The UCI Oceania Mountainbike Championships are on this weekend in Dunedin. Six Oceania titles are up for grabs, and a strong contingent of Australian and French Polynesian athletes will be in Dunedin trying to take these titles home.
Australia's travelling contingent of Cross Country racers will stretch New Zealands best multi-lap athletes for sure this weekend. Exceptionally strong in the Elite and Under 23 categories, the Australians won't settle for anything less than front of the field finishes. Lachlan Norris (Barkers Creek), Ben Henderson (Canberra), Adrian Jackson (Hawthorn) and Rowena Fry (South Launceston) lead the Elite charge, while Cal Britten (Bright), Paul van der Ploeg (Melbourne), Rebecca Henderson (Monash) and Therese Rhodes (Adelaide) do the same for the Under 23s. Nine Australian Under 19 athletes are also competing, but will face a dominant and hungry group of New Zealand Juniors led by Blenheim's recently crowned National Champion Richard Anderson. National Elite Champions Mike Northcott (Tokoroa) and Nic Leary (Rotorua) will not back down during their Saturday afternoon race, and will draw on every advantage gained from racing at this venue previously.
Mountainbike Australia (MTBA) are sending a downhill development squad to Oceanias this year together with the National Downhill coach, Chris Clarke and other support staff. Leading the Australian Downhill Team is 19 year old Rhys Willemse (Brisbane), a dual citizen of Australia and New Zealand and one of many athletes at this event riding for professional teams in Europe during the World Cup season. Willemse has raced in New Zealand before, and his entertaining riding style and outright pace fits well with his cross-Tasman peers. 17 year old Troy Brosnan (Adelaide) makes his first racing visit to New Zealand for Oceanias, and is touted as one of the most promising Australian Juniors emerging at the moment. However, both Willemse and Brosnan will be up against world class racers, and a field of race hardened Kiwis who will not want to let any title be taken back to Australia after this event. In the Elites Justin Leov (Dunedin) and National Champions Wyn Masters (New Plymouth), and George Brannigan (Hawkes Bay) in the Juniors are racing with finesse this summer, and must be considered favourites for the Mens Downhill titles. Harriet Harper (Blenheim) has some strong Australian competition in the form of Sarsha Huntington (Brisbane), but Harper is race fit and ready to compete this weekend. French Polynesia has also sent its National Champions to Dunedin for this event, and they could well be dark horses come race day - not a lot is known about their pace in a world class field and they could surprise when the dust settles.
Also mixing up the entry lists are seven Australians entered in Friday night's Four Cross event. The new Signal Hill Four Cross course is rated as one of the steepest courses put together for this type of event. Promising to be fast and exciting, the knock-out style four man heats under the Four Cross format always pulls the crowds, with action fast and furious. Ex-Kiwi James Pritchard (now Perth) returns to New Zealand for this event, and will also bring his characteristic loose and huge air jumping style to the Four Cross race. He can expect a tough time from his former New Zealand riding mates however!
This Continental Championship event is the only international level mountainbike event on NZ's calendar this year. In the flagship Cross Country, Downhill and Four Cross disciplines, added incentive for the Oceania athletes is an automatically qualified extra spot at the 2010 World Championships (Canada) for the winners of the Elite categories. All of NZ's top athletes will be competing in Hillclimb, Dual Slalom, Four Cross, Cross Country, Downhill, and Short Track Cross Country disciplines vying for these titles as well as valuable UCI ranking points.
Oceania Championships Events Schedule
Thursday March 18th has the Hillclimb and Dual Slalom events at Signal Hill, Dunedin (event base behind Logan High School) from 12.30pm.
Friday March 19th has Four Cross racing at Signal Hill, Dunedin (event base behind Logan High School) from 4pm.
Saturday March 20th has Cross Country racing at Forrester Park, Bethunes Gulley, Dunedin. Age group categories are on a 10.30am race start, and U19 Juniors and U23/Elite categories on a 2pm race start.
Sunday March 21st has Downhill racing at Signal Hill, Dunedin (event base behind Logan High School). Seeding starts at 11am, with the race run starting at 1.30pm
Sunday March 21st also has Short Track Cross Country racing at the Downhill event base at Signall Hill between 12.30pm and 1.30pm.