Mountain Biking: Trail to Worlds long and rocky

By Graeme Simpson

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Rotorua's Carl Jones was among the riders who competed in the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Rotorua in 2006.
Rotorua's Carl Jones was among the riders who competed in the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Rotorua in 2006.

OCTOBER 7, 2003: The UCI issues a "communique de presse" after the management board meets in Hamilton, Canada, in the heat of the 2003 Road World Cycling Championships.

It lists the venues for a range of UCI World Championships over the next few years, including "MTB 2006: Rotorua (NZL)".

It is simple and to the point. However, winning the worlds was far from straightforward.

The trail to it was rough and the successful bid was a case of third time lucky for Rotorua and fourth for New Zealand.

It got complicated at times with some surprises, back room dealing and politics along the way. One thing is certain: It's an important story, because mountain biking in Rotorua and New Zealand would never be the same.

It began in 1997. A successful UCI World Cup round in Wellington proved Kiwis could run a world-class event on this scale. Organisers Arthur Klap and Simon Kennett, started a bid to run a full World Championships.

For a long list of reasons it never found the wheels, although both Klap and Kennett would be key components of the 2006 management team.

Rotorua's interest in a major UCI event began with a conversation in January 2000 between
Rotorua Mountain Bike president, Dave Donaldson and Dave Judson, UCI International Commissaire and president of NZMBA (forerunner of MTBNZ).

The initial plan was to pitch for the UCI Masters Worlds. Judson thought Rotorua's all-weather trails and tourist attractions would make a perfect venue.

However, Bromont in Canada was contracted to run the Masters for several years. So a bid for the 2003 World Champs was submitted in mid-2001, with support from Oscar Nathan from Tourism Rotorua and mayor Grahame Hall.

Ben Monroe from the UCI visited to assess the proposed venue and courses in the Whakarewarewa Forest trail network. He liked the trails, but was worried about infrastructure and made his feelings clear. It was a surprise and a hiccup.

Sir Howard Morrison was involved in hosting Monroe and jumped in to tell him there was a big mountain over the other side of town.

Next stop, Mt Ngongotaha. The groundwork for that venue hadn't been done but Monroe liked the elevation and the facilities at Skyline.

If Rotorua wanted to host the event it was clear Ngongotaha was the only option.

The UCI's response to the proposal was encouraging. It was suggested to Donaldson that he might want to attend the 2001 Worlds in Vail, Colorado, to lobby for Rotorua. It was the first indication that succeeding with the UCI meant fronting up.

So Dave and his wife Shreeve flew to Colorado. Five days later the Twin Towers were levelled and the world changed, but the Worlds went ahead.

In the bidding process, Rotorua was up against Les Gets in France. UCI President Hein Verbruggen couldn't make it to Vail after 9/11, so Daniel Baal of France was the senior UCI official.

"You could say the writing was on the wall," said Donaldson, with just a hint of a sigh.
Welcome to the sometimes murky world of international sport.

Round 1 to France.

Next week: Round 2, the bidding continues.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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