Queenstown-based professional George Brannigan surprised himself in claiming his first national mountain bike title in Rotorua today.
Lower Hutt’s Sarah Atkin took out the women’s honours, with both riders earning their first national elite titles at the championships which is part of the 10-day Rotorua Bike Festival that features a plethora of events including mountain bike, BMX and road cycling.
The elite field had to wait for more than an hour after three crashes in the under-19 competition forced delays on the famed Taniwha national track in the downhill contest.
The 21 year old Brannigan (Trek Factory Team) thought an indifferent start over the technical part of the track would prove costly, but his 3:01:40 was the fastest of the day, with the final rider, Lapierre International rider Sam Blenkinsop unable to pip the time.
“We were waiting for so long, the mind was not ready for it. I didn’t ride the top section well but then got into it. So I was surprised to go faster than my seeding but that is pretty cool.
“I am really happy. I wanted to win this and so I am really pleased with that.”
Brannigan, who struggled last year after coming back from a serious injury, said the victory showed that he is fit and healthy again after a frustrating 2012 international season.
“It is amazing to be feeling how I was a year or so ago. I have put in a huge amount of work to get back. So this makes me so happy.”
Another key is his move from his family home in Hawkes Bay to Queenstown in the off-season.
“It has been the best thing for me. The riding and training are excellent and now I am really looking forward to the first World Cup.”
Blenkinsop was second just 0.6 seconds behind with Swiss visitor Nick Beer third in 3:04:26.
Defending champion Brook MacDonald (Trek World Racing) could only manage fifth place ahead of Kawerau’s Matt Walker and Christchurch’s Cam Cole.
Sarah Atkin, 20, had come to Rotorua hoping for a top three effort, even after topping the seeding run.
Favourite Alanna Columb grabbed the hot seat with a 3:51:85 in the third to last run, but Atkin was in a class of her own winning with the final run in 3:45:83.
Like all the elite riders, she found it a test to cope with the unavoidable race delays.
“I got hungry, thirsty, warmed up, cooled down, warmed up again, cooled down, got bored,” Atkin said. “It is part of racing though. You get mentally tired so I was really pleased with that effort.
“I am really stoked to win the national elite title. I was going to be thrilled to get in the top three so to win my first elite national title is unreal.”
Rotorua’s Keegan Wright impressed as a rider for the future winning the under-19 title in 3:14:22, which would have placed him mid-pack in the elite competition, with fellow Rotorua rider Robbie Wong-Toi claiming the under-17 honours.
Female, Elite: Sarah Atkin (Lower Hutt) 3:45:83, 1; Alanna Columb (Queenstown) 3:51:85, 2; Harriet Latchem (Queenstown) 3:52:59, 3; Gabby Malloy (Rotorua) 3:58:13, 4; Amanda Monk (Whakatane) 4:09:01, 5.
Senior: Phoebe Coers (Dunedin) 4:27:31, 1.
Under-19: Georgia Petrie (Christchurch) 4:14:28, 1.
Under-17: Shania Rawson (Papamoa) 5:02:30, 1.
Masters: Donna Pickard (Papamoa) 5:28:78, 1.
Male, Elite: George Brannigan (Havelock North, Trek World Racing) 3:01:40, 1; Sam Blenkinsop (Wanganui, Lapierre International) 3:02:00, 2; Nick Beer (Switzerland) 3:04:26, 4; Rupert Chapman (Christchurch) 3:06:50, 4; Brook MacDonald (Hawkes Bay, Trek World Racing) 3:06:51, 5.
Senior: Tyler Brooker (Christchurch) 3:17:17, 1; Aari Barrett (Hamilton) 3:18:58, 2; Harry Chapman (Christchurch) 3:22:83, 3; Brook Mitchell (Christchurch) 3:23:64, 4; Sam Shaw (Rotorua) 3:23.69, 5.
Under-19: Keegan Wright (Rotorua) 3:14:22, 1; Connor Hamilton (Rotorua) 3:16:28, 2; Josh McCombie (Dunedin) 3:17:77, 3; Jack Humphries (Palmerston North) 3:20:30, 4; Peter Bethell (Auckland) 3:20:51, 5.
Under-17: Robbie Wong-Toi (Rotorua) 3:20:46, 1; Mathew Gillan (Queenstown) 3:21:45, 2; Blair McLeod (Rotorua) 3:23:38, 3; Oscar Perks (Nelson) 3:30:22, 4; Jack Hale (Rotorua) 3:31:71, 5
Under-15: Charlie Makea (Napier) 3:47:83, 1; Lachie MacDonald (Lower Hutt) 3:51:30, 2; Tuhoto-Ariki Pene (Rotorua) 3:53:92, 3; Boaz Hebblethwaite (Christchurch) 3:57:46, 4; Wade Strother (Hawkes Bay) 4:01:31, 5.
Masters 1: Adam King (Rotorua) 3:24:76, 1; Michael Evans (Wellington) 3:31:88, 2; Chris Mancey (Queenstown) 3:44:15, 3; Nathan Timoko (Wellington) 3:50:08, 4; Kevin Warner (Hamilton) 3:51:86, 5.
Masters 2: Dave Hunt (Auckland) 4:03:02, 1; Kerry Halse (Auckland) 4:11:68, 2.