As the dust settles (and mud dries) on a hectic autumn period of racing, clear contenders have emerged for the recently relaunched NZ MTB Crown national series.
As the traditional winter pause in racing action looms, athletes will be training and preparing with a renewed focus. The incentive of an NZ Crown title, the first national series available in recent memory, is driving many of New Zealand’s best performing MTB athletes to produce their best throughout the year.
Whilst the NZ Crown offers both Endurance (XC) and Gravity (Enduro) titles, it is the endurance side where the early intrigue has been. With 6 of 9 events now complete, the contenders have begun to separate themselves from the field.
On the women's side, the premier Open category has highlighted the value of strong consistent results. The events to date have showcased dominant rides by standout riders such as Kate McIlroy, Olympic bound Michelle Vorster, and former national champion Sonia Foote. However it is Rotorua’s Amy Haddon who has taken a stranglehold on the series.
Her win in the T42, backed up by consistent points scoring across the series, have seen her build a solid 300 point lead over Anita Goodman, whose own consistency has in turn built a strong lead on 3rdplace Gabby Buchanan.
On the contrary, the U19 women's category couldn’t be closer. Currently led by Whakatane’s Amy Humpherson and Wellington’s Lara Comesky, 5 riders are separated by a mere 70 points. With both Zoe Christie and Emma Clipstone posed to pounce, this battle will go down to the wire.
Rotorua’s Sonia Foote has emerged as the favourite for the Masters title. A course record at Karapoti (on route to 4thoverall), and an overall victory at the Craters Classic have cemented her at the top of the standings. A position she will look to strengthen further at the upcoming Forest Festival Winter MTB Classic
For the men, while clear favourites have emerged, most categories are poised to go down to the wire when the series wraps up with the “Taniwha” event in November.
Vet (50+) men is the only category where things appear to be all but wrapped up. Hawkes Bay’s Kent Wilson has been on a tear, building an almost unassailable lead over Shaun Portegys. A near perfect score of 2450 points means Wilson can wrap up the title with a steady ride in August’s Winter Classic.
The Open men are led by Hawkes Bay’s Phil Murphy. Consistent top 5 performances have seen him firmly established as the NZ Crown leader. Cemented by a huge effort completing the T42, and Karapoti double header in one weekend, finishing top 5 in both. Building a healthy 210 point lead on young Auckland standout Matthew Wilson.
However Wilson has been the dominant domestic rider in recent months, reeling off a string of victories across the Highlander, T42, and Craters Classic. If he can keep his form going, and keep chipping away at Murphy’s lead, it will all come down to who can conquer the Taniwha.
U19 men features an intriguing battle between friends and training partners Charlie Millington (Rotorua) and James Officer (Taupo). They opened their respective NZ Crown accounts with victory at the Prospector where they rode as teammates. Since then they have battled consistently, with Millington opening up a narrow 100 point lead over Officer. As athlete’s who know each other's strengths (and weaknesses) inside out, theirs will be a battle to watch.
As will the fight for Master’s glory. Whilst Auckland’s Stuart Holder has banked consistently strong rides to sit atop the rankings, he has only the slimmest margin for error as singlespeed legend Garth Weinberg hunts him down. Regularly at the sharp end of any field, Weinberg’s performance at the Craters Classic saw him close to a mere 30 points behind Holder. And neither can afford a slip up, as well performed Hamilton rider Shane Vincent lurks well within striking distance in 3rd.
All eyes will now turn to Rotorua on August 8th, and the Winter Classic, when we’ll see if the early standouts will cement their standing. Or whether surprises will emerge from the field?
For further information, and to check the standings, check out https://nzcrown.co.nz/main_page