A near-record field of 275 riders flock to Rotorua this weekend for the 2019 Altherm Mountain Bike National Championships.
The Craigs Investment Partners cross-country titles will be decided in the Whakarewarewa Forest on a testing course based at the Waipa Mountain Bike Village on Saturday, before the the Altherm downhill competition at the NZ Downhill course near Eight Mile Rd on Sunday.
The 2018 world sixth-ranked Anton Cooper will be chasing his third consecutive elite title before the Trek Factory professional embarks on the UCI World Cup in May.
His main competition is likely from fellow North Canterbury and MTB Performance Hub rider Ben Oliver, who had five, top-10 finishes in the under-23 world cup last year.
Oceania and New Zealand champion Samara Sheppard is favourite to defend her title in the elite women's division, coming off her record-breaking performance in winning the Karapoti Classic.
World number eight-ranked rider Brook Macdonald heads a powerful line-up of 22 starters in the elite men's downhill, as one of four former champions competing. He is joined by 2010 winner Wyn Masters (New Plymouth), his GT Factory Racing pro teammate and 2014 champion George Brannigan (Hawke's Bay) and 2017 winner and hometown favourite Keegan Wright (Unior/Devinci Factory Pro).
The battle in the elite women will be between Tauranga's Shania Rawson, 21st at her first elite world championships after being runner's-up in the junior ranks in 2017; Kaukapakapa's Virginia Armstrong, 26th at the worlds, and last year's winner Kate Weatherly (Auckland).
There are some exciting riders in the junior ranks led by riders from Cycling New Zealand's Subway National Performance MTB Hub including cross-country riders Ben Oliver, last year's under-19 winner and Youth Olympian Sammie Maxwell (Taupō) and former under-19 winner Jessica Manchester (Rotorua), who has returned to the sport after a year off.
Watch too for the Hub downhill riders, led by Tuhoto-Ariki Pene (Rotorua), the under-19 winner last year; Queenstown's Alex Barke and Cambridge's Blake Ross.
Subway National Performance Hub coach Sam Thompson says he expects some of the most closely fought contests across the grades.
"Naturally Anton is the class of the elite men's field but Ben Oliver is an outstanding young prospect and Samara Sheppard is in very strong form again this summer," said Thompson.
"There's some real growth in the age groups particularly in downhill and I expect some strong competition for our Subway Hub riders.
"The numbers competing this year is encouraging but is always the case when the championships return to these fantastic tracks here in the Whakarewarewa Forest.
"For us it is the start of our competition for the Hub riders before the cross-country riders head to Europe next month and the downhill group in July."
There are also national titles up for grabs in the well supported age group categories from Under 15 through to Masters 50 plus across both cross-country and downhill.
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Cross-country racing begins at 10am, Saturday at the Waipa Mountain Bike Village.
Elite racing starts from 1.30pm.
The downhill competition on Sunday has seeding runs from 11am.
Racing begins at 1pm.
For more information go to mtbnationals.nz