New Zealand will boast one of its strongest ever teams to contest the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Australia.

Cycling New Zealand and Mountain Bike New Zealand today confirmed a 29-strong team to compete at the world championships in Cairns from 5-10 September.

The team is led by former junior and under-23 world champion Anton Cooper and Sam Gaze, who will defend his under-23 world title at Cairns.

Cooper (Trek Factory Team), who scored his first elite World Cup podium in the Czech Republic recently, will be the only cross-country rider in the men’s elite competition while national champion Samara Sheppard will contest the elite women’s race.

Gaze (Specialized Racing Team) has also returned to top form after early season illness to finish second behind Cooper in the latest round of the Swiss Cup, pushing World and Olympic Champion Nino Shurter back to third.

The team sees the powerful contingent of downhill professionals led by world number 22 ranked George Brannigan and fellow Hawkes Bay professional Brook MacDonald, currently ranked 32nd.

There is also considerable reward for riders from the MTB National Performance Hub, established last year by Cycling New Zealand, with 11 of the squad selected for the world championships after impressive form in Europe to date this season.

Australia last staged the world championships in 2009 in Canberra while Cairns hosted the UCI World Cup in 2014 and 2016 at the famed Smithfield Regional Park just north of the city.

The New Zealand team is:

Cross-Country Male Elite: Anton Cooper (Canterbury, Trek Factory Racing XC).

Under 23: Sam Gaze (Cambridge, Specialised Racing), Ben Oliver (Canterbury, MTB National Performance Hub), Jack Compton (Wellington, Elios-Srsuntour Pro Team), Craig Oliver (Canterbury, MTB National Performance Hub).

Under 19: Eden Cruise (Wellington, MTB National Performance Hub), Taylor Johnston (Rotorua, MTB National Performance Hub), Cameron Jones (Nelson).

Female Elite: Samara Sheppard (Wellington).

Under 19: Jessica Manchester (Auckland, MTB National Performance Hub), Phoebe Young (Wanaka, MTB National Performance Hub), Liv Bishop (Blenheim).

Downhill Male: Elite: Sam Blenkinsop (Canterbury, Norco Factory Racing), George Brannigan (Queenstown, Commencal / Vallnord), Brook Macdonald (Napier, GT Factory Racing), Wyn Masters (New Plymouth, GT Factory Racing), Eddie Masters (New Plymouth, Bergamont Factory), Rupert Chapman (Canterbury, Pivot Factory Racing), Keegan Wright (Rotorua).

Junior: Liam Bethell (Auckland), Billy Meaclem (Canterbury, MTB National Performance Hub), Sam Robbie (Arrowtown, MTB National Performance Hub), Josh Oxenham (Auckland, MTB National Performance Hub), Charlie Makea (Napier, MTB National Performance Hub), Boaz Hebblethwaite (Canterbury), Nils Heiniger (Canterbury).

Female Elite: Alanna Columb (Queenstown), Sophie Tyas (Auckland).

Junior: Shania Rawson (Papamoa, MTB National Performance Hub).

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