Anton Cooper and Samara Sheppard have once again proven they are the dominant forces of cross-country mountain biking in New Zealand.
The Commonwealth Games teammates claimed their respective elite titles in Rotorua's Whakarewarewa Forest on Saturday, the third straight national championship wins for both.
For Cooper, of Christchurch, it was a fifth national title, but it did not come easy with National Mountain Bike Performance Hub rider and fellow Cantabrian Ben Oliver hot on his heels throughout.
The pair rode together until midway through the third lap of five, when Cooper pushed clear on the main climb to open a 15-second lead. Oliver dug deep over the final two laps to keep within reach, finishing runner-up only 20 seconds in arrears.
Cooper said winning the national title and the right to wear the national champion's jersey during his 2019 international campaign was "special".
"I really had to work hard for this one and I think that actually makes it more satisfying when you cross the line first. Ben was riding very well and I was feeling it out there, so I'm happy to pull it off, get the maximum points and get the jersey."
"The course was hard. In practice it was a lot easier. There was a lot of flat sections where you had to keep on the gas. There was one main climb which was definitely my strength out there. I tried to maximise my advantage there and tried to drill it because Ben was faster on the flatter stuff. It was a relief to get the job done."
In the women's race, many were expecting a titanic tussle between the defending champion Sheppard and Manawatu's Josie Wilcox, one of the fastest rising stars in the sport.
Unfortunately for Wilcox, it was not to be. She took a tumble on the first lap and was forced to retire from the race with a concussion. Sheppard dominated from that point to win by four minutes from Wellington's multi-talented Kate McIlroy.
"It's really special," Sheppard said.
"I knew I was riding well coming into this race and I thought I was in good form to do well, but it's a technical track out there and anything can happen. You can't underestimate the other girls, so I'm really happy - it's a bit of a relief really."
She said the course was "really fun" and she enjoyed being back in Rotorua where she lived three years ago.
"It was great, I saw a few friends out there cheering me on who I haven't seen in a while so that was really special too."
Sheppard will now build towards the defence of her Oceania crown and her main goal is to earn selection for the world championships.
"I would love to be at the worlds in Mont Sainte Anne and part of the New Zealand team to race the world championships. It is the last chance for Olympic selection so a performance there would mean a lot."
Rotorua's Sam Shaw took third in the men's race, recovering well after a puncture on the first lap to finish six-and-half minutes behind Oliver.
"I found that really good, it's hard to get the body feeling good on race day and I was feeling really good. I was just a bit unfortunate with a couple of mechanical throughout the race.
"I sent it a bit too hard into the creek gap [on lap one] and burst all the air out of my rear tyre, so i lost about 15 positions. I fought back to third but I was planning on being a little bit closer to the boys at the end of the race."
New Zealand Cross-Country Mountain Bike Championship Results
1st Anton Cooper (Christchurch) 1h 20m 30s, 2nd Ben Oliver (Rangiora) 1h 20m 50s, 3rd Sam Shaw (Rotorua) 1h 27m 20s.
1st Josh Burnett (Invercargill) 1h 27m 42s, 2nd Cameron Jones (Nelson) 1h 28m 40s, 3rd Maxwell Wickens (Wellington) 1h 28m 46s.
1st Connor Johnston (Rotorua) 1h 8m 46s, 2nd Matthew Wilson (Auckland) 1h 9m 56s, 3rd Caleb Bottcher (Palmerston North) 1h 9m 57s.
1st Ethan Rose (Christchurch) 53m 34s, 2nd Adam Francis (Palmerston North) 55m 20s, 3rd Jacob Turner (Rangiora) 58m 17s.
1st Maui Morrison (Rotorua) 1h 2m 15s, 2nd Max Preece (Auckland) 1h 2m 51s, 3rd Nick Rush (Christchurch) 1h 3m.
1st Payson Partridge (Ohakune) 58m 50s, 2nd Don Smitstra (Matamata) 59m 29s, 3rd Cameron Jacobsen (Tirau) 59m 29s.
Masters 1 Men
1st Leigh Reynolds (Rotorua) 1h 4m 51s, 2nd Josh Page (Hastings) 1h 7m 21s, 3rd Darry Stevens (New Plymouth) 1h 7m 56s.
Masters 2 Men
1st Joe Skerman (Bulls) 1h 18m 54s, 2nd Garth Weinberg (Rotorua) 1h 19m 29s, 3rd Jonathan Brown (Wellington) 1h 22m 50s.
Masters 3 Men
1st Mel Hansen (Nelson) 1h 20m 59s, 2nd Kent Wilson (Napier) 1h 25m 58s, 3rd Barry Wilson (Palmerston North) 1h 27m 22s.
1st Samara Sheppard (Wellington) 1h 18m 29s, 2nd Kate McIlroy (Wellington) 1h 22m 47s.
1st Jessica Manchester (Auckland) 1h 27m 35s.
1st Sammie Maxwell (Taupō) 1h 0m 28s, 2nd Zoe Nathan (Nelson) 1h 8m 16s, 3rd Poppy Buissink 1h 10m 4s.
1st Rebecca Hufflett (Nelson) 1h 10m 57s, 2nd Annabel Bligh (Christchurch) 1h 12m 21s, 3rd Jenna Hastings (Rotorua) 1h 13m 28s.
1st Seana Gray (Hamilton) 48m 7s, 2nd Florence McNabb (Nelson) 49m 39s, 3rd Katie Ramage (Whanganui) 51m 1s.
1st Olivia Baker (Hamilton) 1h 24m 17s.
1st Elizabeth Hicks (Cambridge) 1h 16m 2s, 2nd Jacqui Keay (Nelson) 1h 30m 14s.
1st Sarah Beadel (Rotorua) 1h 21m 28s.