A head-to-head battle between New Zealand's Commonwealth Games medallists will be a feature of the Rotorua Bike Festival.

The 2015 Mountain Bike National Championships will be staged during the opening weekend of the Rotorua Bike Festival, on February 14-15, with the cross-country racing on Saturday and downhill races on Sunday.

During the national champs last year, in the cross country event, Te Awamutu's Sam Gaze just edged Anton Cooper from Christchurch. It was an epic race as the two tracked each other on a challenging course in Rotorua's Whakarewarewa Forest.

Fast-forward a few months to a different hemisphere and a different climate. It was almost a mirror image finish as Cooper won the gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, with Gaze taking the silver.


The Kiwi pairing will be at each other again on February 14 in Rotorua as the 2015 New Zealand titles go on the line.

Cooper has raced for Cannondale the past couple of years and Gaze also signed for an international professional team, Specialized, in late 2014.

It will be a big year for both young riders, with the Rio Olympics not far away.

"My season will be kicking off in Rotorua," Cooper said.

"Then the Oceania championships in Australia, racing in the USA and then back to Europe."

UCI World Cup rounds and the World Championships are an important part of Cooper's programme as well, he said.

"But Olympic selection is the number one priority." Cooper and Gaze won't have it all their own way in February.

Local riders such as Carl Jones and Dirk Peters, from the Rotorua-based NZXC Racing team, will be on home trails and will keep the pair honest.


Reigning women's national champion, Kate Fluker, from NZXC Racing, will also be back to defend her title.

Last year she won ahead of fellow Commonwealth Games representative Karen Hanlen, from Whakatane.

"My goals in 2015 start with trying to keep my New Zealand title, for sure," the Queenstown-based rider said.

"Then, I want to raise funds to get to Europe, USA and Canada to race at UCI World Cups through the 2015 season."

Like Cooper and Gaze, Fluker has an eye on 2016 and Rio.

"To get one women's spot for New Zealand at the Olympics, we need to win the Oceania Championships or get UCI points in World Cups.

"It would be amazing to go to Rio." Fluker loves riding on the Whakarewarewa Forest trails.

"It's completely different to Queenstown and, while I'd never give up riding there, it's always nice to change things up a bit," she said.

The national championship women's race will be competitive. Hanlen, who represented New Zealand at the London Olympics and rides for Specialized New Zealand, plus local riders like Katie O'Neill and Amber Johnston, from NZXC Racing, will all be in the mix.

The national champs will be a free event to go and watch.

The full Rotorua Bike Festival programme is on www.rotoruabikefestival.com