Blenkinsop flies his way to breakthrough Oceania downhill victory
Christchurch professional Sam Blenkinsop survived a huge scare on the super-slippery surface to claim his first downhill victory at the UCI Altherm Oceania Mountain Bike Championships in Dunedin today.
The NORCO Factory Team rider was one of six riders who had to re-start after a red flag late in the elite men’s run after a crash but the 29-year-old produced a stunning run to be fastest in 3:13.65.
While Blenkinsop has been consistently the top Kiwi performer at the world championships for more than a decade, he has never won an Oceania nor New Zealand title. He was fastest in the morning seeding run, with the 1.6km Signal Hill course made treacherous with rain overnight and throughout the morning.
Popular GT Factory professional Wyn Masters grabbed the hot seat with a 3:29.77 time after the racing was re-started, but that was eclipsed by visiting British rider Guy Gibbs, who was a guest competitor and not eligible for Oceania honours.
The penultimate rider, Wellington’s Bryn Dickerson, who won the Oceania downhill title in Queenstown two years ago, made a mistake in his run to leave Gibbs still in the hot seat, until Blenkinsop claimed the winning honours.
“I am happy to get through it, have no injuries and come away with the win. I’ve been close before but to get the win is great. It was also good training in these wet conditions because we can get them in the World Cup season,” Blenkinsop said.
”The re-start was harder because I was better at the top of the course in the first run. It was cleaner with the rain in that first run but with no rain in the re-run it had clogged up a bit.
“And when you are sitting around waiting, you have a few things in your head.
“I almost threw it away in the first corner when I hit a root and slide out. I had another huge moment at the bottom. My chest hit the seat and my legs were hanging out the back like Superman but somehow it worked. I don’t know how I rode it out but I must have got lucky.
“You can’t override this stuff. You have to be calm, almost not racing, keep your feet on the pedals and race cleanly.”
Blenkinsop has his new 29er bike available this week, a machine he has had a key hand in developing, to race at the national round in Christchurch before the national championships in Wanaka the following week.
“I’ve not won a national title either, so maybe I can get that one too and the jersey to wear overseas this year.”
The riders had to cope with light rain in the morning which gave way to reasonably solid precipitation which turned the course into a slippery and muddy test.
Despite the challenging conditions, the finals’ run was error-free for the field until Queenstown’s Jamie Lyall fell which affected the remaining riders, and brought out a red flag. The final six riders completed their laps and then headed back to the top of the course for their re-run.
Earlier West Auckland’s Virginia Armstrong took out the elite women’s title from Tauranga’s Shania Rawson.
In the age grades, Sam Robbie (Queenstown) won the under-19 men; Guy Johnston (Thames) the under-17 men and Patrick Duff (Methven) the under-15 with the women’s under-17 honours to Wellington’s Nikki Clarke.
There was widespread praise for both the cross-country and downhill tracks at Signal Hill, and the outstanding organisation from Mountain Biking Otago.
Female, elite: Virginia Armstrong (Auckland) 5:28.60, 1; Shania Rawson (Subway Performance Hub, Tauranga) 5:42.91, 2.
Under-17: Nikki Clarke (Wellington) 7:26.83, 1.
Sport: Sophie Tyas (Auckland) 5:59:05, 1.
Masters: Melissa Newell (Wanaka) 5:53.27, 1.
Male, elite: Sam Blenkinsop (Norco Factory, Christchurch) 3:13.65, 1; Guy Gibbs (Christchurch) 3:19.82, 2; Wyn Masters (New Plymouth) 3:29.77, 3; Gareth Burgess (Methven) 3:30.63, 4; Bryn Dickerson (Wellington) 3:31.74, 5.
Under-19: Sam Robbie (Queenstown) 3:30.29, 1; Josh Oxenham (Subway Performance Hub) 3:36.38, 2; Patrick Butler (Australia) 3:37.15, 3.
Under-17: Guy Johnston (Thames) 3:38.20, 1; Finn Hawkesby-Browne (Christchurch) 3:41.91, 2; Alex Barke (Queenstown) 3:44.40, 3.
Under-15: Patrick Duff (Methven) 4:35.42, 1; Toby Meek (Dunedin) 4:38.22, 2; Matthew Dale (Porirua) 5:05.30, 3.
Sport: Reece Potter (Queenstown) 3:25.13, 1; Tom Matthews (Christchurch) 3:53.21, 2; Albert Snep (Wellington) 4:10.38, 3.
Masters: Daniel Gannaway (Auckland) 5:45.08, 1; Brendan Clarke (Wellington) 6:30.69, 2.
Tandem: Jackson Green, Rose Green (Christchurch) 6:31.74, 1.
CAPTION: Sam Blenkinsop in action during the downhill competition at the UCI Altherm Oceania Mountain Bike Championships in Dunedin.