Downhill race day today (Sunday) was another fine, hot day on Mt Major. The NZ downhill contingent were well prepared and superbly focused, dedicating their Oceanias racing to friend and fellow competitor Dave Balderstone who tragically passed away on Monday. The first of the Oceania categories to take to the course were the Under 19 Women. No other Oceania athletes were racing this category, but Sarah Atkin (Wellington) and Sophie Tyas (Auckland) were targeting competitive times against the strong Elite Womens field. Atkin peeled a massive 16 seconds off her seeding time to easily win this Oceania title – a time that would remain the fastest womens time of the day after the Elite Womens race was completed. Tyas could take confidence from her 4th overall time as well, both young Kiwis doing the team and New Zealand proud with their performances. Amy Laird (Christchurch) made a return to racing at this event after an early season injury, finishing a reassuring 7th.
Daniel Franks (Christchurch) was the best of the mens Under 19 New Zealanders, holding top spot until the last few top seeded Australians hit the course. Franks eventually finished 4th, with current Australian World Champion Troy Brosnan taking the win by the slimmest of margins over compatriot Connor Fearon. The rest of the Under 19 Kiwis sufferred a range of mechanical issues – the Mt Major course reserving a subtle bite for the last racers at these Oceanias.
Three Kiwis led out the Elite mens race, after seeding poorly. World ranked number 8 Cam Cole (Christchurch) held the leaders hot seat after a messy run through the bulk of the mens field. Tom Mathews (Christchurch) joined Cole in the hot seat in the #2 position after an inspiring and ‘none too shabby’ run, but both riders were knocked back when the fastest seeds came through. NZ born Rhys Willemse won the coveted Oceania title for Australia with his first major title result, with Cole the best of the Kiwis in 4th and Mathews in 7th.
The Downhill race wrapped up the Oceanias mountain bike programme, with mixed success for the NZ Team. Shared honours in the Cross Country with fantastic podium results, a title to Rosara Joseph and an Olympic qualification spot for NZ; and Sarah Atkin’s storming performance in the Downhill the clear highlights of the three days racing. Oceania athletes now head back to NZ for some downtime before many prepare to travel to the northern hemisphere for the 2012 World Cup season, which begins in South Africa at the end of April.
Anton Cooper (Christchurch) raced to a sixth place in the Short Track Cross Country event in the centre of Shepparton on Saturday evening. Racing against a field of riders who represented Australia’s most experienced multi lap exponents, and giving away on average ten years to each, the 16 year old proudly held his own on the inner city race course. Mathew Waghorn (Palmerston North) also raced the mens event but was one of many who were lapped out close to the end of the 25 minute long feature. Earlier in the evening, Christchurch’s Craig Oliver raced to 4th in the supporting event, completing a successful campaign for the youngster on his first international outing.