Waghorn Survives the Eliminator; Leov Doubles Title Haul
The RaboDirect NZ Mountainbike Championships finished today with the Cross Country Eliminator and Downhill events contested on the slopes of Fringed Hill in the Brook Valley, Nelson. The hot, windy weather continued and the sunshine heralded new National Champions in two very tough cycling disciplines - one new and one well established.
The Cross Country Eliminator (XCE) drew 16 competitors for its first showing on the national circuit. A mix of Junior U17, U19 and Elite athletes took the challenge during a midday break in the downhill schedule. Raced on a short 500m long course around and through the event village, the knock-out style competiton, where four man heats delivered first and second placed riders through to the next round (while 3rd and 4th were eliminated) had a huge crowd lining the course and urging riders through their heats. The crucial part of each lap proved to be the short gravel track climb, and in the early heats the only clear favourite seemed to be Anton Cooper (Woodend) with his explosive power off the start line. The final four riders were Cooper, Mathew Waghorn (Palmerston North), Craig Oliver (Christchurch) and Harley Going (Whangarei). Off the line it was an elbow to elbox wrestle between Waghorn and Cooper going into the short climb, with Waghorn able to leverage just enough advantage to turn through the top of the course in the front. Despite a massive sprint from Cooper, Waghorn won the inaugural XCE national championship title by half a wheel. Oliver kept his nerve from a charging Harley Going to win the bronze medal.
The Downhill event drew a huge crowd, with a win on the Fringed Hill course considered one of the ultimate prizes in NZ downhill racing. Right through the lead-up age group categories, the form riders from the early part of the NZ MTB Cup seemed to hold advantages over their chasing rivals. Two Nelson riders who hadn't yet made NZ Cup appearances upset the form book by winning their categories - Hayden McKay in the 30-39 Master Men, and Tania Carson in the Open Women. McKay's win giving him back to back championship titles in this very competitive category. Another Nelson rider, Leo Sandler in his first year in the Junior U19's won the gold, and in a stunning time that placed him within the top ten Elite times.
But it was the Elite contest that captivated the Fringed Hill crowd. Multi-time National Champion Harriet Harper (Nelson) held the fastest seeding time in this category by a mile, but had to settle for second place today after a truly inspired race by Sarah Atkin. Any doubt that the young Lower Hutt downhill exponent could foot it with Harper (the fastest female rider in NZ over recent years) was put to rest with her National Championship title today. The Mens Elite race was incredibly close. Matt Walker (Kawerau) attacked from an early start position to lead for some time before Bryn Dickerson (Wellington) unseated him from the top of the leaderboard. NZ based amateur Dickerson put the bike down on the last corner as well, loosing valuable seconds which he would rue while nervously watching the last starters come to the line one by one. George Brannigan (Havelock North) snuck past Dickerson, but Justin Leov confirmed his liking and success history with Nelson race courses to win by just over a second. The Downhill National Championship win made it two titles for Leov for the weekend, joining his Super D gold from Friday night. Leov and Atkin will now proudly wear their race jerseys this year on the world stage with right sleeves constructed as a NZ flag, the internationally recognised downhill National Champions identification.
The Downhill medallists presentation wrapped up a busy weekend for NZ's top mountainbikers in Nelson. Quality fields in all categories were an absolute highlight, and all title winners were justly deserved. The NZ MTB Cup resumes for Downhill riders in Rotorua Feb 11/12th, and for Cross Country riders in Wellington Feb 19th.
Full Results Cross Country Eliminator
XCE photos courtesy Shuttersport
Full Results Downhill
DH photos courtesy Shuttersport