The six event 2011 Mountain Bike National Championships programme finished today with the Short Track Cross Country and Downhill races, both at Signal Hill, Dunedin. Slippery conditions which had caused major issues for racers during practice sessions had finally eased off by race day morning - the Signal Hill course drying just enough to take the unpredictable factor out of the picture. Seeding showed no real surprises, with form riders all at the top of the age group and Elite start lists for the 2pm race start.
In the feature Elite Men's race, Nathan Rankin (Monster Energy, Levin) had seeded poorly but put together a race run that looked to be competitive enough to take the title. Rankin's time held until 6th seed George Brannigan (from Havelock North, who will be racing 2011 with Stevie Smith on Devinci Global Racing) peeled nearly two seconds out of him to take the leader's hotseat. Five riders were still capable of going quicker than Brannigan - Rupert Chapman (Christchurch) couldn't improve on his 5th seed time; Matthew Scoles (Cingolani-Protone, Alexandra) went four seconds quicker than his seeding time but this was only good enough for 8th; Justin Leov (Trek World Racing, Dunedin) also improved but not enough; former Elite World Champion Gee Atherton (Commencal, Great Britain) crashed heavily in the top part of the course and couldn't finish, so the final starter and fastest seed Cameron Cole was the only rider who had a shot at beating Brannigan for the title. 2006 Junior World Champion Cole was composed, lightening fast and up to the task, stopping the clock at 2:58.13 - the only rider to race a sub 3 minute run to take the prized Elite National Championship title.
Cole's race run completed a busy domestic competitive race season for New Zealand's top mountain bikers, with many moving north to begin 2011 World Cup campaigns after competing at the Oceania Mountain Bike Championships March 17-20 in Shepparton, Australia.
Defending National Champion Harriet Harper (Santa Cruz, Nelson) won the Elite Women's race convincingly in Dunedin and in a time that had many of her male peers envious.
Harper and Cole will now proudly wear the stunning new Downhill National Champions jersey while racing overseas this year - displaying the New Zealand flag on their full right sleeves from shoulder to cuff as recognition of their titles.
Tension built through the age group categories in the lead-up to the Elite race as championship titles started to be delivered. A notable result going to Under 17 Men's winner Tom Burns, who seeded first and converted that advantage into a championship win, the Dunedin local finding enough pace to win by a staggering 10 seconds. The Under 19 Men's title was another that was highly sought after. Top seed Reuben Olorenshaw (Nelson) had a huge advantage up his sleeve going into the 2pm race, and while he didn't have his usual clean and composed result in terms of his final run, was still able to push hard enough to claim the win. The Nelson flier has now collected National Championship titles as an Under 15, Under 17 and now Under 19 rider - unprecedented in New Zealand's downhill results history.
Short Track Cross Country
One of the most popular of the three supporting events at the Champs, the STXC or dirt crit drew a fantastic men's field eager to duke it out on the 800m circuit in front of a raucous crowd of downhill racers and spectators.
Eleven racers took on the 20 minute, multi-lap sprint challenge, a field containing a mix of Under 17, Under 19 Juniors and seasoned Elite competitors. Tokoroa's Mike Northcott controlled the race from the front in the early stages, but the charging first year Under 19 Junior Anton Cooper (Christchurch) seemed to be biding his time, before finally attacking 15 minutes in. Cooper had the legs and the lungs to ride away from Northcott and the rest of the men's field to claim an utterly convincing title - his second National Championship win in two days. Hillclimb champion Tom Filmer (Nelson) gamely hung on for third place, behind an exhausted Northcott.
Always a specialty discipline, the Hillclimb event up Signal Hill from the Logan High School staging area drew a small but quality field to start the Championships programe off. In the Men's competition, the highly experienced Gavin McCarthy (Lower Hutt) clung onto to new mountain bike Junior bolter Tom Filmer (Nelson) for as long as he could up the steep Signal Hill course, but had no answer for the young rider who claimed first finisher honours as well as a Junior National Championship title with his 12 minute, 12 second climb. McCarthy had to be content with a Championship title in the Senior Men category, still no mean feat. In the Women's, Queenstown's Kate Fluker cleared out to win by over a minute from Raewyn Morrison, and was never threatened for her Championship title.
