Top bikers ready to rumble

JONATHAN MCKEOWN
Last updated 12:00 01/02/2014

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The country's top mountainbikers are prepared to "ride into the danger zone" as more than 200 competitors will race in Nelson's Top Gun event.

The second annual Top Gun competition also doubles as round two of the New Zealand Mountain Bike Cup.

Organiser and Nelson Mountain Bike Club president Chris Mildon said it was good to have the national event back in Nelson after a year-long hiatus. He said the event has enjoyed good support from clubs and competitors adding that, without it, the series might not have gone ahead.

"The whole national series is in a bit of a lull this year, so it has taken some real commitment from us, the Christchurch club, Gravity Canterbury and Auckland to get something happening," said Mildon.

The NZ MTB Cup series is running barebones this year with no support [from cycling's governing body, Bike NZ], but mountainbiking at this level is in good stead, with riders still turning up and supporting these events.

"Most of the top New Zealand riders are here and we have a bunch of top internationals as well. It has been a bit of a coup having [junior world champion] Anton Cooper here. He is here for some good racing, but it is nice to have that support."

World-ranked Kiwis, Samuel Blenkinsop (6th in the world), George Brannigan (31) and Wyn Masters (32) are in Nelson. Switzerland's Nick Beer (16) will provide a great challenge for the locals and national visitors.

Mildon said the event was designed to showcase the country's best MTB racers and athletes. The format allows downhill and cross country aces to shine in their specialist disciplines; the competition then brings them together into the combined discipline format of a Super D race to decide who will take away the Top Gun crown.

Downhill and cross country age group racers have as much opportunity to compete for the crown as NZ's best elite athletes, and the Nelson MTB Club guarantees $1000 in prizemoney against the Top Gun roll of honour for both men's and women's divisions. The defending champions are Nelson's Jamie Nicoll and former Nelson resident Harriet Harper.

The schedule sees the controlled descent of the downhill held on Kaka Hill next to Sharland's Creek. First raced in 2000 as a bare hill post-pine harvesting, Mildon said this course was a different animal now that the new pine forest is more than half way through its rotation. This course is a popular spot, having hosted national series, the new NZ MTB Cup, national champs and an Oceania champs.

Tomorrow is cross-country race day, using the flowing intermediate grade trails of the Codgers MTB Park in Brook St. The Olympic format XCO course will be similar to that used for the 2012 national championships and that year's Top Gun, targeting a winning elite men's race time of 17-18 minutes.

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The combined super D race day on Monday is also set up in the Codgers MTB Park. The Super D race course is well tried and tested and will deliver a fastest race time of just under nine minutes. Starting at the Sharland's Hill trig and flowing down the front face of Fireball, the Super D finish is right in the middle of Andrews Field and the event village by Waimarama gardens.

Earlier last month, a top-class national and international field laid down a fast pace and plenty of dust on Christchurch's Port Hills in the first round of the New Zealand Mountain Bike Cup.

In the elite men, Brannigan took first place on the podium followed by Blenkinsop and Christchurch rider Rupert Chapman.

Queenstown riders Harriet Latchem and Sophie Tyas were first and second respectively in the elite women's. Dunedin's Josh McCombie won the under-19 medal, Christchurch's Oliver Jarman and Boaz Hebblethwaite winning the under-17 and under-15 categories.

Mildon said the event kicked off a busy time for Nelson, with three top quality events of national and international interest happening on consecutive weekends.

Top Gun is followed by the sold-out Dodzy Memorial Enduro at Wairoa Gorge next weekend and then the Coppermine on February 15.

"There will be an influx of really wonderful riders," said Mildon.

- The Nelson Mail

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