The 2010 UCI Mountainbike World Championships officially opened last night at a spectacular opening ceremony in Quebec City's Parliament Grounds last night. The stunning Parliament Buildings formed a beautiful backdrop for the teams' presentation and a huge crowd welcomed the 750 athletes from 32 countries to Canada on a balmy evening in the old quarters of the city. Competition began today, and New Zealand athletes were in action at the spectacular Mont Sainte Anne mountain bike venue in Quebec.
The Team Relay started the competition programme with a fiercely competitive tussle at the front of the field. With four riders cutting out a flying lap of the 4.8km course before tagging in their teammate, tactics were always going to play a part. The Czech Republic were early leaders, with Germany and France right in the hunt through to the last lap. France sent their fourth and last rider out for the final lap with a 55 second lead, but hadn’t counted on a superb finish from Switzerland who drove from sixth through to race lead and the Championship title.
The New Zealand Relay team were ready for a serious hit out in this first event, but lead out rider Mike Northcott (Tokoroa) twisted his chain towards the end of the first lap which jammed his drivetrain. Northcott couldn’t free the jam and scooted back to the start/finish line to tag in Bradley Hudson (Christchurch). Hudson made up places during his lap, bringing in Nicola Leary (Rotorua) and finally Carl Jones (Rotorua) for the final lap. While the New Zealand Team consolidated the ground that Hudson made, the damage had been done in that first lap, the team eventually finishing 16th.
The Junior (Under 19) Women's Championship race was next on the programme at 2pm, with Rotorua’s Alexa Peters as New Zealand’s representative in this event. With temperatures hitting 32 degrees and humidity hovering around 85% in this unseasonal Canadian East Coast heatwave, Peters struggled from the gun. A mid pack fall on the first lap had Peters hyperventilating with the effort and she couldn’t recover, withdrawing early. France’s Pauline Ferrand Prevot lead from the gun, and produced a composed display in the 3.5 lap race to take the first individual Championship title of the World Championship programme.
Downhill and Four Cross practice continued today for all categories, and New Zealand riders across the board are comfortable with their race courses and noticeably ramping up speed during their dial-in sessions.
The New Zealand MTB Team has however been rocked with a withdrawal that some competing nations will no doubt feel relieved about. Blenheim’s Richard Anderson has had to make the difficult decision to withdraw from his Friday Junior (Under 19) Men's race after being unable to shake the effects of a heavy training fall last weekend. Anderson is suffering from delayed concussion, and will have to return home after this World Championships event, satisfied that he has achieved and surpassed all his lead-up European campaign goals over the last three months, but without the World Championships podium he was on track to achieve. He is philosophical about future plans, and his hunger to continue his development to the highest world class level has not been diminished with this disappointing situation.
Thursday’s competition schedule will see Samara Sheppard (Rotorua) racing in the Under 23 Women's event. Sheppard is carrying great form into this race, and is relaxed, confident and determined to fight her race out at the front of the field.
Also on the programme tomorrow is the Downhill timed qualifying run at 1.30pm, with 13 New Zealand athletes competing, and the Four Cross qualifying run at 6pm, featuring Christchurch’s Daniel Franks.
Photos: Patrick Fallon