Graeme Simpson: Downhill racing set to thrill all sprinters


Remember the last time there was mountain-bike racing at Skyline Skyrides on Mount Ngongotaha?

September 2006 and the UCI Mountain Bike and Trials World championships were in New Zealand, only the second time the event had been in the Southern Hemisphere, with more than 600 of the sport's best athletes from 39 countries. It was a magic week of racing with huge, raucous crowds and world-class action.

The courses on Ngongotaha were specially designed and built for the worlds and the 2005 and 2006 UCI Oceania Mountain Bike championships. It was the only way the UCI would agree to Rotorua hosting the event.

They required courses close to each other and with an established infrastructure of buildings and communications. With all the best will in the world, fulfilling these requirements in the Whakarewarewa Forest was impossible.

In the end, it all worked out just fine: the event was a major success. The international media spotlight shone on Rotorua as a major mountain-bike destination.

The riders here for the championships trained in and enjoyed the Whaka trail network. And talked about it a lot afterwards.

It was a good result all-round and an important step in the evolution of Rotorua mountain biking.

The racecourses were decommissioned after the worlds as they were all on private land. Apart from test runs and open days, there weren't many opportunities to ride them.

For most that was just a dream. Not anymore. As part of the first Rotorua Bike Festival, a section of the downhill course is being re-opened by Tak Mutu from Mountain Bike Rotorua and Descend Rotorua.

The Skyline Sprint Warrior will be raced from 6pm on Friday, February 15, with practice earlier in the afternoon as the second weekend of the festival clicks into gear.

Registration will be in town at the MoreFM Bike Expo in the Rotorua Convention Centre.

One thing is different to 2006. Back then, the cross-country featured a tortuous non-stop climb to the top of the gondola. The downhill course started much higher up the hill and riders were shuttled to the top.

In 2013 - it's gondola up, race down. The course will be suited to most trail bikes so it's not just for downhillers.

With the Mountain Bike National championships that weekend, there will be some stars of the sport entering the Sprint Warrior. You can, too. Don't miss this opportunity.

It's an exciting development and maybe, just maybe, something that will be opened all the time, to all-comers.

That would be another thing to add to the Rotorua cycling portfolio to attract riders to our city.

It is just 10 days until the Rotorua Bike Festival with a programme that really has something for almost everyone.

Mountain biking is probably the most prominent. That's not surprising with the way MTB has featured on the local event calendar for the past 10 years.

However, there are healthy road and BMX programmes. Events like The Redwoods Coast, Bike Speedway, MTB Orienteering, and the Festival Bike Parade are also your chance to get involved as a rider or a spectator.

Check out the full schedule on the festival website for more details and how to enter your favourites -


- Rotorua Daily Post

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