NZ MTB Cup riders raced the final rounds of the Downhill and Cross Country national series events in Christchurch over the weekend, at the Living Springs Farm Park in Governors Bay. New Zealand's crop of Elite world ranked top 25 riders weren't holding back at the final race of the NZ MTB Cup on Sunday, with the pressure on for both the event win and also the overall Cup titles. Whanganui's Sam Blenkinsop (Lapierre International) had taken a couple of weeks off the series, missing the previous two rounds in Nelson, but returned to competition in Christchurch in blistering form. Team mate Cameron Cole (Christchurch) had set the pace in seeding but the pressure ratcheted up for the race run, with Blenkinsop racing a clean and blisteringly fast run to claim the win.
George Brannigan (Havelock North, Ancillotti) had his best podium result of the series with a 2nd, and Justin Leov (Dunedin) 3rd. Leov was rushed all day; destroying a rear wheel in seeding, the Trek World Racing rider had barely enough time to repair the damage before needing to be at the start line for the race, and pulling out the 3rd was a bonus considering the lack of a seeding run to base that on. Fastest seeds Cam Cole and Brook MacDonald (Napier, MS Evil) couldn't post competitive times, Cole puncturing at the top of the course, and MacDonald having a nightmare first corner, missing a corner peg and losing so much time that he knew his run was effectively over.
Nelson's Harriet Harper (Santa Cruz) turned the tables on fastest Elite Women's seed Emilie Siegenthaler (Scott 11, Switzerland) to win in Christchurch, and the reigning National Champion looks to be holding the sort of form that will take her to next weekend's National Championships as the hot favourite.
The return of Rosara Joseph to New Zealand mountain bike competition after a four year absence studying in the UK was the highlight of the Cross Country race day on Saturday. Just signed with RaboBank-Giant for the 2011 World Cup season, Joseph was keen to get her wheels back on the dirt in New Zealand, and have a hit out against the strong Elite women's field who have been competing during this national series. Olympian Joseph showed her class with a comfortable 5 minute win over NZ MTB Cup champion Karen Hanlen (Whakatane), and wasn't seriously challenged once into the Living Springs singletrack on her first lap of five, riding the race out the front and in the clear.
The Men's Elite race provided an intriguing strategic contest. A group of five riders were tightly bunched together for the first three laps, with all of them biding their time and calculating when to make a move. However, the short fuse variable in this pack was Under 19 Junior Anton Cooper, on the same race start as the Elites and circulating at the front of the field with the leaders. Cooper decided to attack this group on the fourth lap, and split it apart dramatically while riding off the front himself. While Cooper went on to comfortably win his five lap Junior race, it left the Elites scrambling to recover some composure for the rest of theirs. National Champion Mike Northcott withdrew while circulating with the leaders, tired and saving his legs for next weekend's championship race. Whakatane's Carl Jones (Bergamont) took the initiative and the lead, and played a cat and mouse game with a fast closing Kyle Wood (Timaru), managing to barely hold him off for the win. Christchurch local rider Brad Hudson raced to his best series result, in 3rd.
Spectators and supporters were teated to some fantastic Under 17 Junior racing on the morning race start, with the Oliver brothers Craig and Ben dominating their competition - younger brother Craig claiming the winners honours on his home track.
Again this weekend, the Junior U19 race was something special to see. Reuben Olorenshaw (Nelson) showed a maturity coupled with the speed and composure worthy of his 7th fastest time of the day to bounce back from a seeding run down the order to win again this weekend. His challengers have been hot on his heels right through the NZ MTB Cup, but Olorenshaw has worked out the elusive formula of racing to win, also claiming the 2011 NZ MTB Cup title for his stellar season.
NZ MTB Cup riders now switch modes to a National Championship focus. Dunedin is host to this important event in 2011, and a six event schedule kicks off on Thursday February 24th with Dual Slalom and Hillclimb, Four Cross racing on Friday February 25th, Cross Country on Saturday February 26th, and Short Track Cross Country and Downhill racing on Sunday February 27th.