Hawke's Bay rider George Brannigan, recovered from recent injuries, produced his best run of the season to qualify third fastest in the final round of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in Norway on Saturday.
The 20-year-old DeVinci Global rider, who suffered cracked ribs from a crash last month, showed a distinct liking for the challenging downhill track at the alpine setting of Hafjell, near Lillehammer.
It proved an outstanding day for New Zealand riders, with a record eight Kiwis through to the final day of world cup action for the season.
There was a poignant performance from 19 year old Reece Potter, from Golden Bay, who qualified 25th overall and second junior for his first World Cup final. He is riding the innovative Zerode bike, designed by Kiwis Rob Metz and the late James Dodds, who was farewelled by mountain bike friends in Rotorua this week after he died in a hunting accident.
Brannigan's DeVinci Global teammate Steve Smith (CAN) was fastest ahead of Sweden's Robin Wallner and Brannigan.
"George seems to be fit and injury free now," said fellow kiwi rider Cameron Cole, who qualified 18th.
"He has been on the brink of a result like this all year but we have not seen this yet in a world cup final. The track is tricky but maybe tomorrow will be his day."
Cole (Christchurch) was 18th ahead of his Lapierre International teammate Sam Blenkinsop (Wanganui) with Potter 25th, Richard Leacock (Wellington) 39th with world No 8-ranked Brook MacDonald (MS Mondraker, Hawke's Bay) 49th after a crash in the second section.
MacDonald, who won the previous round in Val D'Isere, has an uncompromising approach and is prepared to push to the absolute limit, and sometimes beyond.
Wellington's Bryn Dickerson was the only Kiwi to miss qualifying, and only just, finishing eight spots outside the cut.
There was also good news in the women's ranks with both Kiwis qualifying for the first time. Auckland's Sophiemarie Bethell qualified 18th and Nelson's Veronique Sandler grabbed the 20th and final spot for last night's final.
Cole said practice was a trying time:
"The track was really difficult today. It was wet in the morning but had more traction than yesterday when it was not as wet.
"The sun came out between practice and qualifying and it had dried out a lot by 3pm when the men started. The times were all over the place," he said.
"There were guys that were super fast over the big jumps at the top but not so quick at the bottom due to mistakes, and others the opposite.
"There are two treacherous sections which are hard to hold your line. I got pushed off line and was very wide, nearly off the track. That cost me a couple of seconds," Cole said.