Nelson turned on the heat and dry, dusty race conditions to deliver a tough Kaka Hill challenge for the fourth round of the RaboDirect NZ MTB Downhill Cup. The Hira Forest Downhill venue in the Maitai Valley is both feared and respected in equal measure by the sport's gravity racers, and a healthy field of New Zealand's best took on a contingent of international visitors on the Kaka Hill course.
Riders had their usual full day of practice on Saturday, before returning on Sunday morning for another short practice and to prepare for their single run against the clock. Both practice sessions were marred however, with injury to two of New Zealand's stars. Top U19 Junior Madeline Taylor (Hawkes Bay) crashed heavily after the Saturday lunch break, resulting in arm injuries which meant Sunday's main event was off the cards for her. Likewise Wyn Masters; the New Plymouth professional and star of the cult favourite WynTV had a serious crash on his last practice run which resulted in a badly broken arm. Masters' 2011 European World Cup season now becomes his revised target after injury rehabilitation.
Justin Leov (Trek World Racing, Dunedin) and Cameron Cole (Lapierre International, Christchurch) were racing their first Elite NZ MTB Cup events this weekend after the cancellation of Round Three in Rotorua last month. Both riders were looking for solid returns to race conditions, after having their usual post World Championships break. Both riders showed quickly that their pace was right on the money; Cole seeded quickest after spending some time dialling in his new ride; but it was Leov who nailed his race run to take the win by 1.5 seconds over good friend Cole. The rest of the Elite field was a step behind these two, with 2009 Junior World Champion Brook MacDonald claiming third, and 2007 Junior World Championship Bronze medallist Matt Scoles in fourth.
In the Women's Elite race, reigning National Champion Harriet Harper (Santa Cruz, Nelson) raced to a five-second win over Emilie Siegenthaler, who is racing in New Zealand this summer rather than deal with enforced time off the bike in her home country of Switzerland.
The U19 Junior Men's race was a cracker. This category is sure to be highly competitive right through the New Zealand domestic season, with several riders capable of owning each race. Nelson's Reuben Olorenshaw has been growing in confidence right through the 2011 season, racing at a level that has him consistently within the top ten Elite times. Olorenshaw delivered again today, not only winning by a healthy margin over Daniel Franks (Yeti, Christchurch) but pulling a time that had him 6th overall for the day.
In the Senior Men's race, Bryn Dickerson (Porirua) won his first major event in New Zealand after putting together a near perfect run. Dickerson has been threatening this kind of result for some time, after spending the New Zealand winters riding and racing in Canada, and he was rightfully delighted with his efforts.
The Downhill portion of the NZ MTB Cup remains in Nelson through this week, before taking on Round Five Friday 11th and Saturday 12th Feb on a new Fringed Hill race course. Cross Country racers return to the NZ MTB Cup this weekend in Nelson Sunday Feb 13th after three weeks off - the Cross Country Round Three is also a UCI Category Two event, with valuable international ranking points up for grabs.