The fourth downhill round of the NZ MTB Cup (presented by Nature Valley) was raced today in Rotorua, with the Whakarewarewa Forest throwing some surprises into the racing mix over the weekend. A hot, dry practice day on Saturday was followed by heavy overnight rain, and a slowly drying course for race day. Threatening skies thankfully held off for racing today, and competition was incredibly close across all categories.
None more so than in the Elite Mens race. Former Junior World Champion Brook MacDonald made his return the NZ Cup this weekend after a fortnights testing of his new World Cup team bike, and MacDonald was expected to pilot the French machine to success quickly. He seeded first and the signs were ominous for the rest of his competition. But Kawerau’s Matt Walker wasn’t paying any attention to pre-race form or the challenge competing against a brace of NZ’s best World Cup racers presented. Walker, often touted as the younger brother of BMX superstar Sarah, and more recently known as a Four Cross specialist, emerged today with a breakthrough domestic win to finally prove himself as a downhill racer who can foot it with the best. As successive Elite starters dropped the quickest time by slim margins, the suspense built as the start list dwindled down to last man on the hill MacDonald. Walker threw down a stunning 2 minute 56.70 second run from third seed, and only Matt Scoles (Alexandra) and MacDonald could possibly beat that – neither was able to shave those crucial seconds to take the win, and Matt Walker proudly took the top step of the podium at a national level downhill race for the first time.
The Womens Elite race was a fascinating contest. Although a small field, the presence of former NZ reps Gabby Molloy (Rotorua) and Madeline Taylor (Napier) at a NZ Cup race for the first time this summer presented Cup leader Sarah Atkin (Lower Hutt) with a level of competition that firmly fit into the ‘dark horse’ category. Molloy challenged first, seeding quickest of the ladies. But Atkin, just like she did at the recent National Championships kept her cool, upped her game and pace and peeled seven seconds off her seeding time to win again. Atkin is still unbeaten this summer, and with building confidence and composure at every race looks to have found the kind of speed to kick on for the rest of the domestic season.
In age group categories, Louis Hamilton (Rotorua) delivered on his home track to win the U19 Mens race. In a national level category where regular wins have eluded the talented Hamilton, today he stamped his authority on his competition to take a massive five second win over riding mates and Rotorua riders Jake Robinson and Lawrence Cawte.
The U17 Mens race bought a new face to the top step of the podium. Izac Anderson from the Hawkes Bay won today in his debut national level start, ahead of seasoned riders who have been honing their race craft throughout the south island leg of the cup. With the speed Anderson showed today, it is highly likely not the last time he will be seen circulating at the head of this category.
The event proved to be a successful shakedown for hosts the Rotorua MTB Club for the March 9-11 Oceania MTB Championships. The nature and challenge of the downhill course was extremely popular with all who raced today and will provide a fantastic platform for the Oceania event, with the quality of competition rising to a continental level.
The NZ MTB Cup continues next weekend in Wellington with a double header event – the fifth round of the downhill taking place at Long Gulley Fri/Sat Feb17/18, with the third round of the cross country being held on Mt Victoria on Sunday Feb 19.