There is homegrown talent with world titles to their names lining up at the Rotorua Bike Festival in the heart of New Zealand’s North Island, starting on Friday February 14. The youngest is Sacha Earnest from Auckland who won the 7-year old category at the UCI BMX World Championships in her hometown in 2013.
Sacha will race in the BMX Rotorua Club meet on Saturday February 15, during the opening weekend of the festival. She'll be joined by her brother, Jake, who is the 5th ranked 8-year-old BMXer in the world. They don’t just ride BMX bikes. Along with Mum and Dad, Dion and Anna, they’re regulars on Rotorua’s renowned Whakarewarewa mountain bike trails.
On Friday, February 20 the whole family will compete in the Skyline Sprint Warrior. This is a gondola-accessed race on a tricky downhill course on Mount Ngongotaha. “Sacha and Jake may be little kids on little bikes, but from what we’ve seen they’ve got talent and skill to burn,” said Sprint Warrior organiser, Tak Mutu. “We think they might just give some of the grown-ups a tune-up.”
The opening weekend of the festival is headlined by the New Zealand National Mountain Bike Championships. The cross-country will feature Canterbury’s Anton Cooper, who won the Junior men's cross-country title at the 2012 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Austria. Anton will defend his New Zealand title in the Cross Country on Saturday February 15.
The next day, Brook MacDonald will defend his National Downhill title on the dramatic and demanding Taniwha trail. The popular rider from Hawke’s Bay is known as The Bulldog and won the Junior Men's World title at the UCI Mountain Bike Worlds in Canberra in 2009.
Another popular Kiwi rider, Cameron Cole from Christchurch, returns to competition in the downhill, after a big crash last year. Cole won the Junior Men’s Downhill title in front of a raucous home crowd when Rotorua hosted the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in 2006. "Rotorua has always been good to me and I rode there a lot when I lived in Hamilton and I won that Junior World Title there,” said Cole. “I love that downhill course and always look forward to going back to Rotorua and those tracks.”
Garth Weinberg is another local who won a world title in front of cheering home crowds. He is a Rotorua legend and a master of the one-geared mountain bike. He won the Singlespeed World Championships title and tattoo when Rotorua hosted the event in 2010. Weinberg will compete in the National Mountain Bike Championships.
“Garth will surprise a few people on geared bikes like he always does,” said Dave Donaldson, from the Bike Festival Trust. “He’s a great competitor and entered a whole range of festival events, last year, from Bike Speedway to MTB Adventure Quest and he also won the Shweeb World Championships.” The Shweeb is a pedal-powered pod slung under a monorail. It’s unique to Rotorua and so are the World Champs.
The oldest World Champion at the Festival is another Rotorua local who won his title in one of the toughest events on the international mountain bike calendar. John White is the reigning WEMBO 24 hour Solo World Champion in the 60 year-old plus category after taking the title in Canberra last year and will ride in the National Cross-Country Championships. “Like Garth, John will give a few younger riders a fright,” said Donaldson. “Much younger.”