The popular Dual Slalom event took place at the summit of Signal Hill, under threatening skies and on a bike handling expert's course. Elimination heats in the Junior and Senior Men's categories were hotly contested with two very experienced riders claiming Championship honours. Reon Boe (Queenstown) dominated the Senior category triumphing over Dave du Plessis (Perth), while Daniel Franks (Christchurch) called on his vast BMX racing experience to better visiting Tahitian Bryan Beaufils in the Junior Men's final. Enough rain fell during the final heats to make a largely grass based dual slalom course treacherous and unpredictable, and both Boe and Franks displayed reactive bike handling prowess worthy of their wins.
The eliminator style four-up event took place on the Signal Hill course first utilised for the 2010 Oceania Championships 12 months ago. A great mix of Elite and Junior riders raced each other in the Open Men's race - with a final heat stacked with four riders capable of claiming the sought after Four Cross National Championship title. Number 1, 2, 3 and 5 seeds progressed through to the final round, with fastest qualifier Daniel Franks getting the all important jump out of the gate and to the first corner. However, Franks left an inside line barely open, and it was enough for Mat Walker (Kawerau) to make a pass that stuck right through to the finish line and the title. Reon Boe and Rupert Chapman (Christchurch) tussled for the third spot, with Boe doing enough to claim the 3rd place.
The small Open Women's field put on a fantastic display of competitive four cross racing. Fastest qualifier Veronique Sandler (Nelson) and Sophie Tyas (Auckland) were even right through the top 2/3rds of the race - with the lead changing several times as both Juniors tried to break away from each other. Wellington's Sarah Atkin was ready to pounce at the slightest opportunity, but it was Sandler who held her nerve to claim the Women's title.
Age group racing took place at 10.30am at the Forrester Park, multi lap race course. Form riders from the recently completed NZ MTB Cup were to the fore in winning the prized titles with rides of note again taking place in the Junior grades. Brothers Craig and Ben Oliver cleaned out the Under 17 Men's competition in style, while in the Under 15 Women's race Palmerston North's Kara MacDermid backed up her 2010 title with another in 2011, riding at a pace that turned heads.
The main event ran at 2pm with the Elite/Under 23 and Under 19 feature categories. Eagerly anticipated with all of New Zealand's top athletes on show, the quality level of racing didn't disappoint.
Under 19 star Anton Cooper was on a mission from the gun, and the Christchurch rider had a point to prove. Starting two minutes behind the Elite field, Cooper managed to work his way to being the lead rider on course by his fourth lap, a staggering feat considering the calibre of his peers. Cooper went on to win his Junior category by over five minutes leaving an impression that is sure to last for sometime, and which will also be a great lead-in to the upcoming Oceania Championships in Australia.
The Elite Women's race was an intriguing contest. Rabobank-Giant's Rosara Joseph (Christchurch) held a handy lead after her first lap, but NZ MTB Cup champion Karen Hanlen (Whakatane) worked her way onto Joseph's wheel after the second and looked to be relishing the ability to challenge. Joseph then cranked on the pressure, extending a lead over Hanlen which she held to the line and the Championship; title, a win the Beijing Olympian was proud to claim.
The Elite Men's race produced a result that had been five years in the making, Whakatane's Carl Jones has spent five years in the Elite category chasing this title, and he was the off the front leader from the first lap right to the line. Jones knew that Dirk Peters (Rotorua) was stalking him and his aggressive approach to protecting his slight lead was clearly evident. But Peters couldn't maintain contact, with Jones driving on to win the Championship title by a comfortable two minutes. Defending title holder Mike Northcott battled in the chase, and was able to gain some ground to claim third.