Rotorua downhill mountain biker Tuhoto-Ariki Pene has made an outstanding start to elite level racing. He spoke to sports reporter David Beck about his recent results and plans for the future.
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For some, progressing from junior to elite downhill racing would be a daunting prospect. For Rotorua speedster Tuhoto-Ariki Pene, it is a chance to prove himself.
So far, the 18-year-old has done just that. In January he finished third at the New Zealand Downhill Championships and 10th in the Oceania Championships in Dunedin. He built on that momentum to claim the overall elite title in this year's New Zealand Downhill Series.
"I was stoked to get that win in my first year of elite, up against some pretty quick riders, I'm pretty happy with that. It was a little bit [daunting] making the step up but not overly, I was just really excited."
The downhill series comprised races at four locations throughout New Zealand. Pene finished third in Bluff and fourth in Queenstown before finishing strongly with wins in Rotorua and Auckland.
"It's definitely a big confidence boost for me coming into Crankworx and the start of the season. It was good to do all the races in the series and I was pretty consistent.
"I wasn't feeling all too great down south but when I got back home I felt like I was ready to go and I did, I cracked it so I was happy with that. The courses are a lot different down south, a lot more rocky and a lot of wind compared to here in Rotorua.
"It's awesome though, it's definitely good to ride in different places and the terrain down there is quite similar to the stuff overseas."
Now, looking ahead, he will race in the downhill events as well as the pump track and whip-off at Crankworx Rotorua, which starts on Sunday.
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"I can't wait, I just want to ride my bike. It's awesome to have everyone coming here, I can't wait to go up against elite riders from all over the world, it's pretty exciting. It's going to be a big step, I think it will be hard, there are some new tracks so it will be even for everyone so we can see where we're at there."
After Crankworx his attention turns to competing at Downhill World Cup events overseas in the lead up to World Championships in Austria in September.
Racing all over the world is not a cheap venture so Pene will be doing plenty of work and fundraising to make it possible.
"Ones I'll definitely be going to are world champs and world cups in Val di Sole (Italy) and Les Gets in France. It's awesome, I'm really lucky I get to travel and compete. I meet a lot of cool people and, especially when I'm over there, it helps a lot to know people.
"What drives me is everyone over here, back home, I don't want to let anyone down but pretty much myself - I like to drive myself, I enjoy pushing myself and seeing how good I can be.
"That's the goal this year, to keep developing and to try and get on some sort of factory team overseas, that would be more than awesome."