The second round of the NZ MTB Downhill Cup presented by Nature Valley was raced today in a damp and soggy, constantly changing Dunedin. Tough conditions have been the order of the two days of practice and competition for the 124 competitors on Signal Hill, with a broad range of weather and race course variables to add to the racing mix.
Photo by Andrew Bias
The contrast with last weekends series opener in Queenstown couldn’t have been any more different. Rain hit Dunedin for the first time in six weeks on Thursday night, creating a very slippery course for the start of practice Friday morning. And constant rain started to fall mid morning, not letting up until the small hours of Saturday morning. Practice was incredibly tough – the technically challenging, often off-chamber Signal Hill course creating an unwanted yardstick for survival. Race day this morning arrived with bluebird skies and an extended practice session helped to bed the track in and scrub the tenacious mud layer from race lines – by race run at 2.30pm the course was in great condition and riding fast, however threatening skies would come into play with race tactics and starting order as the afternoon progressed.
Age group categories raced the dry track while rain started to make its presence felt again, becoming quite heavy just as the Elite fields were preparing to take the start line. The Elite Women were the first group to really feel the slippery conditions, and again this week it was Sarah Atkin (Wellington) who showed fantastic adaptation to deal with the conditions and race to a time that would win her the race, and demolish the competition at the same time.
The Elite Men’s ranks were boosted this week with the addition of World Cup top ten regular Justin Leov (Dunedin) and former World Four Cross Champion Jared Graves (Australia), joining an already star studded field. 2007 Junior World Championship bronze medalist Mat Scoles (Alexandra) was the quickest seed in the earlier seeding run, and was last starter, with surprise package and second seed Bryn Dickerson (Wellington) away one before him. But the field had to be content with playing bridesmaid to Brook MacDonald (Napier), the 2009 Junior World Champion who put down a solid and what turned out to be unbeatable time from ninth seed. MacDonald was rightly very satisfied to win this one “its just great to be back winning again” all the comment needed to sum up his two days on Signal Hill. Putting down a clean run on the course was incredibly difficult considering the conditions, and a very vocal crowd was treated to some sublime riding from the top ten seeds in the Elite Mens field, in their chase after MacDonald’s time. Scoles would settle for second, with Kieran Bennett (Nelson) making a return to top three, and Dickerson not able to repeat his stellar seeding run, slipping to 11th. Leov raced well to make the top ten in his first race start this season, with his former World Cup teammate Graves not able to finish after a heavy crash at the top of the course. France’s Jerome Clementz was rewarded for an enjoyable month in NZ in his last race before returning to Europe, with a 7th.
In the age group categories Dunedin’s local riders fared very well, showing the benefits of some home track advantage. The McCombie brothers Josh and Dan claimed the U17 and U19 wins respectively, while Karitane’s Leighton Kirk shook off a disastrous seeding run to take the Senior Mens win in a time that was second fastest of the day. Kirk’s early race run from the front of the senior field held right through to the podium. The 30-39 Masters again showed blazing pace this weekend, with Nelson’s Derek Winwood turning the tables on teammate Jamie Nicoll for the win, in a top ten overall time.
The Downhill segment of the NZ MTB Cup continues next Friday and Saturday Jan 20/21st at Mt. Hutt with the third round, while the first round of the Cross Country part of the series takes place tomorrow at Signal Hill here in Dunedin. Weather will prove to be a major factor in the UCI Category One event for the Olympic format multi-lap racers, with a very tough climb and descent on Signal Hill extremely difficult to race fast in these conditions. But with valuable world ranking points up for gabs in the Elite Mens and Womens races, competiton will be fierce regardless of any further Dunedins variables thrown their way.
Photo via @Wyn Masters on Twitter
1 Brook MacDonald
2 Matthew Scoles
3 Kieran Bennett
4 Wyn Masters
5 Sam Baker
1 Sarah Atkin
2 Alanna Columb
3 Amy Liard
4 Vironique Sandler
5 Harriet Latchem