Whakatane mother-of-two Karen Hanlen has been one of the revelations on the New Zealand sporting scene this year.
The 32-year-old, who bought her first mountain bike only two years ago, will cap off a remarkable year when she follows up last month's Olympic debut with the cross-country world championships in Austria this weekend.
Hanlen has climbed to 16th in the world for this weekend's race in Saalfelden and she hopes to put her newfound experiences to good use with a strong performance.
She had a two-week break to travel Britain with husband Mark and her two children after her 18th-placed finish at the Olympics, where she was slowed by a puncture mid-race "but I was hoping for better".
"The two weeks with my family was really exciting with some down time off the bike," said Hanlen.
"Now it has been back into full schedule and it seems to be going well. I am feeling good and training has been on track.
"Being part of the atmosphere at the Olympics was very exciting.
"The Games give you a lot of knowledge on how to prepare for a big event.
"With the help of BikeNZ, I learned lots of things on preparation which will help me for this weekend.
"Plus, just having that confidence is a big thing."
Hanlen has not raced since London but is happy with her training.
"I feel good. It is hard to know how I will go. I am healthy and I have no issues. There are a few bruises but otherwise my form seems good in training and we will see on race day."
She also believes the circuit in Austria will suit her.
"The track is good. I found it really good the other day. I had a wee issue with one of the rock features yesterday so now I am just trying to get my lines right and get my speed sorted. There are a lot of open uphill climbs which I really do like.
"I think riding smart is a good thing - I make sure I work to my strengths."
The start is a key area that Hanlen has worked on but that should be no problem this weekend.
"I am ranked number 16 on the second row, which is fantastic. I have no excuses for the start from the second row."
Toughest to beat will be the runaway Olympic champion Julie Bresset and the Canadians led by world champion Catharine Pendrel.
Also in the field is fellow Kiwi Rosara Joseph, who has recovered from a broken wrist which ended her Olympic hopes, with the Rabobank professional winning a lead-up race in the United States last week.
BikeNZ boasts a 10-strong racing team in Saalfelden this weekend - with the world championships split into two weekends with the downhill in nearby Leogang last weekend.
Hanlen and Joseph lead the way in the elite women's ranks with Rotorua-based Wellingtonian Samara Sheppard in the under-23s, after some outstanding results including a win this year in the World Cup circuit.
Rotorua's Dirk Peters, who gained plenty of experience racing in Europe earlier this year, will compete in the under-23 men alongside Wellington's Tom Bradshaw.
There is high hope for a rainbow jersey when Christchurch's Anton Cooper competes in the junior men's race.
Cooper, who races for Trek World Racing and attends Christchurch Boys' High School, was second in last year's world championships and is unbeaten in World Cup competition this year. He is joined in the junior race by Nigel McDowell (Rotorua), Tom Filmer (Nelson) and Sam Gaze (Cambridge).
How difficult is it to learn how to mountain bike?
Anyone can. I only got on a mountain bike two years ago and I got to the Olympics and ride in the world championships.
How did you go from being just a casual rider to top level?
There are always people who will help you. I did not make a conscious effort. It just evolved with some success. I asked around and there were lots of people who helped.
Is it still fun at the elite level?
Oh yes, riding is always fun. I wouldn't do it if it wasn't. It is something everyone can enjoy. Now we have cycle trails everywhere. I live right by mountain bike trails in the forests. We are blessed in New Zealand - and riding is just so easy and so much fun.
How do you start with the sport of MTB?
Just get a bike. I got my first one second hand. You don't need to spend a lot to start. And riding is mostly free. Just go out there and have fun, experience the outdoors and share it with friends.
You can always go to your local bike shop to buy a bike or take yours along to get it properly serviced first and get it set-up for you.
Go on the website to www.bikenz.org.nz and find out where your local club is.
That is a good start, too.
Do you have any tips for newcomers to the sport?
Learn to change a tyre.
Just ask your bike shop to show you. Keep off the roads for a starter - drive to a local mountain bike track or one of the bike trails.
Always wear a helmet. And enjoy.By Peter Thornton