Shania Rawson, second in the under-19 world championships in Cairns last year, moves to the elite division for the first time. She takes on the likes of defending champion Danielle Beecroft from Australia, Kiwi-based Australian Ronja Hill-Wright, who was runner-up in this event two years ago, and Sophie Tyas, who makes a welcome return after to the top ranks.
There is practice on Saturday afternoon and early Sunday, ahead of timed seeding runs from 11am and competition from 1pm at Signal Hill.