Kiwi mountain bikers throng to Austria for UCI World Cup
The international mountain bike season bursts into life with the first combined round of the UCI Mercedes-Benz World Cup this weekend.
Eighteen New Zealand riders will be in action on the slopes of Leogang in Austria in both cross-country and downhill action, with the gravity gang making their first world cup appearance this year.
Anton Cooper (Trek Factory) comes in with two top-10 finishes in the opening world cups, along with an improving Sam Gaze (Alpecin-Fenix) in the men’s elite cross-country competition, with their race set for Sunday afternoon (Monday 12.50am NZT).
The cross-country course in Leogang is relatively new, having only made its debut at the 2020 World Championships. At 3.6km in length, it features two long main climbs, weaving into forest areas with the descents steep and challenging.
Cooper, ranked 24th in the world, qualifies for the opening short-track race which will determine the starting grid for the front three rows of the main race. The Christchurch rider has placed 11th and seventh in the two short track races in Germany and the Czech Republic last month.
There is a record 10 New Zealanders lining up in the men’s elite downhill competition led by national champion Sam Blenkinsop (Norco Factory), the Masters brothers Wyn (GT Factory) and Edward (Pivot Factory), the Hawkes Bay pair of Brook MacDonald (MS Mondraker) and George Brannigan (Propain Factory) and Queenstown-based Matthew Walker (Pivot Factory). They are joined by a quartet moving up to the elite ranks led by former junior world medallist Tuhotu-Ariki Pene and Finn Hawkesby-Browne (both with new USA team The Union), Sam Gale (Pivot Factory) and William MacDermid (YD Racing).
Outstanding teenage prospect Jessica Blewitt (YD Racing), who won the elite women’s national title this year following victory in the under-19 division last year, makes her World Cup debut in the elite women’s ranks.
There are five kiwis in the junior division led by former BMX star Lachlan Stevens-McNabb (YD Racing), who won the junior national title this year, fellow YD Racing brothers Alex and James MacDermid from Waikato along with Queenstown’s Toby Meek, son of Meekboyz Bikes founder Steve Meek.
The downhill racing is from 7.45pm on Saturday (NZ time) with the elite men starting at 11.30pm.
Leogang Bike Park is in Zell-am-See in the district of Salzburg, towards the western end of Austria and part of the Northern Limestone Alps.
Caption: Anton Cooper and a muddied Edward Masters in respective cross-country and downhill action at Leogang, in the 2020 world championships. (Photos: Robert Jones)