NZ MTB Cup riders were treated to a massive Fringed Hill Downhill course on Saturday, and a brutally fast Cross Country circuit on Sunday in the penultimate rounds of 2011's national mountain bike series. The 600m vertical drop Fringed Hill course on Nelson's backdrop had been eagerly anticipated by the NZ MTB Cup competitors for some time. In what is a rare opportunity to race on such a long course, the level of competition in all categories showed a quality and depth which represents the strength of this popular sport in New Zealand. Full results below.
Friday's practice day was tough - Trek World Racing's Justin Leov (Dunedin) summed up the approach needed for such a draining challenge: "Again it's super hot here, and there's dust a foot deep covering a lot of the steeper sections of the course. Arm pump was an issue today and managing energy tomorrow will be key. It's going to be a sketchy race run in these conditions and over five minutes for the winning time I'd say." Leov's prediction on time wasn't far off, but sub-five minute race run times became the revised target when six riders went quicker than that benchmark after their first opportunity to post seeding times against the clock.
Leov seeded quickest in Elite Men with times extremely tight given the massive race course, and Brook MacDonald (MS Evil, Napier) was nipping at his heels only fractions of a second off his pace. Leov backed his fast seeding time up in the race run, going three seconds quicker and holding off a pack of quality riders for the win. 2007 Junior World Championship Bronze medallist Matt Scoles (Cingolani Protone, Alexandra) rode to his best result of the season, second place, and 2009 Junior World Champion MacDonald was right in the mix again this week in third.
In the Elite Women's race, Harriet Harper (Santa Cruz, Nelson) couldn't convert her fast seeding time to a race win after failing to finish, with Emilie Siegenthaler (Scott 11, Switzerland) seizing the opportunity to win at this Nelson double header.
Junior U19 winner Reuben Olorenshaw (Nelson) impressed all weekend to crush his competition, and continues to show the kind of form through this series that may signal a big future in the sport. Seeding fifth quickest from all competitors, Olorenshaw raced to an overall sixth in his race run which deservedly placed him in the prize money pool among vastly more experienced Elite riders.
Peters and Hanlen Tame the Codgers Challenge
Sunday's Cross Country race day promised to showcase New Zealand's best on the Codgers Trail Network, just down the road from Saturday's Downhill venue. Being a UCI Category Two event meant riders were chasing valuable world ranking points, and the race course had been set to match the importance of the event; fast and hard.
Local age group riders turned out in good numbers for age group category racing on the morning race start, mixing it up with NZ MTB Cup series competitors. As an entree to the Elite/U23 and U19 afternoon race, it couldn't have been better with great racing across the board.
The Women's Elite/U23 race quickly turned into a tussle at the front between Karen Hanlen (Whakatane) and Fiona MacDermid (Palmerston North). Both were locked together during the early stages of the five lap event, but it was Hanlen who kept a level of unrelenting pressure on at the front to win by one minute. Nelson's Eloise Fry rode to a strong third after an early close contest with Katie O'Neill (Rotorua), who battled back from a broken rear wheel while in podium contention to ninth.
Dirk Peters (Santa Cruz, Rotorua) came to Nelson hungry to repeat his last Elite/U23 Category Two win from last month in Napier. But from the gun, he knew that Nelson's George Bennett was going to keep him honest. Bennett was having one last mountain bike race on his home tracks before heading off to join his US professional road cycling team, and he lead for the early stages of this race. Bennett couldn't shake the tenacious Peters however; "I put time into Dirk every lap on the climb, but he was right back on my tail in the descents before I knew what was going on. I just don't know how he did that but I couldn't hold him off." Peters made a decisive move on Bennett early on lap four, and charged away from that point to a comfortable win. It took a sprint finish to the line to separate Mike Northcott (Tokoroa) and Carl Jones (Whakatane) for third and fourth, and a quickly improving Brad Hudson (Christchurch) held off a stalking Kyle Wood (Timaru) for fifth.
The Nelson Category Two race saw the first appearance of Anton Cooper at the NZ MTB Cup this year. The Christchurch pocket rocket demolished his Under 19 competition in dominant style, while circulating close to the pace of Bennett and Peters.
The NZ MTB Cup now moves south to Christchurch this weekend (February 19/20) for the series final in both Downhill and Cross Country.