Champions to defend titles at home in Torpedo7 Mountain Bike Nationals
Photo: Cam McKenzie
Two champion Christchurch riders will be looking to retain their titles this weekend on home turf at the Torpedo7 Mountain Bike National Championships.
Anton Cooper and Sam Blenkinsop, both proven professionals on global teams, are among more than 300 riders who will compete in the two-day event comprising cross-country racing at Crocodile Mountain Bike Park in Halswell on Saturday and the Design Windows Downhill at the nearby Christchurch Adventure Park on Sunday.
Cooper, who rides for the Trek Factory team, and ranked 22nd in the world in the last full year in 2019, will be chasing his seventh elite title over cross-country on Saturday.
Meanwhile Blenkinsop, who has seven top-10 finishes in downhill at world championships dating back to 2007, will defend his first national title in downhill on Sunday.
The pair are proud that Christchurch will host the national championships for the first time in over 20 years, and are hoping that home course knowledge will prove helpful.
“It will take a few laps to spread the field. The climbs are shorter and punchier – they are not too steep but high speed and a lot of on-off,” said Cooper. “There are no extended efforts in the red zone but that it will creep up on you bit by bit. There is not a high-power demand but there is a high heart rate demand.”
While he has won the last four elite titles in succession, Cooper is not taking things for granted.
“National championships is race that is important to me and it is a race I make sure I turn up in half decent form as well. I want to walk away with that jersey.
“It will be a building race to the World Cups and hopefully on to the Olympics in July.”
Key competition will come from fellow North Canterbury mountain bike star Ben Oliver, fourth at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and has been in strong form in road races over summer.
Last year’s under-23 winner James Burnett from Southland is another who has been strong in road racing, while there will be strong competition from podium placegetters last year in Cameron Jones (Nelson) and Sam Shaw (Rotorua). Burnett and Jones are again expected to duel it out for the under-23 honours, run in conjunction with the elite race.
Nelson’s Josie Wilcox will defend her elite women’s title, coming up against the multi-talented Kate McIlroy and former national road representative, Reta Trotman.
Watch for last year’s junior winner Sammie Maxwell (Taupo), moving to the under-23 division.
There is racing for riders from under-15 grade through to Masters starting at 8.15am with the elite and under-23 women from 1pm and elite and under-23 men from 3pm.
Blenkinsop, who was on the podium six times going back to 2009, was delighted to breakthrough last year in a double win with the Oceania honours on the same weekend in Dunedin.
But the coronavirus meant he did not have the opportunity to sport his national colours on his racing shirt in the World Cups in Europe and USA.
“I was a bit gutted not to wear the New Zealand flag on my sleeve in the World Cup races so I will just need to go out and win it again,” said Blenkinsop, the Norco Factory Team rider.
“This is my 17th year as a professional but last year I have been at home for the first time. It is cool to have the nationals here in my own backyard, on a course I race on a lot, so it is going to be a good one.
“The track is loose, dusty and technical. It is easy to crash on and hard to go fast on. You have to be very precise and not over-ride it
“My passion is to ride my mountain bike fast and go racing. It is something I have always loved doing. If anything, the hunger has got stronger. And having this new downhill bike that I have helped develop, gets me more excited.”
Blenkinsop is one of five national champions in the field including the return of 2013 and 2019 winner Brook MacDonald, who made a spectacular recovery after a life-threatening crash in 2019.
Other former champions include Taranaki’s Ed Masters (2018), Napier’s George Brannigan (2014, 2015), and Nelson’s Kieran Burnett, who won the title on home turf 14 years ago.
A late withdrawal has come from 2019 junior world medallist Tuhoto-Ariki Pene (Paengaroa) who has suffered a hand injury but there will also be interest in the efforts of Wellington’s Bryn Dickerson and Napier’s Charlie Makea.
With none of last year’s podium competing, the women’s elite honours are up for grabs with contenders including last year’s junior winner Jessica Blewitt (Queenstown), who was faster than all the elites last year, and third placed Caitlin Titheridge (Mid Canterbury).
Last year’s runner-up Guy Johnson (Thames) and third placed Riley Adlam (Queenstown) will be the riders to beat in the junior men, while last year’s second placed Kalani Muirhead (Wanaka) and Jenna Hastings (Rotorua) will be contenders in the junior women.
There is racing for under-15s through to Masters and Sport classes at the Christchurch Adventure Park on Sunday with seeding runs from 12noon and racing from 2.30pm.