2016 was an interesting season for New Zealand’s World Cup downhillers. Both the juniors and elites showed a lot of promise in their respective fields, but were dogged by mechanicals, crashes and injuries. Despite the setbacks, there was consistently a NZ elite in the top ten, with moments where as many as three kiwis made it into the same bracket. Hence the stage was set for the final World Cup in Andorra and World Champs in Val di Sole.
Surrounded by a towering mountain range, the track in Andorra was not lacking in views and sent its riders straight down a mountain into the town of La Massana below. A rough and physical course, it was incredibly dusty throughout the week, and was only relieved at the last minute by a torrential thunderstorm during elite finals. The track was a rider favourite, and punished many in its steep and loose bottom sector.
The junior field had a good day out racing, with Cole Lucas taking a 10th in the Junior Men’s and Shania Rawson taking a 4th in Junior Women’s. Rupert Chapman led the charge in the elite’s category with a 29th, continuing to show his form from throughout the season. Eddie Masters had an incredible run with his first three split times inside the top 5. Sadly he crashed on a steep bridge in the lower section of the course and had to settle for 52nd. Sam Blenkinsop was looking on track for another solid result before a crash of insane proportions left him in hospital with a bruised lung.
World Champs was no exception to the rule, with many of the New Zealand elites struggling. Set high in the Dolomites, the track’s location was nothing short of epic. The track was incredibly dusty again, with a loose surface that soon blew away in practice to reveal the true monster beneath. By the time finals rolled around, the course was a maze of sniper roots and rocks hidden beneath a foot of dust in places. George Brannigan put in the best result of the day with a 13th, after a similar performance in the timed session. Wyn Masters put his injuries behind him to take a 25th, describing the track as possibly the hardest dry race he had ever competed in.
Brook MacDonald couldn’t back up his impressive seeding time and slipped to 29th after finals. On the junior side of the racing, nearly every junior had a mistake or mechanical. Shania Rawson slipped back to 4th with a crash after seeding 1st in the Junior Women. This was an unfortunate end to her European campaign but one she will surely improve on next year in Cairns. In the Junior Men it was Simon Read that came in first, with a 32nd place showing the luck of the juniors at Worlds. Cole Lucas followed it up with a 37th after crashing hard in his race run. Oscar Perks made a name for himself with an impressive crash in seeding, but crashed again in his race run and had to settle for a result he wasn’t pleased with.
With a strong junior contingent coming through the ranks, hopefully next year will see less mishaps and more podiums. While news of a cancelled national series threatened to slow progress for New Zealand downhill, it is great to see a new initiative from New Zealand clubs with a 6-round national summer series being organised at the last minute for 2017. With the Wairoa Gorge and Christchurch Adventure Park opening to the public at the end of the year, there has never been a better time to be a mountain bike racer in New Zealand and over the next few years it will be impressive to see the huge pool of talent that will surely develop amongst the juniors in New Zealand.
A bit about the author – Ben Karalus
I’m 18 years of age, and have lived in Nelson for my whole life. However, during the academic year you’ll find me in Christchurch trying to balance my engineering studies with riding and racing. I also like to try my hand at taking photos and will often be seen swinging a camera round after a race run.
Earlier in the year I was lucky enough to be selected in the New Zealand Junior World Championships team to travel over and race at the UCI World Champs in Val Di Sole. I also took this opportunity to race a World Cup in Andorra, the week before World Champs. During qualifying in Andorra I was held up by a slower rider for the last quarter of the track. Unfortunately I finished 2 seconds outside the qualifying time and didn’t make the cut for race day. Instead I took photos during finals with a media bib sourced from Eddie (actually on behalf of all the Kiwis, thanks Eddie and the rest of the Bergamont guys for your support). At World Champs my derailleur fell off and got wrapped around my chain stay near the top of my run, but I made it down into 46th. Not the best way to end an overseas trip but regardless it was an incredible experience!