Hanlen, Cooper lead the charge in Oceania Mountain Bike

Whakatane's Karen Hanlen will take up a battle of the Olympians in the Oceania mountain bike championships in Tasmania this weekend.

The defending Oceania champion will clash with leading Australian rider Rebecca Henderson in the cross country race on Saturday. They last raced each other in London where both made their Olympic debuts, with the Australian competing in the under-23 division at the weekend.

Hanlen, who won the title impressively in Rotorua last year, will be the clear favourite with Henderson and former national and Oceania champion Rowena Fry likely to be the major Australian opposition.

Wellington professional Samara Sheppard, who will ride for the new Toko Print UCI trade team in Europe this year, is moving up to the elite division for the first time after winning a World Cup round in the under-23 class last year.

Whakatane's Carl Jones is the sole Kiwi hope in the elite men's division, with the 2011 national champion building up in New Zealand this year before mounting his long-term challenge for a place at the Rio Olympics.

He was second in the Mountain Bike Cup series over the summer and will take on Olympian Daniel McConnell and the current champion, the experienced Chris Jongewaard who will lead the Australian charge.

World junior champion Anton Cooper is back from his camp with the new Cannondale Racing Team to compete in Tasmania and, while riding in the under-23 division, will likely be the marker for the elite men's field.

Rotorua's Dirk Peters, who pushed Cooper to the line at the national championships, will also look for a strong finish in the under-23 division.

The cross country races are on Saturday at a new course at Tolosa Park, with a big 5km lap, with the downhill at Glenorchy Mountain Bike Park, which is close to Hobart.

The New Zealand mountain bike team for the Oceania Championships in Tasmania this weekend:

Women: Karen Hanlen, Samara Sheppard (both elite); Samantha Hope, Amber Johnston (both under-19); Shannon Hope (under-17)

Men: Carl Jones (elite); Dirk Peters, Brad Hudson, Anton Cooper, Sam Shaw, Josh Parkin (all under-23); Ben Oliver, Craig Oliver, Brett Stokman, Samuel Gaze (all under-19); Nathan Johnston (under-17); Eden Cruise (under-15).

Downhill: Tom Matthews (elite); Michael Kammlein-Cutler, Thomas Lockwood (both under-19).

Cross country eliminator: Alex Young, Harriet Beaven.

- APNZ

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