Cycling: NZ mountain bike stars on move to new teams

By Peter Thornton

Brook MacDonald had a breakthrough victory in the 2012 World Cup round in France. Photo / Marius Maasewerd
Brook MacDonald had a breakthrough victory in the 2012 World Cup round in France. Photo / Marius Maasewerd

New Zealand's international mountain bike stars have not been letting the grass grow beneath their feet over the summer.

Virtually all of the world-class ranked riders are moving to new teams for the 2013 season to set up an exciting year ahead, starting with the BikeNZ national championships in Rotorua next weekend.

The championship for cross-country is on February 16 and downhill on February 17. It's part of the first Rotorua Bike Festival, encompassing a raft of different bike events for all levels.

Leading the change for Kiwi mountain bikers is world junior champion Anton Cooper who has moved to the Cannondale Factory Team for 2013.

The Christchurch teenager signed for the new team late last year and is preparing for his first full season on the UCI World Cup scene in the under-23 division.

Meanwhile, members of the gravity brigade have all been looking for greener pastures.

Christchurch-based Cameron Cole, the 2006 downhill world champion, lines up for Yeti Cycles. Cole, 11th overall on the UCI World Cup last year, recently signed a two-year deal with US-based Yeti Cycles.

"It's a great opportunity and I am excited. They have bikes that will definitely [suit] me and have a record of success," Cole said. "We have had a couple of Kiwi riders with Yeti in the past and they have spoken highly about the team and the equipment."

Also on the move are Hawkes Bay downhill riders Brook MacDonald and George Brannigan, who will pair on the world stage this year for Trek World Racing. The pair will join fellow New Zealander Justin Leov who, while officially retired from the downhill world series, will contest selected rounds as well as the new world series for enduro this year.

The pair both finished in the top-10 on the UCI World Cup rankings last year, with MacDonald seventh and Brannigan 10th.

MacDonald, 21, enjoyed a breakthrough victory in the 2012 World Cup round at Val d'Isere in France - his fourth World Cup podium - and was eighth in the world championship. The 2009 junior world champion is excited about the move, signing for three years.

Brannigan, 20, who rode for Devinci Global for the past two years, earned his first World Cup podium in the final round in Norway after bouncing back from serious injury during the season.

"I'm so excited to be a part of Trek World Racing," Brannigan said. "This feels like the opportunity I need to improve my results and still be consistent. I know any team run by 23 Degrees has produced real talent and I want to make the most of this opportunity to get where I want to be.

"The group of team mates will be great and I'm sure the support will be top notch. I can't wait for this season."

Leov had announced his retirement after a decade at the top of the sport on the world scene in downhill racing.

However, Trek World Racing boss Martin Whiteley lured the 28-year-old Leov back to take on the new enduro world series.

The only New Zealander to stay put this year is Wanganui's Sam Blenkinsop, who will again turn out for Lapierre International.

Meanwhile, leading female cross-country rider Samara Sheppard has signed for new UCI trade team Toka Print Mountain Bike in Europe this year. Sheppard, who moves to the elite ranks of the UCI World Cup this year, is the only non-European rider in the big team which will be based in Belgium.

The Wellington rider will be joined on the team by her coach, former Olympic mountain bike medallist Filip Meirhaeghe.

- NZ Herald

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